Books, Movies

I Saw Some of Ridley Scott’s Exodus, and You Didn’t Miss Much

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We’ve got the new trailer for it below, so you can just skip ahead if you don’t want any spoilers on the Moses story everybody in Judeo-Christendom pretty much knows backwards and forwards. But yesterday, I got to see quite a bit more, including scenes from throughout the entire film.

I’m not exactly on the edge of my seat waiting for the rest…

The first scene featured adopted brothers Moses (Christian Bale) and Ramses (Joel Edgerton) at a ceremony where a chicken’s entrails are being read in hopes of predicting the outcome of an upcoming battle with the Hittites. A prophecy is made that one of the brothers will save the other in battle, and he will become the savior of his people. Ramses responds by telling Moses that if he sees him in danger, run the other way.

So is this saying that the real God actually does send messages to pagans through entrails? Anyway, the scene’s seriousness is compromised by John Turturro in heavy eyeliner and an English accent playing their father, the Pharaoh Seti, as if the two young princes needed an old queen to counterbalance them. This is but the first bit of unfortunate effeminacy. They all head off on chariots to battle, as the impressive practical sets give way to CGI cityscapes of ancient Memphis.

Next is the battle, and Ridley Scott is doing his usual drop-frame, speed-up thing that he overdid a lot in Gladiator, and overdid slightly less egregiously in Robin Hood – it’s a classic dodge to cover up the fact that you choreographed in slower-motion, and in a 3D digital age is too obvious a dodge. There’s no real tension here, as the Hittites are basically faceless, and we don’t even know what the fight is about (perhaps in the full movie you will). So you could just watch someone play Rome: Total War for the same effect. If you want to know what happens next, it’s basically the song “Two Little Boys” writ large.

Okay, so in another scene, Moses is going to some regional territory, and sees a slave being whipped, yet grinning maniacally. He asks the overseer why, and the response is that the man enjoys pain, so Moses tells him to stop whipping. Later, he asks for the Hebrew elders to be assembled before him – one of them is Ben Kingsley, as Nun. Moses basically becomes like a smartass stand-up comedian here, with one-liners like “I see you’re not convinced!” as he uses very realistic objections to pooh-pooh their hopes of seeing Canaan one day (this isn’t the Sunday-school Moses whom I was taught had a stammer – he’s dextrous with his words). But when Nun hears that the man in front of them is named Moses, he insists that he must speak to him later.

Moses shows up later in secret, and has the truth of his birth spelled out, which he derides as “not even a good story” (self-critique, movie?).

Before Moses leaves the town, he interrogates the local governor (or whatever Pharaohs called them). This man is yet another effeminate jerk, who basically sexually propositions Moses in an attempt to please him. Moses responds, “Stop living like a king – you’re not one.” Now, whether or not there is an overall homophobia problem in the film may be unfair to judge based on limited scenes – but this character and Seti are uncomfortable, and I’m amazed nobody at the studio seems to have noticed. It’s like they want to pander to fundamentalist notions of gay people from the Old Testament, and I’ll be honest – I’ve seen a lot of fundamentalist Christian movies, and they don’t usually touch the issue at all (The Passion of the Christ is its own separate category). These are the wealthy, idolatrous fornicators Phil Robertson rants about, and I’m very curious to see how that plays with larger audiences.

So after that, later in the movie, comes a scene in which Ramses has heard the rumors of Moses’ birth, and he interrogates him and his servant (who’s secretly his sister). It builds to Ramses threatening to cut off her arm, until Moses blocks his brother’s sword with his own (technically vice versa, since Seti has given each one the other’s special sword as a bonding thing) and yells “YESSSSSSS!” as only angry Bale can do, to the notion that she really his his sister indeed.

The plagues are the real money stuff, and one thing that’s done pretty well is the way they naturally segue into one another. The river of blood kills of all the fish, leaving room for the frogs to swim up to the surface, who then die and grow maggots which become the flies, that then in turn give way to locusts. Moses goes to Ramses one last time with a threat that he can’t stop what’s coming, and for the sake of his own son he needs to free the slaves before sundown. We all know how that goes.

Then the Red Sea – we got about as much of that effect as you see in the trailer. They weren’t exactly going to give us the main money shot already.

Bale, looking like WWE’s Daniel Bryan, came out for a Q&A afterwards, discussing his process to become Moses. He studied as many available books as he could, including the Koran, and said what surprised him most was that in a culture as afterlife-obsessed as ancient Egypt, Moses and the Hebrews never mention Heaven or Satan (which is because the concept of Satan only really started taking shape in the book of Job, but not everyone reads up on that in advance).

After he got the part, he immediately rented Life of Brian and History of the World Part I, to see how seriousness can easily play as parody if you’re not careful. Insists “you have to have humor” in such a heavy story, but it shouldn’t be camp.

“You can’t out-Heston Charlton Heston!” He saw Moses as far more reluctant, a man who, once chosen, is just “desperately trying to keep moving forward.” He says this role is probably the closest he’s ever been to himself, because the stress of it (a 74-day shoot, while also promoting two other movies on the Oscar circuit) didn’t allow him to build up any pretense.

He also prefers working with unknown actors, because “there’s nothing predictable” when you’re not familiar with someone.

And ironically, while Moses in the movie (thus far) may not have a stammer…Bale himself does.

Is it fair to judge the movie based on limited footage? Well, they asked for it. And so far I see great production values and not a lot else. Edgerton mumbles like a guy who can’t commit to an accent, and movie stars like Sigourney Weaver and John Turturro look ridiculous in Egyptian eyeliner. The plagues look very digital, but apparently most of the frogs were real – it’s ironic that we’ve now blurred the line so well that even practical effects on an epic scale don’t always impress. Kingsley is best, and the bits where Moses is an asshole Egyptian seem like fun…but I’ve seen The Ten Commandments and Prince of Egypt already, and I don’t feel like this will fill whatever void they might have left.

I dunno…there can be miracles, when you believe. I don’t yet.

About Author

Luke Y. Thompson has been writing professionally about movies and pop-culture since 1999, and has also been an actor in some extremely cheap culty and horror movies you will probably never hear much about (he is nonetheless mostly proud of them, as he met his wife on one). As editor of The Robot's Voice since 2012, he can take the blame for the majority of the site's content, all of which he creates because he loves you very, very much. (Although he loves nachos more. Sorry.) Prior to TRV, Luke wrote for publications that include the New Times LA, Los Angeles CityBeat, E! Online, OC Weekly, Geekweek, GeekChicDaily, The L.A. Times, The Village Voice, LA Weekly, and Nerdist