Exodus: Gods and Kings

Posted on December 11, 2014 at 9:51 pm

Copyright 2014 Twentieth Century Fox
Copyright 2014 Twentieth Century Fox

The story of Exodus is central to three of the world’s most significant religions and one of the Bible’s most cinematic stories, with a flawed but charismatic hero and a stirring story of slaves seeking freedom.  It has already been filmed at least eight times, from Veggie Tales’ Moe & The Big Exit to Cecil B. DeMille’s epic The Ten Commandments, with Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner and Jeffrey Katzenberg’s animated The Prince of Egypt.  Now Ridley Scott, who showed his mastery of sword and sandal epics with Gladiator has taken on the story with an all-star (but mostly non Middle-Eastern) cast and the latest 3D technology to really deliver on the special effects.  Not so much on the theology part, though, or even the morality or meaning of it.  Scott is clearly more interested in chases and battles and plagues, and so busy with it that he leaves out some of the story’s most important incidents.  For example, instead of having to leave the palace because he killed an Egyptian who was beating a slave, Scott gives us a soapy story about Ramses’ jealousy.  And we know Ramses is decadent because every time we see him, he’s eating.

The action and special effects work well, though.  This is a two and a half hour movie that starts in the middle of the story and Scott keeps it moving.  We first see Moses (Christian Bale) and Ramses (Joel Edgerton) as Seti (John Turturro), the Pharaoh, is giving them each a sword.  At first, Ramses, Seti’s son, thinks he has been given the wrong one.  But Seti has given them each other’s swords on purpose, to remind them that they must care for each other as they are about to go into battle.  A seer has a prophesy: “In the battle, a leader will be saved and his savior will someday lead.”  This inflames Ramses’ insecurity, especially when it comes true.

After Seti’s death, Ramses puts Moses in prison and tries to have him killed.  Moses finds a home with a small community of shepherds and falls in love with Zipporah (María Valverde).  Their life there is very sweet for nine years until he sees a burning bush and receives a message from God.  Scott makes an imaginative choice here about portraying the Deity that I won’t give away, but I am still trying to decide how I feel about it.  God tells him what he already knew in his heart.  The Hebrews are his people and he cannot run away from his responsibility to help them find freedom.  So he goes back to Memphis.

Bale holds the screen well as Moses, but Turturro, Kingsley, and Sigourney Weaver as Ramses’ mother do not have enough to do to.  But there is a lot of time devoted to spectacle.  Well past the two-hour mark, there are still 40 years of wandering in the desert and the Ten Commandments (twice) to get through, and they are sped through very quickly.  The striking of the rock to get water, manna, the golden calf, and Moses not being permitted to enter the promised land are all skipped over.  Two significant ideas that are included are Moses’ disagreements with God (and God’s approval of it) and the journey from the first scene, where Ramses believes in omens and faith and Moses believes in reason, to the end of the film, where they switch places.

Moses tells Ramses he must free the slaves and Ramses says the same thing that people have said throughout history when there is no possible moral justification for their position.  He says that it is not economically feasible and will take a long time.  Moses, trained as a general, gets the Hebrews to attack the Egyptians’ supply chain, but God gets impatient and steps in with the plagues, which are very vivid and rather disturbing.  After the death of the Egyptian first-born children, including his own son, Ramses tells the Hebrews to go.  But then he and his army ride after them, until the miracle at the Red Sea, very impressively staged.  But, again, the focus is shifted from the story of the Exodus to much less interesting battle between two cousins raised as brothers.  

The visual scope here is impressive.  There just isn’t much soul.

Parents should know that this movie includes Biblical themes including slavery, plagues and other kinds of peril and abuse, extensive peril and violence, battles, many characters injured and killed including children, and disturbing scenes with dismemberment and dead bodies.

Family discussion: How did being raised as a prince affect the way Moses saw himself and his role? How was he affected by learning the story of his birth? Why does he object to the plagues?

If you like this, try: “The Ten Commandments” with Charlton Heston

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3D Action/Adventure Based on a book Documentary Drama Epic/Historical Remake Spiritual films

Trailer — Exodus: Gods and Kings, The Story of Moses with Christian Bale

Posted on October 1, 2014 at 8:00 pm

Christian Bale and Sir Ben Kingsley star in “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” the story of Moses and the exodus of the Jews from Egypt. It opens this December.

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The Prince of Egypt

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Dreamworks SKG’s first animated feature is a respectful retelling of the story of Moses, from the time he was found in the bullrushes and adopted by the Pharoh to the time he led the Hebrews out of Egypt to freedom. Presided over by former Disney-ite Jeffrey Katzenberg (“The Lion King”) the movie has some astonishing visual effects, particularly a chariot race that rivals “Ben Hur” and the parting of the Red Sea. The movie takes some liberties with the story, with Moses (voice of Val Kilmer) and Ramses (voice of Ralph Feinnes) raised as brothers who love each other deeply. But Moses learns that he was born a slave. More important, he learns that the man he loves and respects as his father, the Pharoh Seti (voice of Patrick Stewart), once ordered the murder of the slave babies. Struggling with his new understanding, he impulsively pushes aside a guard who is beating a slave, and the guard falls to his death. Ramses promises to pardon him, but Moses runs away.

He lives peacefully with nomads, marrying the spirited Tzipporah (voice of Michelle Pfeiffer), until he receives a message from God, telling him that he must return to Egypt and free the slaves. Ramses, by now Pharoh, is at first happy to see him, but refuses to grant his plea to “let my people go.” Felled by plagues that include locusts, boils, frogs, and, finally, the death of the first-born children, he finally agrees. But just as Moses is leading the Hebrews through the parted Red Sea, Ramses arrives with his army. The Red Sea closes over them, and Moses and his people are free.

This story, central to three great world religions, should be familiar to most children. The film-makers have done a good job of making it exciting and vivid while still being careful not to offend anyone. The musical numbers are largely forgettable, but the characters and the story remain compelling. Ramses, loving Moses, but terrified of being responsible for the end of a dynasty, is, if not a sympathetic character, a flawed but understandable one. Miriam and Tzipporah are strong, intelligent female characters. The themes of taking responsibility and the importance of freedom are well worth discussing. Families may wish to take a look at the web site to download one of the study guides developed by representatives of different religions.

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Animation Based on a book For the Whole Family
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