Oh boy, religion, a scary word. I haven't seen a biblical epic since I was a kid and in all honesty, I wasn't overly bothered about seeing this, but hey its a Ridley Scott film. For anyone that doesn't know, this story is of course based upon he Book of Exodus. The story of how the Israelites left their lives of slavery in Egypt behind them, and travelled the massive distance all the way to what is today Israel. Why on earth they went that long way around and not along the coast I dunno, something to do with the Philistines I believe, not friendly folk or whatever, hey lets not go there right. Twas a harrowing journey but luckily old Moses had God (Yahweh) on his side which certainly gave the home team an advantage over the dastardly Egyptians who were after them. Why was Ramesses (the Egyptians) after the Israelites when he had just let them go? Well he was pissed because he had been forced into the decision by Moses' best mate God, who had earlier reigned down a whole load of badassery upon them. Hey come on now, surely you all know this? possibly from Sunday school??
Being a Scott epic there was never a doubt in my mind this film wouldn't look awesomely slick, and I was correct, this film does indeed look awesomely slick. The start of the movie was always gonna be the most impressive visually with the CGI assisted cityscapes of Memphis in Egypt, the CGI assisted recreations of the cities ancient architecture, the CGI assisted horse and chariot battle between the Egyptians and the Hittites, and of course all that lovely yellowy, sandy desert which, for some reason, always looks amazingly photogenic. Indeed at first things come across as another gobsmackingly good historical with every element and every detail perfectly recreated with loving care and attention. As the film progresses and we delve further into religious territory things do get somewhat less visually impressive and more...errmm...religious? can I say that? The reliance on CGI becomes greater for the ten plagues naturally, we less of the beautiful Egyptian cities and culture in all its glory as we focus more on Moses and his people in rags, and of course things just become more fanciful.
Dare I touch on the casting here? oy vey! Well issues on race aside, Christian Bale is clearly miscast here, I swear its like having Batman on God's side fighting the Egyptians. This guy just doesn't fit in this role at all, he is far to British for a start (I can tell) and doesn't even try to quell his accent. He also looks nothing like a person from this era in my opinion, I'm not saying I know what Hebrew people from around 1300 BC would look like, but Bale just doesn't seem to fit this look if you ask me, he also looks too modern if that makes any sense. If you wanted to make a historical about medieval knights then sure, Bale could be your man, but ancient Egypt and Israelites? nah. I'm afraid the same could be said for Sigourney Weaver who sounds all wrong and actually acts badly to boot! not that she had much to do anyway. Joel Edgerton of Australia of all places, actually did look right in his role I thought, its all in his eyes, along with the makeup he actually did look very ethnically authentic I thought, surprising sure, but credit where credits due. Same could also be said for John Turturro who looked fab as Seti I, and of course Ben Kingsley who always fits in any historical epic of any time period, its virtually an obligatory move to cast the man.
It is funny how this religious tale does in fact turn into a very Robin Hood-esque action flick midway through. You know, Ramesses is looking for Moses the outlaw, the rebel, he's executing the villagers left right and centre to try and get them to reveal him. Eventually he sends his troops into the villages to rape and pillage, then just for good measure burn their abodes down, you know...just so they know he means business. Moses watches all this from a distance, planning his revenge with his band of merry religious followers. Indeed Moses and his rebel scum do manage to attack the Egyptians by taking some of their ships down on the Nile, but not before a kickass training montage on the art of war first! (Spartacus much?). Its all standard stuff until God steps in and tips the scales with his Godly powers, bit one sided I thought.
So lets talk plagues, ten plagues to be precise. Well...they were pretty much all heavily CGI, aaand that's that. The rivers ran red with CGI blood, the hail storms were impressively CGI, the swarms of flies were actually less impressive CGI. The invasion of frogs, ditto, accept for some closeups on real frogs, same with the locusts. Death of livestock was pretty simple, no explanations required there, same with the darkness that descended on Egypt...it all went dark so people used lots more torches. The issue of boils was nicely implemented with decent makeup effects and they lasted some time too, when the plot moved on people still suffered from boils, they didn't just go away for the next scene. The curse of death to every newborn child was easily the biggie, the one you waited for because you wondered just what they would come up with. Maybe some little CGI devils running around and killing children? or a ghostly Grim Reaper-esque spirit that glides through the city? Sounds cool but no, nothing like that, all we got was a large shadow that slowly engulfs the Egyptian city bit by bit, literately taking life like snuffing out light. Does beg the question, why would God willingly kill children? come to think of it, shouldn't he really remain neutral over things like this, let mortals sort their issues out themselves.
