Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)


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Variety:
 

20th Century Fox has made a preemptive acquisition of a pitch to tell the story of Moses in "300" style. The tale will start with his near death as an infant to his adoption into the Egyptian royal family, his defiance of the Pharoah and deliverance of the Hebrews from enslavement.

[...]

The popular mythical and magical elements inherent in the Book of Exodus will be there--including the plagues visited upon Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea--but the Cooper & Collage version will also include new elements of Moses� life that the writers culled from Rabbinical Midrash and other historical sources.

 

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Yeah I've been waiting for a free minute to blog that. Not sure this takes the film in the way I'd like it to go, but it's an interesting direction nevertheless. This style would suit Judges so much better IMHO.

Matt

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MattPage wrote:

: This style would suit Judges so much better IMHO.

Yeah, that was my thought too. But who would want to make a movie in which our heroes conquer Palestine and conduct a campaign of ethnic cleansing?

Ryan H. wrote:

: Do we really need another Moses flick? Not particularly. THE TEN COMMANDMENTS is about as iconic and grandiose as you can hope to get with the story.

It's also very much a product of the Cold War. We haven't had a live-action big-screen Moses in over 50 years (the Burt Lancaster, Ben Kingsley and Dougray Scott versions were all made for TV; the DreamWorks cartoon was, well, a cartoon), at least not from a major studio, so I'd say there's certainly room for a new interpretation of the material. (Incidentally, the 1950s version of <i>The Ten Commandments</i> included a few nods to extra-biblical material, too, such as Moses' conquest of Ethiopia and his romantic involvement with the princess or queen thereof; you can read about that in Josephus, and possibly elsewhere.)

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I'd say there's certainly room for a new interpretation of the material. (Incidentally, the 1950s version of <i>The Ten Commandments</i> included a few nods to extra-biblical material, too, such as Moses' conquest of Ethiopia and his romantic involvement with the princess or queen thereof; you can read about that in Josephus, and possibly elsewhere.)

Indeed. I am heartened by the idea that this Moses may be a bit more linked to all that great Rabbinical material, which would make this something more steeped in Jewish storytelling. Sounds good to me.

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Yeah, that was my thought too. But who would want to make a movie in which our heroes conquer Palestine and conduct a campaign of ethnic cleansing?

Me. You have to admit, the film would be fascinating.

It's also very much a product of the Cold War. We haven't had a live-action big-screen Moses in over 50 years (the Burt Lancaster, Ben Kingsley and Dougray Scott versions were all made for TV; the DreamWorks cartoon was, well, a cartoon), at least not from a major studio, so I'd say there's certainly room for a new interpretation of the material.

What new territory is left that could make such a film interesting? The story remains very familiar, and I can't think of any angles with the characters or dynamics that could suddenly make the story "new" again, aside from the tiresome approach of making a more "historically accurate" film. I suppose a significantly unique aesthetic might make a TEN COMMANDMENTS film distinctive enough (for example, one that adopted the anachronistic, elegant style of Gustave Dore's beautiful illustrations), but still, it would be far better to focus on one of the less well-known Biblical stories.

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Another extra-biblical element from the 1956 movie comes to mind: The star that predicts Moses' birth. This was reportedly inspired by a passage in Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews 2.205) in which an Egyptian scribe predicted the birth and future success of Moses -- but Josephus never says anything about a star, so it would seem DeMille borrowed at least part of that scene from the Christian tradition, too. It is one of a few ways in which DeMille "Christianizes" the story of Moses.

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Ryan H. wrote:

: What new territory is left that could make such a film interesting?

I must confess, when I think of the differences between now and then, I think of all the things that a new movie would NOT be, rather than what it WOULD be. A new movie would NOT have a triumphalist subtext that was basically Christian, or American, for example (the 1956 film's final scene includes coded references to the Statue of Liberty and the Liberty Bell, and DeMille himself introduces the film by contrasting God-fearing American freedom with Soviet socialist tyranny).

I'm not really sure how you can get all 300 or Braveheart with this material, since there isn't a whole lot of warfare -- not unless you're going to feature the Israelites' occasional clashes with the Amalekites or with Og the gigantic king of Bashan or something. But all those battles come AFTER the crossing of the Red Sea, which is usually treated as the climax in cinematic versions of this story. (Or they could always expand on Moses' conquest of Ethiopia, which, on Josephus's chronology, happened when Moses was still a prince of Egypt.)

