“Follow me and you will be free; or stay and you will perish,” said Moses to the Hebrews.
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This year, 2014, is really a year for the Old Testament. Earlier, Darren Aronofsky made a controversial Noah, which becomes more of a fantasy than biblical history—taken from the book Genesis. Approaching the end of the year, Ridley Scott has his own vision of book Exodus—which immediately follows Genesis. Scott’s visions follow Moses, one of the greatest prophets for Christians and one of those figures who makes most appearances in movie.
Moses always has the most interesting story to tell, most importantly, about his leadership in the titular exodus, leading Hebrews out from the hellish Egypt. Well, two previous movies that adapted the story of Moses have been a great marks in history: The Ten Commandment (1956) gets the most accolades (including Oscar for Best Special Effect and nomination for six other categories) while The Prince of Egypt (1998), an animation feature of the same story also gets ample of accolades (including Oscar for Best Original Soundtrack and another nomination). So, what does this imply? The story of Moses always draw the attention of the Academy. Isn’t this what Mr. Scott thought?
Different from the previous two movies which started the story from the beginning, Exodus begins in medias res of Moses’ story. It starts with an Egyptian prophecy prior to an epic battle that triggers the banishment of Moses (Christian Bale) by his half-brother Ramses (Joel Edgerton, with quirky eyeliner). Living with the royal pharaohs, learning his Hebrew identity, being banished from the realm, encountering his soul mate, and finally encountering God. Without the back story, all of those events surprisingly went dull; no real emotion is attached to the setup of Exodus. Even, the blood-tied friendship between Moses and Ramses, which should be a sovereign catalyst to the eventual conflict is left clinging; furthermore, Moses’ learning of his true identity is more toneless than being emotional or contemplative.
The best part of Exodus comes in the middle act, but remember, it’s not the climax. The same thing happened once in Aronofsky’s Noah, where the should-be-climactic flood thrills less than the time-lapsing act of creation. While Noah makes it more surreal, Exodus makes it more plausible. The crossing of Red Sea looks huge and more realistic (than it is in The Ten Commandment, which won Best Special Effect), but it’s not half as riveting as the depiction of the Ten Plagues. The plagues link to each other, make them scientifically possible and plausible, instead of just playing God’s judgement; each plague escalates the other plagues and the tension’s piling up to a climactic tenth plague full of lamentation, which is magnificent yet grievous.
There’s no deus ex machina in the story and Moses is not a completely pious man like how he is described so far. Moses is not a messenger of God, he’s not merely a figure of a prophet. He’s just an observer of the Old Testament God, the Punishing God in a form of an angry kid. That thing is controversial, but, it bears a deep philosophical meaning, which Scott explains on the screen.
With a grand story to tell and a great production to display, Exodus chooses to deviate from the original source by adding more details to make Scott’s vision compacted with the original source. Unfortunately, the four writers failed to highlight some big parts by making them looks ‘unimportant’, most notably, they fail to create compelling dialogues, as the talk always sound cheesy and less classy. To make it worse, I must say that the casts are somewhat too wearisome. Only Bale that shines through the desert, but he’s out of the league; Edgerton has the potential, but his character fails to give the persona of the Old Testament pharaoh forth.
Ridley Scott still plays it big with his grand productions and enchanting visuals, but in Exodus, I cannot see his vision as the man behind Aliens, or Blade Runner, or Gladiator; all I see is a big-budgeted director trying to retell the great story of the book of Exodus for all or nothing.
After all, do we still expect more stories from the Old Testament plunged into a more humane and darker tone? If so, let’s expect there will be another Samson and Delilah or David and Goliath to follow Exodus.
Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)
Adventure, Drama, Action Directed by: Ridley Scott Written by: Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Jeffrey Caine, Steven Zaillian Starred by: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, John Turturro, Aaron Paul, Maria Valverde, Ben Kingsley, Sigourney Weaver Running Time: 150 mins Rated PG-13 for violence including battle sequences and intense images