Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Exodus: Gods and Kings


There is a law of diminished expectations. The reviews of this Ridley Scott film were pretty awful, but since it was a big SFX movie with no costumed idiot “superhero,” I just had to give it a try. And I had a good time.

The main reason to see it is to compare and contrast with the greatest special effect of all time, that is, the parting of the Red Sea in C.B. DeMille’s 1956 version of The Ten Commandments. Yeah, I know a lot of people would argue with me on that, and you’re welcome to. I know many more technically complex scenes have been done since then, now that we’re in the age of anything being possible on the screen. But I’m measuring by the impact a scene had on audiences. These days we have seen a zillion impressive special effects, and the best I can hope for is a “Wow! That’s really nice!” But take yourself back to 1956, and those fucking waters … parted … and rolled back, and the people started walking on dry land … and how the hell did they do that? Actually, even that’s not the right reaction. Back then no one had a clue about how shots like that were done. We just gazed in slack-jawed amazement, totally stunned in a way no future movie audience is every likely to be again. So go ahead, point out the blue haze, the join lines, the other technical shortcomings when viewed from today’s perspective, and all I can say is, I’m very sorry for you if you came to The Ten Commandments after already seeing a thousand of the movies of the last thirty years. You can never experience the awe I felt when I first saw this on the BIG VistaVision, Technicolor screen. The only other special effect that might challenge it for sheer stunning never-seen-before amazement is the final battle scene from Star Wars.

Okay, back to this one. It seems the original cut was four hours, and what was released was two and a half. Cutting ninety minutes seems like a good way to make a plot and characterizations a little iffy, and the main reason I saw for the pretty awful reviews was that the characters were flat and wooden. This from many reviewers who thought The Dark Knight was a masterpiece of deep characters. (Which I thought, and still think, was rubbish.) Hell, these were hardly characters at all, and anyway, who needs them in an SFX extravaganza like this, anyway?

What I liked here was that, until we got to the killing of the first-born children, none of this really had to be supernatural at all. I don’t recall any plague of crocodiles from the Bible, but at least it wasn’t something that required God’s hand to happen. So then all the thousands of Egyptians killed by the crocs turned the Nile red with blood. That killed the fish, which rotted and bred flies, which caused a plague of frogs. It could all have been explained in ecological terms like that. Neat!

Far from being this shaggy true believer like Charlton Heston, Christian Bale is not even sure he believes in God. And when he does, he spends more time pissed off at him than worshipping him. After all, here we’re shown that the plagues affected the Israelites as well as the Egyptians, and it is some pretty harsh stuff. Why are you killing your own chosen people? Moses wonders. In fact, he asks many of the questions I would like to ask the murderously insane motherfucker if I had Him on the witness stand.

So what does God look like? George Burns? Morgan Freeman? Here he is a little boy that no one else can see. Or maybe he’s meant to be an angel, I was never sure. He could easily have been an hallucination. And the “parting” of the Red Sea is quite clearly the massive withdrawal of water preceding a tsunami caused by an asteroid impact. Who would have thought that a movie could be made about the Exodus that doesn’t really rely on God at all? Another plus, in my book, is that the movie pretty much ends there, with just a few little scenes to tidy things up, where DeMille’s reverent version dragged on and on after it had already shot its wad in the water. All in all, I had a grand old time watching this one.