EXODUS: God and Kings – A Review from the Founder & Exec. Producer of CCM
Ridley Scott’s biblical epic is a good movie going experience that has great visuals & special effects and does a decent job of story telling, although told in a very SLOW pace. I’ve been anticipating this movie for months, and I did not walk out feeling disappointed.
That said… Let’s unpack the movie a little bit.
Now that a plethora of biblical and/or Christian audience targeted movies have been released in recent months, it seems to me there are 5 basic categories worth analyzing:
2. Directing / Acting
3. Artistic/Technical Production
4. Business Model (Including Marketing)
5. And, for believers, Biblical Accuracy.
Some good news: several movies that are appealing to Christian audiences have been doing decently well at the box office. God’s Not Dead , ($60m) has been a standout success when comparing production expense with box office take. Each of the last two releases from Sherwood Pictures (Courageous – $34m & Fireproof – $33m) have done well on that same scale. Heaven is for Real lit the box office up for $91m.
In another stratosphere altogether are the Passion of the Christ, and the three different Narnia movies. To date, the Passion of the Christ has cleared $370 million and The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe has made $291 million. All of the Narnia movies were major studio releases.
What all these dollar signs prove is: there is an audience who is willing to spend money to go see movies that resonate with their sensibilities and values.
When the distribution, marketing, publicity, and in some cases, grassroots fan base building, all converge in the right mixture, The BUSINESS MODELS can be very effective at getting Christians into the movie theaters.
But, while box office is king, there are some other factors that come into play when evaluating these movies.
Who of us hasn’t gone to the theater to see a movie that is getting good word-of-mouth, and has somewhat decent box office numbers, only to find out:
* The movie is dull, boring, or just flat out not been told in good storytelling fashion.
* The actors are cardboard or totally unbelievable.
* The camerawork is terrible, the lighting is flat, dull and washed out, the audio is a mess, or something just doesn’t seem quite right.
* Or maybe, the entire thing just seems lower quality then a Lifetime movie
Then we get to a real touchy subject: the Biblical accuracy of any movie that tries to be Christian, biblical or appealing to evangelicals.
There have been some pretty serious debates about movies like Noah. And, rightfully so, staying accurate to scripture is demanded of filmmakers. The funny part is, I don’t know if Cecil B. DeMille had to live up to that standard. I don’t ever recall hearing a conversation or reading a critic discussing whether or not Charlton Heston’s actions lined up with scripture. And, I don’t recall major complaints about how the Passion of the Christ was basically a visual depiction of the 7 stations of the cross, which is largely something that evangelical Christians do not break down the same way as their Catholic bretheren.
The honest truth is, our demands for scriptural accountability is something that is BOTH critical and important, and something that seems like an impossible demand. I just don’t know if we can expect non-Christian filmmakers, who are making a Christian or biblically-based movie to adhere to the believer’s interpretation of the scripture.
Much of the Bible is perfectly clear, very well described, and doesn’t require us to fill in any “visual” blanks. But, carefully go over scripture and some things are really not specifically defined. I can’t really say what the Nephilim looked like, and scripture really doesn’t give us complete details. (That said, I’m relatively certain they weren’t gigantic rock people.) Exactly what does God look like when he appears to Moses? In EXODUS Ridley Scott chooses to show God as a young boy. At first I had a hard time swallowing that. But, then I did some research, and there are theologians who believe that the only way God has ever revealed himself to man is in the form of Christ. And, some actually believe that Jesus, who is not constrained by time, could have appeared in different situations in different forms other then being 30 to 33 years old.
EXODUS does, in fact, deviate from scripture:
* Moses’ Rod/Staff plays little to no significant role in the story. In fact, A sword plays a much bigger role.
* There is almost no interchange between Moses and pharaoh between each plague. And, therefore there isn’t much tangible evidence of pharaoh’s heart hardening. And, there is little to no evidence of Moses becoming a stronger leader and earning respect of both the Egyptians and the Israelites.
* God is either depicted taking the form of a boy, or God speaks to Moses through a messenger, who is a boy.
* The pillar of cloud and fire is nowhere to be found as the Israelites approach the Red Sea.
* Moses is much younger than 80 years old as he leads the Israelites out of Egypt.
* Rameses somehow survives being drowned in the Red Sea as it obliterates the Egyptian army.
What DOES happen in EXODUS is:
* The Israelites are enslaved for 400 years in Egypt.
