Being a novice when it comes to the big screen world, the name Ridley Scott doesn’t mean much until you think of epics like ‘Gladiator’ ‘Blade Runner’ ‘Aliens’ and ‘Thelma and Louise’. So having established this background, there were great expectations this production would deliver.
The story kicks off with an already grown up Moses (Christian Bale) fitting in very nicely with his adoptive family of Egyptian royals. It takes a size-able early chunk of the film to portray the family dynamics, the father Pharaoh, Seti (John Turturro) with a soft spot for the clean cut Moses, Ramses his son (Joel Edgerton) a touch jealous but clearly an authority figure, whose mother (Sigourney Weaver) guards the secret of Moses unorthodox origins. With lavish amounts of guyliner depicting the distinctive Egyptian character of all but the foreigner, we are soon racing chariots into battle and tumbling with maimed horses in a dynamic 3D display of heroics. Seeing Ramses chewing gum had me looking out for wrist-watches and tyre tracks while waiting for some action that would denote the start of something big – more along the lines of the book.
The character of the viceroy, Hegep (Ben Mendelsohn), throws in the ‘Life of Brian’ style tease for some camp amusement, while Aaron Paul’s Joshua lacks the lines to generate any real interest in this important character as Moses’ successor.
It is at the time Moses’ son Gershom is about 9 years old that Moses first encounters God at the burning bush. A surprising, but not unlikable portrayal of God leaves you wondering the level of impact he will have in persuading a tediously reluctant prophet to lead the Israelites home. Perhaps the use of a likeness to Moses’ own son in age and stature is the softener God knows he will need.
Sadly, this tale only allows a half-hearted confrontation between the step-brothers before we realise time is getting on and we haven’t left Egypt yet. A transforming line for Ramses (‘He has lost his mind. He has found God.’) pronounces a war of wills between Ramses and God, with disappointingly little intervention from Moses who is busy preparing his people for war.
The ten plagues hit with a climactic display of cinematography and scaled up graphics, the miraculous curse explained away with a basic biological sequence of events. Crocs eat anything that moves in the water, water turns red, frogs leave the river, die of thirst, draw the flies etc.
Expectations mount as the tribes of Israel find themselves on the beach with a wide expanse of sea before them and Pharoah’s army gathering ground behind. Notably absent is the biblical Moses, staff in hand, demanding the seas to part in God’s name. Scott’s Moses throws his sword in a last expression of defeat, before it is noticed the sea’s current is gradually changing. The impact of the waters flooding back to engulf the Egyptians is far more spectacular.
The ten commandments and the Ark of the Covenant make a brief appearance (would be lost on those unfamiliar with the story) before this would-be epic peters out.
Maybe it’s nitpicking, but there were higher expectations of what could be done with this saga. Theologically, it didn’t have to be sound – it’s a movie after all. Is it worthy of $160 million expenditure? Will it earn anyone an Oscar? Seriously doubtful. Another case of ‘not as good as the book’ unfortunately.