Saturday, December 20, 2014

A Review you can use: Exodus: Gods and Kings.

Good evening and Merry Christmas to all!

Christmas Day has fast become a day when people go to the movies, and why not?  We've done it.  I mean, once the church is done, and the presents are done, and you've eaten everything you can possibly hold, why not head outside and be around people you AREN'T related to and DON'T make you crazy?

To that end, Christmas is a time when a lot of movies get released so that people who do want to escape the family fun have something to watch.  This year we have a movie offering of Biblical proportions:  Exodus:  Gods and Kings.

After "Noah" last spring I admit, I was skeptical.  Let's face it, "Noah" is hardly a Sunday School lesson. As a devout Christian that bothers me but as a person who likes to be entertained at the movies, I was entertained. Still, if you're using a book, any book, as source material, how about sticking to the book? That's been a gripe of mine for a long time. I mean, do movie studios just think, "Hey, we have a great book...let's change a bunch of stuff and make a semi crappy movie out of it."  

Why bother using the book at all?  

This is especially true with the Bible because, okay, if you were making a movie out of the Book of Mormon or the Quran or something, you'd try and get it right, right?  But for some reason, since time forever, Hollywood has taken liberties with the Bible.  It's annoying because believe me, the book is BETTER, especially the Old Testament where all kinds of good stuff went down.  You just don't need embellishment, believe me.  and the pressure is higher because so many Christians today are looking at movies like this and saying, "Yeah, great. What are those heathen Hollywood types going to screw up this time?" 

This time around the director is Ridley Scott and I love Ridley Scott. And Christian Bale is Moses, and I love Christian Bale.  So let's go see Exodus!

For those of you who aren't sure, the book of Exodus in the Bible is the history of the Children of Israel 400 years after Jacob moved the family from Canaan to Egypt to live under the protection of Joseph.  400 years later, things aren't so great because the Pharaoh no longer remembers his history, has no idea Joseph saved Egypt during a pretty decent famine, and so the Hebrews are now slaves building all sorts of big statues and buildings.

Moses was born in a time when Pharaoh thought population control was a good idea for the Hebrews, so he made a law that said every male baby born to a Hebrew family had to be killed immediately. Moses' mother put Moses in a basket and sent him down the Nile where he was found by the daughter of Pharaoh, who raised Moses with the help of Moses' real mother who came to live in the palace as Moses' nanny.

There, I've caught you up.

The movie opens when Moses and Ramses are adults, brothers really.  This is part of the history the Bible does not tell us, whether Moses and the future Pharaoh were brothers or enemies or what.  It is commonly held that there was some rivalry, but that Moses was beloved of the old Pharaoh.  Okay, anyway, in the movie Moses heads on down to where the Hebrews are working. Why he gets there is not important, neither in the Bible nor for the purposes of this review.  He comes across Ben Kingsley. Yep, I have no idea who Ben plays, but he's there looking like, well like himself.  And he reveals to Moses that he's Hebrew.  

So far so good.

On his way out of the Hebrew camp, Moses kills an Egyptian, a fact that is explained well in the Bible, but not at all in the movie, and he goes home.  Huh. Weird.

The old Pharaoh dies and that's when we depart from the Biblical account for a while.  Moses is actually driven out of Egypt, not because he killed someone as it says in the Bible, but because he's Hebrew, and hey, it's his sister who was his nanny.  

Okay, okay, I'm willing to over look that little thing.

Moses meets up with a semi nomadic tribe who seem to think tattoos on the women's faces is wonderful but the men have no tattoos at all.  Moses marries one of the women and has a son.  Okay, back on track.

Chasing some sheep one day, Moses gets hit on a the head, buried in mud, breaks his leg, and has a vision of a young boy making tea next to a burning bush.  

What follows for the next forty minutes is all very entertaining, but if you're basing it on the Biblical account, it's complete crap.  I very nearly walked out because according to Ridley Scott, Moses decides he's going to just go in and blow stuff up and declare war on the new Pharaoh.  It actually felt for a good long time that we were getting the story of the Exodus with no mention of the ten plagues.  The couple behind us actually walked out.

Bible believers, take heart.  If you get through the 40 minutes of explosions, you'll get to something that's not only entertaining, but actually follows the Bible a bit more carefully than many others. The Plagues are depicted very well and they actually got the crossing of the Red Sea just about right, which is amazing since many Bible scoffers have long held that the crossing was no miracle but instead just a bunch of people marching through a swamp.

One thing Hollywood again gives us that I'm okay with is a doubtful, then fanatical religious hero.  Russell Crowe did well with Noah and Christian Bale gives a very good performance as Moses.  After teaching Sunday School for more than twenty years one of the things that I have to remind my students is that these heroes of faith were first and foremost people.  They had doubts, they had failures.  Ridley Scott gives us a warrior who battles his faith, so he gets it half right.  (Biblically, Moses had very little confidence when told by God to go free the Hebrews, plus he had a speech impediment.)

Overall, I was not displeased with movie.  While the first hour can be troubling for a purist, the rest of the movie (the movie is 150 minutes long, so get the big bucket) does keep close to the Bible account and is still brilliant and beautiful.  I rather enjoyed God being depicted as a young boy who likes to make tea. Not everyone does, but I believe in a God who takes all forms and so why not that of a young child?

 Some reviewers gripe that the Plagues are all explained away scientifically, therefore God is marginalized.  That's not my take on it.  Remember, the magicians tried to mimic the plagues for Pharaoh as a way of calming him.  The scene where the plagues are being explained away is not an explanation so much for the audience as a moment of comedy because the magnitude of the plagues is so beyond the simple explanations, its humorous. That's how it's presented in the movie and I believe that's correct.

So no, this is not the "perfect" Bible movie.  And if you are taking your children to see it, I caution you. There are scenes of violence that would be disturbing for the younger children.  I feel this one is actually better than "The Ten Commandments" because, well, it just is.  I think there's more of the spirit of the Bible in this one.  So maybe skip the first forty minutes and then come in.

Oh, and side note. We saw this in 3D. Skip the 3D.

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