One development in recent years -- seen in The Prince of Egypt and the recent TV version of The Ten Commandments, if I'm not mistaken -- has been the emphasis on Moses and the Pharaoh as brothers who used to be close but have since been torn apart by destiny. This differs in a big way from DeMille's version of the story, where Moses and Rameses were always rivals for the throne (and the princess), and then Rameses ended up getting it (and her) and Moses got something better. We now have more sympathy, as it were, for the Pharaoh, the outsider, the unbeliever; instead of cheering his comeuppance, we see him more as a tragic figure.

The Prince of Egypt happened to come out around the same time as American History X, and I remember telling people at the time that both films were basically about brothers raised by a racist, one of whom spends time away from the family and comes to a more enlightened position on these issues while the other brother stays behind and becomes even more deeply entrenched in the prejudice of their ancestors. (Both films also featured a high-ranking Star Trek veteran: Patrick Stewart in The Prince of Egypt, Avery Brooks in American History X. But I digress.) So there was, if you like, something "in the air" back then, some way of approaching race relations and family relations, that got incorporated into The Prince of Egypt somehow.

It could be interesting to see what is "in the air" NOWadays, and how it gets incorporated into this new film.

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WPS

(what Peter said)

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I'd love to see the film deal with the fact that Biblically Moses was 40 when he fled Egypt, and 80 when he returned to Egypt for the Exodus. Having an elderly but strong protagonist would be cool and refreshing in an age of bulging biceps and the fetishism of youth.

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It could be interesting to see what is "in the air" NOWadays, and how it gets incorporated into this new film.

I suppose, but I'd still much rather see a different story retold than the Moses account. What makes the Moses count, in particular, worth retelling on film? If its only appeal is to see how the contemporary situation has worked its way into the story, couldn't we see that in another Biblical story that hasn't be retold as frequently just as well?

Edited by Ryan H.

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I'm waiting for the Coen Brothers' version of the Moses story. And after seeing A Serious Man, I think that's all the more interesting a possibility. Unlikely, sure, but I used to dream about seeing Ian Holm and Ian McKellan as Bilbo and Gandalf, and *that* came true, so...

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I suppose, but I'd still much rather see a different story retold than the Moses account. What makes the Moses count, in particular, worth retelling on film? If its only appeal is to see how the contemporary situation has worked its way into the story, couldn't we see that in another Biblical story that hasn't be retold as frequently just as well?

The Moses story isn't just one more biblical story. It's THE foundational story of Israel, even more than the stories of Abraham or David. Passover, Exodus and Torah are absolutely constitutive of Jewish identity, and are crucial to the Christian appropriation of the OT as well. It is the very crux of the Hebrew worldview, at the very heart of who they are and who God is: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt."

A culture needs compelling and vital retellings of its foundational myths -- retellings that tell us about ourselves and the world we live in. The 10 Commandments tells us who we were 50 years ago, not who we are today. It is utterly dated as an artifact of 1950s Cold War Americana and Golden Age spectacle and melodrama. It's still an enjoyable film, but not a religious experience or a living mythology for the viewer today.

The Prince of Egypt is a vast improvement and goes a long way toward filling the void. But it's halfway between the biblical story and the conventions of family-cartoon Hollywood (musical numbers, comic relief, etc.), not to mention its Aragorn Complex take on Moses.

A new take on the story that was credibly faithful to the biblical account without the baggage of the De Mille version or some of the sillier and more limited elements of the DreamWorks version would be most welcome.

Edited by SDG

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A culture needs compelling and vital retellings of its foundational myths -- retellings that tell us about ourselves and the world we live in.

Well, only if the culture holds them as foundational myths. These stories are no longer seen as foundational outside of the religions that acknowledge them, and another kind of cinematic storytelling other than straight retellings of Biblical stories--even the most essential ones--would perhaps be more effective in speaking to the culture that surrounds us.

Edited by Ryan H.

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A culture needs compelling and vital retellings of its foundational myths -- retellings that tell us about ourselves and the world we live in.

Well, only if the culture holds them as foundational myths. These stories are no longer seen as foundational outside of the religions that acknowledge them, and another kind of cinematic storytelling other than straight retellings of Biblical stories--even the most essential ones--would perhaps be more effective in speaking to the culture that surrounds us.

Well, to start with, our culture's Judeo-Christian heritage is not quite dead yet. E.g., The Passion of the Christ clearly succeeded with audiences precisely as a foundation-myth experience, a retelling of a story that tells us who we are. The story of Moses and the Exodus isn't ready for the dustbin either; witness, e.g., ongoing controversies over e.g., public displays of the Ten Commandments as well as the success of The Prince of Egypt, not to mention the ongoing relevance of "Abrahamic religion" in world events.

