DIRECTOR: Ridley Scott
May Contain Spoilers!
Will we be adding this to our collection? YES
With poor reviews and the fact that I already had my doubts about this project, my expectations were decidedly low about Ridley Scott’s interpretation of the biblical epic of Moses and the Israelite Exodus. But the reviews where too harsh, though not entirely unfounded. The biggest problem here isn’t that Scott had the mammoth task of retelling this bible story or his track record for reinterpreting history, but that this was always going to be an issue with the church etc… if he strayed to far, but it was that it had to stand up against Cecile B. DeMille’s classic The Ten Commandments (1956).
Granted, The Ten Commandments is far from beyond reproach but it must stand as the definitive cinematic version and even after this, which I liked more, still is. But a lot has changed since the biblical epic’s heyday of the 1950’s, with more grounded interpretations taking hold as to what may or may not have happened so long ago in ancient Egypt. But whether you believe in the Exodus of Moses or his commandments is neither here nor there.
But as more scientific explanations have been formulated as to what caused the great plagues and the parting of the Red Sea, as with his version of Robin Hood (2010), Scott has tried to take a more realistic look at the events but because the story of Moses loses plausibility with the intervention of God, Exodus becomes a little muddled. On one hand it is hinted that Moses (Christian Bale) is delusional after a fall in which he hits his head, whilst the plagues ferocity and timings seem to suggest that God is behind the events.
The problem is, that we’re not sure what to believe and the ambiguity is unwarranted. Either tell a “Realistic” version and leave God out of it, or follow the more, for want of a better word, supernatural take as presented by The Bible. Darren Aronovsky’s Noah (2014) was criticised for its theatrical licence but at least it made its bed and slept in it. It couldn’t have gotten anymore supernatural if it had tried. But Scott seems to lose his nerve, instead focusing on another key element of the story. That of the two brothers, one Egyptian, Ramses (Joel Edgerton) and Bale’s Israelite, Moses.
But this falls flat also, as he breaks the “show don’t tell” rule, never truly giving us anything of their relationship to buy into. So, we have a muddled tone, a wasted opportunity with Ramses and Moses, a relationship in which we had little to invest in, and the third and titular element is all that remains to save this project, seemingly. That is of course the Exodus itself. Early in the film, we are introduced to an Israeli elder, Ben Kingsley. But he too is wasted and the Exodus in question is just that, an epic migration of thousands of freed slaves, who will be pursued by Ramses through the Red Sea and the rest is, well, history of sorts.
But even this is only given little more than lip service. In short, Scott fails to engage us properly on any of the key plot points, with everything falling a little short. Having said that, where he gets it right is the pacing. At around 150 minutes, we cover all the bases and the story unfolds more like a straight forward action/drama movie than an episodic epic. The Red Sea, which is cleverly conceived as a tsunami rather than overly an act of God, plays out like the action packed finale set piece rather than just another incident in the biblical story.
But we’ve been here before with Scott. Kingdom Of Heaven’s (2004) theatrical cut had a similar running time and was ruined by being butchered for the cinema. The three-hour Director’s Cut was a different and all together brilliant film and I can see many signs that the same may have happened here. Sigourney Weaver’s role for example. She hardly says a word and yet there are implications that she is one of Moses’ strongest detractors. This makes little sense in the final film so I do believe that there’s a lot more here and if Kingdom Of Heaven is anything to go by, then we may be watching a different film in the future.
Overall, as a historical blockbuster, it’s good but will this become a definitive version of the Moses story? Absolutely not. It is just a good and if you look past certain issues, enjoyable epic.
N.B. Although this was released in 3D, I have only seen the 2D version.