Holy Moses, Batman!

English director Ridley Scott is evidently fond of what Hollywood calls “period pieces.” He has had little trouble getting funding for such unlike other directors, no doubt because of his track record with Alien (1979), the cult classic Blade Runner (1982), and Thelma and Louise (1991). The suits felt sufficiently rewarded after they let Scott get into the time machine to make Gladiator (2000), Kingdom of Heaven (2005), and Robin Hood (2010) to let him try again. However, for Exodus: Gods and Kings, now playing at your neighborhood multiplex, Scott had to travel quite a bit farther back.

If you’re used to the DeMille version, The Ten Commandments (1956) with Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner as Moses and Ramses, respectively, what Scott has done will seem better only because of the special effects at the end, which are impressive but not eye-popping. To me it seemed much worse, for reasons I will note shortly. Scott’s take on the Book of Exodus is unlikely to have the sort of run that DeMille’s has enjoyed, which has been shown on TV every year during Easter and Passover since 1973.

To play Ramses, Scott picked a virtual unknown: the Australian Joel Edgerton who had to shave his head for the role and does a creditable job. Not having seen the previews, I only had a vague notion that Christian Bale had been picked to play Moses. My reaction was puzzlement. I instantly remembered that this guy was Batman in The Dark Knight Rises a couple of years ago, which pretty much ruined the show for me. I watched Exodus at first trying to recall what other actor was in what other movie playing what other part.

For example, John Turturro is the Pharaoh, in pasty make-up, seemingly recovering from a hangover. Wasn’t he an escaped convict in O Brother, Where Art Thou (2000); and also a foul-mouthed Hispanic bowler who threatens The Dude (Jeff Bridges) in the hilarious The Big Lebowsky (1998)? Yes, he was. Come to think of it, Bridges might have been a better choice for Moses -- okay, okay, I’m kidding, but only just.

How about Sigourney Weaver and Ghassan Massoud? (Massoud who?)  Both are Scott retreads: she played Ripley in Alien and he played Saladin in Kingdom of Heaven. When Massoud as the Grand Vizier appeared on the screen the first time, I thought “this guy looks familiar,” then a few seconds later I had him pegged and expected him to be laying siege again at some point -- he didn’t. As for Weaver, here the Queen Mother, I expected a scene where her goons disembowel a Jewish slave, which probably would have been historically accurate. The ancient Egyptians, who weren’t Muslims, had no more use for Jews than today’s Arabs, who are. Ben Kingsley, playing a Jewish elder in Exodus, had the title role in Gandhi (1982), which earned him an Oscar. He does some passive resistance here as well but on a much smaller scale. (Sidebar: Kingsley reportedly has gone out of his way to deny he’s Jewish. Huh?)

Everyone else seemed to be a newcomer so there were no more casting distractions after these. Unable to get past Bale’s Batman gig (and raspy voice), I just sat and waited for the special effects to appear, doing my best to ignore historical inaccuracies, plot holes and implausible goings-on, which were also plentiful in Scott’s other historical dramas.

However, the most annoying aspect of Exodus, bordering on blasphemy, was the decision to incarnate Yahweh, an abstraction in Judaism. Worse yet, the Almighty is shown as a petulant child who, believe it or not, serves what appears to be tea to Moses—though without the full English fare of cucumber sandwiches and scones (whew!) What are we to make of this idea -- the incarnation, not the server bit? I’m still scratching my head a couple of days later. Herewith some not entirely idle speculations.

Was Scott telling us he thinks Judaism is an infantile religion? I hope not. That G-d moves in mysterious ways, so why not appear as a child to us mortals? Okay, I guess. That the voice of G-d is small and easily missed, which contradicts the Hebrew Bible? Was Scott playing armchair philosopher, suggesting G-d couldn’t, you know, “do stuff,” without assuming physical reality? Was he playing amateur theologian, connecting dots nobody else has (or dared to) by suggesting that Yahweh-as-child is an anticipation of Christianity? I hope not, on both counts.

Otoh, maybe Hollywood suits told Scott today’s young audiences need, like, a “visual” to believe the proceedings, even though the Hebrews didn’t and still don’t. Or maybe he thought he had to come up with an idea not in DeMille for the sake of originality. Or maybe Scott worried that an adult incarnation of the Almighty would have dwarfed the physically unimpressive Bale, here without his Batman suit. Scott might want to hold a Q&A at some point and clarify his plot point. Maybe Marion Dreyfus can ask him.

Finally, I wouldn’t be giving too much away by noting that the ending of Exodus leaves open the possibility of a sequel. Fandango reports http://www.fandango.com/boxoffice that the movie was No. 1 at the box office this weekend. It remains to be seen, however, whether it will show a large enough profit relative to the reported $140 million it cost to make. That will determine whether Scott gets to hop into the time machine again.