The story is worth retelling simply as a means of cultural self-appropriation. I think that even if I were not religious, I would no more want my children to grow up not knowing the stories of Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Moses and David than I would want them to grow up not knowing about Santa Claus and Rudolph, Robin Hood and Marian, Dorothy Gale, Superman and Indiana Jones -- and certainly Moses goes a lot deeper to the roots of our culture than those figures.

Of course we have to recognize the reality of the world in which we live, a world in which a younger generation doesn't know who Indiana Jones is (cf. the film illiteracy thread). OTOH, movies don't have to pander exclusively to preexisting appetites. Nobody knew they wanted Star Wars before George Lucas made it. Movies can be a form of activism, of cultural as well as religious outreach. Cultures shape stories, but stories also shape cultures; we can say that no one has made a serious and relevant Exodus movie for 50 years because nobody knows or cares about the Exodus story, but it could be just as true to say that no one knows or cares about the Exodus story because no one has made a serious and relevant Exodus movie in 50 years.

From a Judeo-Christian point of view, we don't have the luxury of jettisoning this story and moving on to other stories. That's not to say we can't tell other stories too, but we can't give up on the foundational stories that we have. To lose our foundation is to lose everything (Jesus had a story about that). Without prejudice to the potential effectiveness of other forms of storytelling, we can't ever give up on this kind of project. To give up on the relevance of the Exodus story is one step removed from giving up on the relevance of Christianity.

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Well, to start with, our culture's Judeo-Christian heritage is not quite dead yet. E.g., The Passion of the Christ clearly succeeded with audiences precisely as a foundation-myth experience, a retelling of a story that tells us who we are.

Only with Christian audiences who were already familiar with the narrative context. It was a film tailor-made for believers, not unbelievers, and amongst unbelievers it generally struck a chord pnly with those familiar with Christian tradition.

From a Judeo-Christian point of view, we don't have the luxury of jettisoning this story and moving on to other stories. That's not to say we can't tell other stories too, but we can't give up on the foundational stories that we have. To lose our foundation is to lose everything (Jesus had a story about that). Without prejudice to the potential effectiveness of other forms of storytelling, we can't ever give up on this kind of project. To give up on the relevance of the Exodus story is one step removed from giving up on the relevance of Christianity.

There's a difference between what the Church tells within itself and what the Church speaks to the culture surrounding it. Paul's witness to the Gentiles was not grounded in a proclamation of Old Testament narratives and history. Of course the Mosaic narrative is important, but it's more important that it's preached within the Church than to culture as a whole, since without context, the Moses story won't have much to say to the culture. And I have a hard time imagining a film version providing that context without seeming hamfisted or awkward.

Edited by Ryan H.

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SDG wrote:

: . . . not to mention the ongoing relevance of "Abrahamic religion" in world events.

Which reminds me of another way in which the DeMille film reflected its times: it changed Moses' wife and in-laws from Midianites to descendants of Ishmael, i.e. Arabs. So if you think of Moses as a Jew (technically he was from the tribe of Levi, whereas the word "Jew" derives from the tribe of "Judah", but either way, he was Hebrew), then the marriage between Moses and Zipporah within that film is essentially a marriage between Jew and Arab, and thus a call for peace during the period of Arab-Israeli Wars that lasted roughly between 1948 and 1973. (We'll ignore, for now, the fact that the actors playing Moses and Zipporah were both part Scottish; Charlton Heston was also part-English and Yvonne De Carlo was part-Sicilian, according to Wikipedia.)

Ryan H. wrote:

: Paul's witness to the Gentiles was not grounded in a proclamation of Old Testament narratives and history.

Hmmm. I don't know about that. Certainly his epistles are filled with quotes and allusions that go back to the Old Testament. Paul may not have chosen the OT as his entry point every time he met a Gentile (witness the Mars Hill episode, where he quotes pagan poets and altars), but if he was proclaiming anything to the Gentiles, he was proclaiming that there was a place for them in Israel's history.

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Certainly his epistles are filled with quotes and allusions that go back to the Old Testament.

Yes, but those are writings to the Church, not to unbelievers.

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Ryan H. wrote:

: Yes, but those are writings to the Church, not to unbelievers.