As for historical accuracy, well that's the tricky bit isn't it because no one really knows if any of this is actually true, or real. Although really, we all know its probably fictitious. Hell there is no real proof of Moses or Ramesses even being the pharaoh mentioned in the Bible! We don't even know the specific period all this was supposed to have taken place because yet again, the Bible doesn't say. As for Biblical accuracy, well starters I don't believe Moses has ever been depicted as a hardened, sword wielding badass in the Egyptian army, plus we never really see him with a staff, he's mostly got his ornate sword. The Egyptian character of Viceroy Hegep is completely invented for the film, this slimy guy is the one who reveals Moses birth secret to Ramesses in order to gain his favour (stereotypical baddie). Moses intervenes when Ramesses threatens to cut Miriam's arm off for not speaking the truth about Moses background, but why would he do this when he's not even sure himself. Seems like a risky thing to do considering you only just heard about this claim, of your own birth, not so long ago. Bale's Moses actually argues with God in this film, well the young boy version of God (eh?). At the start of the ten plagues some fishermen are brutally eaten alive by crocodiles which kick starts the blood rivers plague, not sure this is in the Bible, not sure why this was needed at all, just to spice things up a bit huh.
I love the sequence where after everything that's happened, Moses just turns up on his wife's (Zipporah...who has facial tattoos??) doorstep with hundreds of thousands of people and calmly says 'these are my people'. Errr...K, what the hell is she suppose to say or think about that?! I don't think she will have had enough biscuits and tea to go around. Moses had galloped off back to Egypt to free the Hebrews because 'God told him'. Pretty much a suicide mission and had left Zipporah and their son to fend for themselves. Then he just pops up with a gazillion people in tow and expects everything to be fine and dandy.
Then you have the entire finale, yikes! Moses leads the Hebrews through a mountain pass because essentially he's lost and hasn't got a bloody clue where to go (no pillars of smoke or fire here folks). Ramesses follows and loses many of his chariots when they fall off the side of a slim mountain path, another bit of modern action and carnage for the young crowd then. Once at the Red Sea, Moses is again not sure he's at the right spot, and not getting any help from his mate God, he throws his ornate sword into the sea out of frustration. Its this Braveheart/Excalibur-esque act that causes the seas to slowly recede. Whilst the Hebrews are desperately crossing Moses stays behind, half way across, to have a one to one face-off against Ramesses as the huge tidal wave of sea comes crashing back into place, because its clearly an action flick. Amazingly both Moses and Ramesses survive this whilst every other human and animal is killed. Oh and someone actually cast Ewen Bremner as an Egyptian! I could still detect his Scottish accent for God's sake...errr! I mean for goodness' sake.
Amusingly this film actually felt more of a realistic take on the Biblical story more than anything. Many of the events that occur in the film are almost bordering on sensible, plausible explanations or ways of looking at the Bibles religious aspects. Miraculous things that take place are very much down to earth looking in the film, such as the parting of the Red Sea, Moses talking to himself when he's actually talking to God, Moses essentially getting lost during the Exodus, and each of the plagues being explained as natural disasters that have each had a knock-on effect. To be frank there isn't really anything miraculous going on anywhere in this film, its certainly somewhat devoid of much serious religious tone which generally I would say is good, but considering this is a Biblical story that's not really the aim is it. I mean, Moses is supposed to be the messenger of God (along with Aaron) but for the most part he seems more in the dark with what's going on around him, an onlooker who doesn't agree with God over certain things.
I got the impression this was an opportunity for a cash grab on the popular sword and sandal genre truth be told. Obviously a religious offering, but in order to make it more appealing to the masses, they toned down the religious parts and made it more of a historical disaster flick with a fantasy element. The Biblical aspect would obviously lure in the religious crowd (and their money), but essentially this wasn't for them, methinks. I've said this so many times now, but this wasn't a bad film, just very average, looks great in places, but still totally average. Adding insult to injury, religion is the bloody fabric of story! and it should be the fabric of the film...but it isn't, they virtually cut all that crap out! So what are you left with? a very odd semi-realistic religious adaptation. Ridley, if you wanna make authentic, realistic historical epics, then do so (please do!), but don't try and do it with Bible stories because it doesn't really work.