Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Exodus: Gods and Kings

Lowdown: A more modern take on the legend of Moshe.
There are obvious reasons why I would be interested in a retelling of the story of the fictitious mythical figure of Moshe (the guy most native English speakers know as "Moses from the Bible"). The less obvious is to do with me thoroughly studying the story during 6th grade under the guidance of one of the best teachers I’ve ever had. I consider that critical analysis and meticulous dissection of the famous tale to be the highlight of my otherwise boring, mundane and uninspiring journey through the formal education system.
It appears Exodus: Gods and Kings means a lot to creator Ridley Scott, too, judging by him dedicating the movie to his fellow director and late brother Tony. And while I appreciate the gesture, I cannot avoid thinking of the irony in Ridley creating a very Tony movie: shallow and uninspiring.
I won’t bore you with the rigours of the plot; I assume you know your basic Bible story, plus there’s a good chance you’ve graduated your class of sand and sandals movies too. Exodus is fairly loyal to that story: Moses (Christian Bale) growing as a prince of Egypt, then going through a change in everything he had come to know before, then leading the Israelites from slavery to freedom through a divinely parted sea. Yeah yeah.
Much more interesting are the deviations from that original story. Much time is spent on Moses’ Egyptian background, his brotherly love/hate relationship to prince heir Ramses (Aussie Joel Edgerton), and his generally agnostic views on matters of religion. Then the movie turns Moses the Egyptian into Moshe the Israelite (the movie’s burning bush is supported by a child figure, no doubt because – as miracles go – a burning bush is pretty crappy considering each of us carries a tool for making international video calls in our pockets). Given Moshe's setup, the change our hero character goes through is more dramatic.
Also deviating from the original manuscript are the scientific explanations to the miracles of the Bible. There is no cane turning into a snake; the parting of the Red Sea is more a matter of tides, supported by God, than that mythical image of Moshe parting the depths of the sea with his cane; and God’s blows upon the Egyptians are explained in less miraculous nature (blood, for example, is the result of an alligators' rampage at the Nile). Make of this what you will; what I see is a Ridley Scott trying too hard to add credibility to a story that is glaringly fictitious and devoid of any evidence to back its bold claims (e.g., that the Israelites built the pyramids). I suspect the reason is simple: the 21st century person is much better educated and will therefore ask more questions off a legend as it attempts to pass for fact.
I guess the other notable feature of Exodus: Gods and Kings is the abundance of famous white actors portraying characters the movie tries to pass as dark skinned. I already mentioned two, but the list goes on: Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul as Joshua, John Turturro as the Pharaoh father, Sigourney “Alien” Weaver as an Egyptian noble, and Ben Kingsley as Joshua’s father Nun. Which brings me to point at Exodus’ biggest sin: it has all this talent at its hands, and it does nothing with it. Aaron Paul does nothing here but glare and look serious, with Kingsley following suit (he glares and looks old & wise; that's a big difference by Exodus' scale). For a two and a half hour long movie with epical aspirations, Exodus deserves a score of 0 for its character development.
Don’t get me wrong, Exodus does have epical elements working in its favour. It looks pretty awesome, and its visuals are often so grand I no longer detected I was watching a movie made of sets and CGI. All is wasted, though, on an uninspiring script that’s as bland as raw bran and direction work that cares only for visual aesthetic.
At the end of the day, Exodus adds nothing to the sandals genre other than special effects. That, however, is not good enough a reason to embark on such a quest. Neither is it a good enough use for talents Mr Scott has been able to repeatedly reproduce in the past.
Worst scene:
The Israelites are on their long walk to freedom through the Red Sea, looking to cross it; the Egyptians give chase in their carriages.
Moshe and his council agree the baddies are four days behind. Unless, of course, they do not stop to rest their horses, in which case they’d be closer.
Quick cut to the Egyptians: a stand in actor asks Ramses, “do we rest the horses?”; Ramses answers “no”. The Egyptians ride like there’s no tomorrow.
If that’s not bland moviemaking, I don’t know what is. Hard to believe it came out of the hands that made Blade Runner.
Overall: Scott’s uninspiring effort is hugely magnified by the grandiosity of the production at hand, earning Exodus: Gods and Kings less than 2.5 out of 5 bland crabs.
Important note: Despite all of its negatives, I still consider Exodus mandatory viewing for all Australians. The reason is simple: the movie features the correct pronunciation of my name, as opposed to the dreadful butchery I have to endure on a daily basis. Listen and learn, Aussies, listen and learn.

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