Saturday, October 10, 2015

I am Pissed Off at Ridley Scott

Is that a Tsunami? No it's just Moses walking casually as the Red Sea hurdles behind him
Ok so, I decided to spend most of today in, and HBO in all of its wisdom was showing Ridley Scott's 2014 'biblical epic' Exodus: Gods and Kings. I knew the film got like almost universally horrible reviews except for some douche at Rolling Stone magazine, and that was to be expected. As a Jew who has watched Cecil B. Demille's The Ten Commandments (1954) every time it's broadcast on NBC right before passover, and as a Jew on the whole, I almost lost it. Of course I'd heard the incendiary comments that Christian Bale (who played Moses) say that Moses was one of the most barbaric people he'd ever researched. Um...really? Most biblical scholars would disagree. On top of which, Ridley Scott himself defended his 'creative choices' to have those very recognizable miracles in the Old and New Testament including the 10 Plagues of Egypt and the Parting of the Red Sea as 'natural occurrences'. Now, I'm all for different depictions of history, perhaps more modernized and appropriated for an audience that can't comprehend miracles decided by a burning bush. It is 2015 after all, but if you're a self-proclaimed atheist perhaps you should veer away from a movie who's source material is the Bible. Just sayin'. Also, maybe don't cast Aryan-looking actors from Wales and America to play messianic icons from Ancient Egypt and the Middle East. As I said, it's 2015. 
I don't want to nitpick (too late) but I remember some historian being really enamored at the fact that in this scene (where they are building the iconic Great Sphinx of Giza, the face seems to have very European features, you almost expect Michelangelo Buonarroti to be sculpting it)
But I was not only offended as a Jew, as a person with a passion for films more so. As a Jew I don't get offended that much. But as someone who grew up with those stories and no matter what spiritual changes I have made over my growing up, I still hold those stories (whether accurate or even possible) to be close to my heart. I love sitting around a Passover table and people telling their different recollections of one of the most interesting and moving Bible stories that exists, at least for people in my tribe. I came into it with hesitation, but I just had to see it, because those aforementioned miracles would have to appear somehow. But the film was devoid of any emotion, and generally empty and had no heart whatsoever. This is surprising from a man who single-handedly revived the Ancient Roman film with Gladiator and fucked up his own legacy of sci-fi horror with Prometheus

Seriously, only good part of this film, in perhaps on of the most heartbreaking scenes. The story goes that after 9 plagues, Moses warned Ramses ominously of a tenth that would be more devastating than the rest but wouldn't say what it was. After this, the proud Pharaoh finally capitulated, and Edgerton plays all of that beautifully.
Dragged for over 2 1/2 hours (granted Demille's version is well into 3 hours and change), this film kept all of the humanity out of it, not to mention pawned off the fascinating plagues and the most fascinating thing of all whether imagined or true; the parting of the Red Sea to be neutered into something that just naturally happened. Yeah, these might be fairy tales, but hey we all fell in love with Star Wars didn't we? What neutered the whole Darth Vader evil thing? Backstory. But I'm getting off topic. Aaron Paul as Joshua was almost laughable, and the fact that Moses has to talk to a messenger of God named Malak (the literal Hebrew translation into 'messenger of god') instead of talking to a burning bush was even more ridiculous than have Christian Bale talk to a burning bush. 
Demille's version is notorious for being one of the most inaccurate portrayals of the Exodus, but it was so much fun. Anne Baxter (right) plays a woman who didn't even exist much less cause a riff of jealousy between supposed brothers Ramses and Moses. Nevertheless, it was fun. And that's all filmmaking needs to be!
The only thing that stood out was the casting of Joel Edgerton as Ramses II. As we've learned from Yul Brynner from the Demille film, this is a Pharaoh that's a full on sadist. Even with his wife, he gets off at the suffering of others. And even coming close to that kind of iconic performance was a feat. I mean, Brynner totally stole the movie, especially for us women. Edgerton was perfect because he always seems to take a crap movie based on great source material (we all remember Gatsby) and make at least his performance brilliant, which he does. He's the exact type of angry and emotional that could play a conflicted and hardened narcissistic Pharaoh obsessed with his own legacy, not realizing an uprising is imminent. 

You think recreating the mass exodus of over 300,000 Jews out of Egypt is arduous? Imagine how Demille did it in the 50's with no CGI?
But that's the only point I can give it. Everything else was an abomination, and not in the Biblical context, though that had a lot to do with it, but in a film context mostly. It was a white washed version of again, one of the most amazing and mind-blowing stories in biblical scripture, that both old and new testaments acknowledge. Jews, at least reform Jews (as in Jews that don't care so much and just identify as such) don't treat the Old Testament as the holy gospel where absolutely every damn word is true and though about 4000 years old should be taken literally. It's just a book of stories, at least to me, and the holidays based on things like the Exodus out of Egypt or the Maccabean Revolt (Hannukah) are based on lessons that are universal; that every man is entitled to freedom, that being stubborn will alienate you, and if you have faith, no matter if in god, or yourself, or something greater than you, you will come out on top even under the most implausible odds standing in your way. I would hate it that when I have a family of my own, and NBC suddenly stops broadcasting the classic Demille film, albeit a total break from the actual context of the story of Moses and began showing Exodus: Gods and Kings instead which i not only an abomination of filmmaking, but of biblical stories, which I am sorry but perhaps should be left alone. Yeah, modern audiences aren't so much buying it anymore, well let's just say they are disinterested. I honestly don't think I've ever rolled my eyes so much...and I've seen Interstellar

Below, stuff on Demille's film, seriously, just watch that instead. 

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