English director Ridley Scott is evidently fond of what Hollywood calls “period pieces.” He has had little trouble getting funding for such unlike other directors, no doubt because of his track record with Alien (1979), the cult classic Blade Runner (1982), and Thelma and Louise (1991). The suits felt sufficiently rewarded after they let Scott get into the time machine to make Gladiator (2000), Kingdom of Heaven (2005), and Robin Hood (2010) to let him try again. However, for Exodus: Gods and Kings, now playing at your neighborhood multiplex, Scott had to travel quite a bit farther back.

If you’re used to the DeMille version, The Ten Commandments (1956) with Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner as Moses and Ramses, respectively, what Scott has done will seem better only because of the special effects at the end, which are impressive but not eye-popping. To me it seemed much worse, for reasons I will note shortly. Scott’s take on the Book of Exodus is unlikely to have the sort of run that DeMille’s has enjoyed, which has been shown on TV every year during Easter and Passover since 1973.

To play Ramses, Scott picked a virtual unknown: the Australian Joel Edgerton who had to shave his head for the role and does a creditable job. Not having seen the previews, I only had a vague notion that Christian Bale had been picked to play Moses. My reaction was puzzlement. I instantly remembered that this guy was Batman in The Dark Knight Rises a couple of years ago, which pretty much ruined the show for me. I watched Exodus at first trying to recall what other actor was in what other movie playing what other part.

For example, John Turturro is the Pharaoh, in pasty make-up, seemingly recovering from a hangover. Wasn’t he an escaped convict in O Brother, Where Art Thou (2000); and also a foul-mouthed Hispanic bowler who threatens The Dude (Jeff Bridges) in the hilarious The Big Lebowsky (1998)? Yes, he was. Come to think of it, Bridges might have been a better choice for Moses -- okay, okay, I’m kidding, but only just.

How about Sigourney Weaver and Ghassan Massoud? (Massoud who?)  Both are Scott retreads: she played Ripley in Alien and he played Saladin in Kingdom of Heaven. When Massoud as the Grand Vizier appeared on the screen the first time, I thought “this guy looks familiar,” then a few seconds later I had him pegged and expected him to be laying siege again at some point -- he didn’t. As for Weaver, here the Queen Mother, I expected a scene where her goons disembowel a Jewish slave, which probably would have been historically accurate. The ancient Egyptians, who weren’t Muslims, had no more use for Jews than today’s Arabs, who are. Ben Kingsley, playing a Jewish elder in Exodus, had the title role in Gandhi (1982), which earned him an Oscar. He does some passive resistance here as well but on a much smaller scale. (Sidebar: Kingsley reportedly has gone out of his way to deny he’s Jewish. Huh?)

Everyone else seemed to be a newcomer so there were no more casting distractions after these. Unable to get past Bale’s Batman gig (and raspy voice), I just sat and waited for the special effects to appear, doing my best to ignore historical inaccuracies, plot holes and implausible goings-on, which were also plentiful in Scott’s other historical dramas.

However, the most annoying aspect of Exodus, bordering on blasphemy, was the decision to incarnate Yahweh, an abstraction in Judaism. Worse yet, the Almighty is shown as a petulant child who, believe it or not, serves what appears to be tea to Moses—though without the full English fare of cucumber sandwiches and scones (whew!) What are we to make of this idea -- the incarnation, not the server bit? I’m still scratching my head a couple of days later. Herewith some not entirely idle speculations.

Was Scott telling us he thinks Judaism is an infantile religion? I hope not. That G-d moves in mysterious ways, so why not appear as a child to us mortals? Okay, I guess. That the voice of G-d is small and easily missed, which contradicts the Hebrew Bible? Was Scott playing armchair philosopher, suggesting G-d couldn’t, you know, “do stuff,” without assuming physical reality? Was he playing amateur theologian, connecting dots nobody else has (or dared to) by suggesting that Yahweh-as-child is an anticipation of Christianity? I hope not, on both counts.

Otoh, maybe Hollywood suits told Scott today’s young audiences need, like, a “visual” to believe the proceedings, even though the Hebrews didn’t and still don’t. Or maybe he thought he had to come up with an idea not in DeMille for the sake of originality. Or maybe Scott worried that an adult incarnation of the Almighty would have dwarfed the physically unimpressive Bale, here without his Batman suit. Scott might want to hold a Q&A at some point and clarify his plot point. Maybe Marion Dreyfus can ask him.

Finally, I wouldn’t be giving too much away by noting that the ending of Exodus leaves open the possibility of a sequel. Fandango reports http://www.fandango.com/boxoffice that the movie was No. 1 at the box office this weekend. It remains to be seen, however, whether it will show a large enough profit relative to the reported $140 million it cost to make. That will determine whether Scott gets to hop into the time machine again.