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Friday, 2 January 2015

Exodus:Gods and Kings - A film review

A real sense of the epic nature of the story
On New Year's Eve, I went with my twelve year old son to watch the new Exodus: Gods and Kings. Only the 3D version was available, but with the help of "Orange Wednesday", the cost was reasonable: 3D really is cool.

The film is billed as the story of Moses, and from a trailer I had seen earlier in the year, it looked as though the story would follow the Biblical account. In the trailer, for example, frogs by the thousand, fill Pharaoh's palace.

The reality, however, is that the film is a fictional story, loosely tied to the Exodus account.

Looking for positives, the acting was superb and convincing - and you got a feel of the enormous power of the Egyptians and the epic nature of the power required to release the Israelites from Pharaoh's grasp. The large scale epic scenes were truly amazing.

Some mythology
I cannot understand why anyone wanting to produce a film about Moses would want to change the story: the biblical story is far far more interesting than the mythological one in this film. Besides, if you run the story accurately, you are likely to get good reviews and end up with more Christians watching it, surely. By changing the story you loose both in quality and income. I just don't get it.

Here are some of the many departures:

Moses knows Pharaoh
This is a common myth, also repeated in the animation "Prince of Egypt". It is assumed that Pharaoh and Moses grew up together in the palace and became good mates. Not only is there no record of this in Scripture, the myth then spawns some additional weird scenes where Moses and Pharaoh chat as old chums. For example, at the end, when Moses comes to tell Pharaoh about the last plague, he meets in private and holds a sword to Pharaoh's throat (which actually draws blood); as if Moses would be allowed that close to Pharaoh, on his own, unguarded, with a sword. According to one BBC webpage ancient Egytians lived for about 40 years. Thus by the time Moses returned to Egypt from his 40 years in the desert, now at the age of 80, any princely chum in the palace was likely to have been long dead.

God is played by a child
Perhaps the most ludicrous change is that God is played by a little boy who is meant to speak God's words. Not only are the words all made up, but the very idea robs the true story much of its majesty and transcendence, not to speak of truth. Now why would you want to do this?

Moses is not very "pro-God"
The Moses of the Old Testament, while struggling to obey God when first called, does submit to God's will and proves a faithful, if somewhat human servant - a most humble man we remind ourselves (Numbers 12:3). But right throughout the film we find Moses disrespectful and even argumentative towards "God".

A polemic on the "monster God" of the Old Testament
About the only detailed conversation about God takes place when Pharaoh, with dead baby son in arms, argues with Moses about what kind of God would kill babies. Nothing is said in rebut about the stubbornness of Pharaoh's heart (he could have escaped this judgement, 9 judgements earlier) or the 400 years slavery-without-pay that preceded.

The sea that does not divide
Clearly consulting the liberal scholars, we have no divided waters, through which the Israelites pass on dry ground. Instead we have sort of dry ground which at times turns waist deep, through which the people must struggle. So no real miracle here. But now in the name of CGI effects and drama, a miracle not mentioned in the Old Testament is introduced to drown the Egyptians - a tsunami high wave! No miracles for the sake of science, but new miracles please in the name of big screen effects!

Moses gets swept up in the flood!
So (because they supposedly know each other), Moses and Pharaoh meet up in the middle of the dryish sea with a ginormous wave about to overwhelm them both. And indeed both of them are caught up (but survive) the flood. Where does it say Moses got caught up in the flood?

One of the most fascinating parts of the whole Biblical account is the way Moses speaks to Pharaoh. This part, except for a mythological conversation before the last plague, is completely missing. In the Bible you get a feel of Pharaoh's withering power, and God's ascending power as these exchanges proceed, but all of this is omitted. 

Why the changes?
About half way through the film my son says "let's leave", twice. And at the end he says "this film sucks". I have deliberately said nothing, so that he can make up his own mind.

I left the cinema pondering why the writers should have wanted to make such sweeping changes, especially when their version is so much less interesting - and is likely to bring in so much less money.

Ultimately, the writers are spiritually blind men reading a story they don't believe, changing it to fit in with the transient vagaries of a passing culture.

I can't wait to preach the real story in January!

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