* It’s acknowledged that Moses was placed in the river, because pharaoh issued a decree to kill Hebrew children, and winds up being raised alongside Rameses in the pharaoh’s household.
* Moses sister, Miriam, helps raise Moses, as one of the help, in the pharaohs palace.
* Moses kills an Egyptian soldier
* Moses discovers that he is Hebrew. Pharaoh discovers that Moses is a Hebrew, and he is sent into exile.
* On his journeys, Moses meets Jethro and Zipporah. He marries Zipporah.
* Moses goes to the mountain where he is told by God that he must lead the Israelites out of captivity.
* Moses tells pharaoh he must let the Israelites go.
* All 10 plagues are unleashed upon Egypt.
* The Passover occurs
* Pharaoh let the Israelites go
* The Egyptian army chases the Israelites who are making their way through the wilderness
* The Red Sea parts
* The Israelites escape through the parted sea
* The Egyptian army goes into the parted sea and is eventually swallowed up as the sea closes on them
* Moses received the 10 Commandments and writes on the tablets
* Moses makes the transition from not really believing in God to becoming a man of faith
In the end, it’s my personal opinion that this movie is not 100% scripturally correct but hits more of the major points of the Exodus story than it misses.
Art always reflects the eye and the heart of the artist who makes it. This is why I believe it’s important to have more Christians, who are salt and light, become part of the story making and storytelling process. In this case, I have read that there are several Christians who worked on Exodus. But, I would say it’s a safe bet that Ridley Scott was not committed to bringing the Evangelical version of the Exodus story to the screen. Based on the dedication at the end of the movie, he may have been motivated by the memory of his brother Tony, who was also a director of famous films, and sadly took his own life. Maybe, just maybe, Ridley Scott is on some kind of a spiritual journey and making this movie was part of it.
It’s not very often that all five of the categories above all line up with one movie. Maybe, all five lined up with the Passion of the Christ. They almost certainly lined up for The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
For a fun exercise, try analyzing other biblical or Christian movies and see how they do in each category.
Here is my EXODUS scorecard:
CONTENT AND STORY:
Overall, it tells a good story. Its shortcomings are: it is slow and plodding (but, I think that’s because director Ridley Scott is almost paying homage to the biblical epics of several decades ago), it lacks character development for nearly every character in the movie, and, if the viewer is not very familiar with the Exodus story, they may get lost as to the motivation of why things happen. But, the story is still good and probably rates a 6+ on a scale of 1 to 10.
Director Ridley Scott does a good job of bringing the story to screen in a truly epic way. If it’s measured up against the Charlton Heston 10 Commandments, it probably doesn’t hit the mark. Christian Bale is relatively flat, as Moses, but I don’t know that I expected anything else. Ben Kingsley is pretty much wasted in the movie playing an inconsequential character who never develops in anyway shape or form. Other actors do a very good job. And most certainly, this movie is done with competent professional actors. Never once, during the moviegoing experience, did I watch and think to myself, “These sure are a bunch of amateurs who mean well.” EXODUS is after all, a major Hollywood release. Rating: 8 out of 10.
This is where EXODUS really shines. The battle scenes are great. The depiction of Egypt and the wilderness is terrific. All of the costumes and art direction are superb. I wanted to see an up-to-date, what could be done with the latest technology version of the story. I was not disappointed. In this arena, this is where top-notch Hollywood standards prevail. At least a 9 out of 10.
All of the necessary pieces are in place. And, if you consider 24.5 million a flop, many pundits are saying EXODUS severely under performed in its first weekend. My guess is, by the time all of the different forms of release are complete, EXODUS will be high on the list of biblical/Christian movie releases in the last five years. (A big problem in the end could be the movie cost, based on published reports, between $140m & $200m to produce.)
Based on what was written above, I would rate EXODUS 4 out of 10.
My over all rating of EXODUS would be 7+
I continue to be a Ridley Scott fan. And, I think he did a laudable job. I wonder what was left on the cutting room floor… My guess is, some of what I feel is missing was cut out to keep the movie’s length down to less than 2 1/2 hours.
I saw EXODUS in 3-D. The 3-D wasn’t so hot, but seeing the movie in a theater with a bucket of popcorn was definitely a fun experience.
If I was to take friends to see the movie, I would definitely suggest a good reading of the story in the book of Exodus. I read that when Noah was released, Bible Gateway reported a 200% increase in the amount of people who read the story of Noah online through their website. It would be great if the same thing occurred here.
I’d like to hear your thoughts!! Please comment below.
CCM Founder & Executive Producer