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Exodus: Gods and Kings (2/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 140 minutes.

OK for children.

Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. George Santayana.

One would think that a major studio would learn from history, especially its own history! In 1962, Darryl Zanuck of Fox brainstormed and bankrolled a similar period film, Cleopatra. Burdened by notorious publicity of a rampaging affair between Elizabeth Taylor, who was at the time the wife of crooner Eddie Fisher, and British actor Richard Burton, and shot in Europe, it was the victim of outrageous cost overruns. When it was finally released, it bombed, even though the first half that featured Rex Harrison as Julius Caesar was actually pretty good. But when the second half came on, featuring Liz and Dick, it was a horror and fans stayed away in droves, driving Fox to the brink of bankruptcy. What saved the studio was the fantastic success of another film shot in Europe two years later, The Sound of Music.

But apparently the present denizens of Fox aren’t aware of its past because they have committed an estimated $140 million to yet another costume drama, a retelling of the story of Moses and Pharaoh Ramses II. This has been done several times before, most recently with Charlton Heston as Moses and Yul Brynner as Ramses. This time Fox gives us Christian Bale as Moses and Joel Edgerton as Ramses.

The question is, why? Not why the actors, but why the movie? First of all, this is all fiction. While there might have been a Moses, there’s no historical record of him outside of The Bible. There is also no historical record of the presence of Jews in Egypt in the second millennium BC outside of the Bible, either, much less 400,000 of them as slaves for 400 years.

This movie shows Moses leaving Egypt as a young man and returning 9 years later. Exodus, however, says that Moses was an 80 year old man when he returned to get his people (if director Ridley Scott wanted to be accurate, then, Christopher Plummer would have been better cast as Moses than Bale). So it’s unlikely that the story that Moses and Ramses were raised close enough to be brothers and that Ramses was still on the throne when Moses returned has any validity. In fact, Exodus never identifies the Pharaoh by name, so saying it was Ramses II is sheer conjecture. Since Moses is only mentioned in Exodus and in no other contemporary document, everything in the movie is just totally made up.

If you want to believe this movie, though, there is some breaking news. The first is that God appears as a little boy to Moses throughout his life, and has an English accent and a speech impediment.

Second, all Exodus says about Moses is that he married and lived as a shepherd for 40 years after he left Egypt. But this film breaks new ground in that after leading his people across the Red Sea, he takes time out to return to his wife and little boy (around 10 years old) to see if she wanted to accompany him on his trek leading his 400,000 people to their promised land. Even Exodus doesn’t tell us that. Moses was one hell of an octogenarian.

Let’s get something out of the way. This is a biblical story, based on Jewish-Christian tradition and Bible. But Scott starts the film with a graphic that the year is 1300 BCE. “BCE” is a politically correct term coined by secularists who were offended by the fact that years are measured from the date of the birth of Jesus Christ. “BCE” means “before the common era.” As almost everyone knows, “BC” means “Before Christ” and AD is Latin for Anno Domini, "year of our lord", years as measured after the birth of Christ. This dating system was devised in AD 525 and has been in common use since AD 800. Secularists want to deny this, but the fact is that time is measured from the supposed date of Christ’s birth (most scholars believe Jesus was born somewhere in 6-4 BC since the Bible says he was born during the reign of Herod The Great, who died in 4 BC). When I wrote the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Bridge my publisher tried to change dates from “BC,” as I had it, to “BCE” and I refused to let them do it. Like it or not, deal with it, but don’t invent definitions for terms that deny what they have meant for over 1,300 years.

As to the entertainment value of the movie, this is the best 3D I’ve ever seen. Usually the perception that it’s in 3D disappears right after the beginning. But this is so well done that the depth is almost always apparent and it’s enjoyable and adds to the movie, and, believe me, this movie needs something to get through it.

Regarding the content, though, it’s agonizing to sit through all the plagues. They seem unending.

Director Scott has no feel for common sense or reason and gives little credit to his audience for even minimum intelligence. While trekking to The Red Sea, two scouts rush in to tell Moses that Ramses’ force is four days behind “if they don’t stop to rest their horses.” If they don’t stop to rest their horses? These horses can run at full speed for at least four days without falling over dead after about 15 minutes pulling chariots at the speed of a chariot race? What horses they had in those days!

Then, after an avalanche destroys what seems like his entire army, in the very next scene Ramses still has all his troops behind him so they can be drowned in The Red Sea.

But Scott saves the worst for last. As The Red Sea is roaring back after the Jews have crossed, Moses tarries behind to meet Ramses in the middle of the sea as they are engulfed by the water. Not to worry, though. These guys are both big stars. They can’t die.

This is one of the silliest movies of all time. If you really feel compelled to see a bad Fox movie, rent Cleopatra; at least the first half is good.