According to His faithful flock and their respective independently-produced movies, God is not dead. The concept of the Hollywood biblical epic, on the other hand, is a critically endangered species. The days of lavish productions loaded with dazzling special effects and all-star casts of white folk playing Egyptians performing in big-budget productions interlaced with a strong belief in the Christian theology throughout are long gone, having been replaced by low-budget, poorly acted, and usually mind-numbing films produced by people who are either just exploiting the faithful (see: Left Behind), or who are a few hundred thousand Hebrewites short of an mass-migration to Canaan (see: Kirk Cameron).
And yet, for some reason, in this age of arrogantly atheistic audiences who become outraged when nary a ethnic actor is seen on-screen portraying an ethnic part – even when a story requires no such characters – several filmmakers decided it would be a good idea to resurrect the biblical epic. First there was the surprisingly slightly well-received movie Noah, featuring Gladiator star Russell Crowe as the man who would become famous for not inventing the umbrella. Then, as if fueled by jealousy by the box-office receipts of this contemporary throwback to classic Hollywood, Gladiator‘s own director, Ridley Scott, decided to crank out his own biblical epic.
Like Noah and the classic biblical epics that paved the very way that would later be paved over in order to expand Disneyland’s parking lot, Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings decided to keep the old-school, time-honored tradition of employing all-star casts of white folk playing Egyptians just to offend the overly sensitive and overtly sensible alike. Exodus: Gods and Kings also has the dazzling special effects down pat. Surely, the CGI machines were running day and night on this one. In fact, were it not for said special effects, Scott would have little else to offer here. Actually, truth be told, even with all of this elaborate computer-created imagery, Scott is barely capable of parting his own red locks here, let alone the Red Sea.
For starters, the agnostic Scott decided to make his biblical epic as non-religious as possible. This was done perhaps not because of his own beliefs, but so that he could get as many non-religious people’s money as possible at the box office. And while it really just sort of defeats the whole purpose, it comes off as being just as awkward as the homosexual aspect of J. Edgar, wherein gay screenwriter Dustin Lance Black believed J. Edgar Hoover to be closeted, and straight director Clint Eastwood chose to keep it on the downlow. And as if an agnostic making a biblical epic weren’t offensive to those who believe in belief, Scott directly insults everybody on God’s green earth by having the least-believable performer in cinematic history portray He who created man in His own image.
To say nothing of the rest of the cast, from Christian Bale as Moses, Joel Edgerton as evil Pharaoh Ramses II, and right down the line onto Sigourney Weaver as evil Pharaoh Ramses II’s evil mum. Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn, the whiter-than-sour-cream Aaron Paul, and Spanish actress María Valverde are also included here and there in this two-and-a-half hour mess, the latter being one of the few “ethnic” performers to play an ethnic role, albeit in an extremely minor role. Truly, John Turturro and Sir Ben Kingsley are about the only two actors who actually look even partly right for their roles (which are small), while the more “authentic” people of color are limited to blending in with the scenery.
But it is Scott’s crass casting of God – or in this instance, since it’s a non-religious biblical epic and all, a mystical “representation” of God – that really takes the bars and punch from the parish hall directly after the sermon. Did you think George Lucas’ casting of Jake Lloyd as young Anakin Skywalker was bad? How could you not, right? Well, wait until you cringe over the sight and sound of Isaac Andrews as God’s little scowling emissary. Sorry, no Alan Rickman here. We don’t even get a mighty, uncredited voiceover for the almighty like the great Cecil B. DeMille did in his 1956 masterpiece, The Ten Commandments. Just a bad child actor. It’s enough to make you lose your faith in perhaps more than just the film industry.
What’s more, it appears Scott – who truly hasn’t made a good movie since Thelma & Louise (look, Gladiator was pretty bad, people; please stop deluding yourselves on that one) – simply phoned it in here, as he clearly has no interest in directing his actors. Instead, the quickly shot film was turned into a massive CGI project, which takes away all prospects of character development in lieu of an extravagantly extended sequence depicting the Plagues of Egypt (which are given scientific explanations), including a scene with hundreds of giant CGI crocodiles taken right out of Jaws and the dozens of terrible giant killer aquatic critter features that followed it (but which were still better than Exodus: Gods and Kings).
I realize Ridley Scott is still mourning the death of his brother, filmmaker Tony Scott. That’s painfully apparent as the story, which is basically about two men raised as brothers who part paths, concludes and he dedicates it to his late sibling. And that’s tragic. But it’s just as tragic to watch one’s apathy and laziness take over a big-budget epic, biblical or otherwise. And Scott’s idle musings included in the audio commentary track for Exodus: Gods and Kings may reveal a great deal of indolence on his behalf, as his participation in the recording – which is spliced together with screenwriter Jeffrey Caine (one of the feature’s four writers) – mostly finds him saying “Yeah, that’s all fake there. That one thing is real, the rest is fake.”
Mr. Caine’s contributions to the aforementioned bonus audio selection are much more interesting, and with the right combination of director/co-screenwriter commentary and pop-up trivia track (known here as “The Exodus Historical Guide”) selected while the otherwise bore of a flick plays on, you just might be entertained slightly. Also included here for those of you who still enjoy special features with their home video purchases are a good fifteen minutes of deleted and extended scenes. Many of these excised bits are presented unfinished in one form or another, none of them ultimately add anything to the already tired story in the long run.
A three-disc, 3D Deluxe Edition set includes an entire bonus disc of additional extra materials not included in this standard release. Three-dimensional viewings notwithstanding, both releases feature excellent video and audio presentations. In case I had not properly allured to it before in my semi-coherent rambling, Exodus: Gods and Kings is all style, no substance. And, if that sort of thing works for you, you might just wet yourself as you take in the breathtaking 1080p transfer and listen to the sharp 7.1 DTS-HD MA lossless soundtrack. Essentially, everything looks and sounds terrific, except for what you see and hear. Spanish and French Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks are also on-hand, as are English (SDH) and Spanish subtitles.
Doomed to be as forgotten as Ramses II’s name in the Bible itself (something I learned from the trivia track, kids), Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings is an embarrassment to anyone with half of a brain. If you’re of the Christian persuasion, you will most likely be offended by its loose adaptation of the story of Moses and lack of religion in-general. If you are not a very religious person, you will most likely be offended by the fact that it is little more than a really bad movie. Either way, I’d stick to The Ten Commandments. At least they had an excuse for whitewashed casts back then, and it’s still a better film overall.