Well, how does one go from being an unbeliever to being a member of the Church? One does it, partly, by being drawn into the story of Israel's history and its ultimate fulfillment in Christ. If one is NOT drawn into the story of Israel's history, then there wouldn't be much point in Paul making all those OT allusions.

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Well, how does one go from being an unbeliever to being a member of the Church? One does it, partly, by being drawn into the story of Israel's history and its ultimate fulfillment in Christ. If one is NOT drawn into the story of Israel's history, then there wouldn't be much point in Paul making all those OT allusions.

Of course. But I see a Biblical precedent (by no means do I mean to be too dogmatic about this, though) that the entry point for such a conversation is at the point of Jesus' ministry, death, and resurrection, and only then to look back towards the Old Testament stories, which were now re-contextualized. Without Christ, the Moses narrative has little to say to Gentile unbelievers, at least not without a great deal of jumping through hoops.

But anyway, this argument's taking things off-course. To reiterate my stance, apart from theological debate about how the Church should focus its witness, a Moses film doesn't sound particularly interesting to me from an artistic standpoint. I'll grant that maybe it is some kind of necessity for cultural awareness or such (even if I'm not quite convinced that's the case, and would sooner see the culture become acquainted with the original than some cinematic version of it, unlikely though that may be), but at any rate, it's something that I'll gladly skip unless the film demonstrates a really interesting new angle. I think the cinematic potential for the story has largely been explored.

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Well, to start with, our culture's Judeo-Christian heritage is not quite dead yet. E.g., The Passion of the Christ clearly succeeded with audiences precisely as a foundation-myth experience, a retelling of a story that tells us who we are.

Only with Christian audiences who were already familiar with the narrative context. It was a film tailor-made for believers, not unbelievers, and amongst unbelievers it only struck a chord with those familiar with Christian tradition.

Even if that were true, striking a chord with unbelievers familiar with Christian tradition as well as reinforcing for Christians who they are seem to me salutary in themselves. But I'm not sure it's entirely true. I'm pretty sure I've read accounts of viewers coming to the film with little or no context and being mesmerized by it.

Obviously in order for that to have any meaningful consequences they would then have to go out and find out more about Jesus on their own, but I don't hold it against the film that it doesn't provide the additional context in itself. If people come out with nothing more than "Whoa, what was that?" and try to find out more, the film has done its job in my book.

There's a difference between what the Church tells within itself and what the Church tells to the culture surrounding it. Paul's witness to the Gentiles was not grounded in a proclamation of Old Testament narratives and history.

Maybe Luke's account of Paul's speech at the Areopagus didn't get into OT narrative, but it's certainly part of Paul's larger message to the Gentiles, for example in Romans, Galatians and Ephesians.

Of course the Epistles are addressed to Gentile converts and are not about evangelization, but at some point Paul's Gentile audience had to hear the story of the Exodus for the first time. Paul's readers were new Christian communities; our culture is still sufficiently latently Christian that an effective rehearsal of the Exodus story may be considered a salutary thing -- helping to strengthen what is weak, etc.

Of course the Mosaic narrative is important, but it's more important that it's preached within the Church than to culture as a whole

I don't see the point of this comparison. It has one value within the Church, and another value in the culture as a whole; neither precludes the other, nor does proclamation within the Church render larger cultural retellings redundant or unnecessary.

since without context, the Moses story won't have much to say to the culture.

I'm not sure I understand. It sounds as if you're suggesting an all-or-nothing approach, as if a project that stops at Moses without getting to the Gospel doesn't have value. I see it in cumulative terms. To me, Raiders of the Lost Ark helps, The Prince of Egypt helps, a childhood storybook about Noah's ark or David and Goliath helps, a creche helps, a crucifix helps.

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Obviously in order for that to have any meaningful consequences they would then have to go out and find out more about Jesus on their own, but I don't hold it against the film that it doesn't provide the additional context in itself.

I do. But that's just one of many problems I have with Gibson's PASSION.

I'm not sure I understand. It sounds as if you're suggesting an all-or-nothing approach, as if a project that stops at Moses without getting to the Gospel doesn't have value.

Not at all. I'm just not convinced it has the value you've ascribed to it previously, since you've been speaking as though it's almost essential that we tell the Moses story again and again on film so that it's exists in the cinematic vocabulary of each generation (forgive me if that severely caricatures your own position, since it probably does, and so I'll hope you'll offer a nuanced re-statement of some of your comments). Suffice to say, that is not a position I hold.

As I said previously, my primary grudge over the film lies not in theological reasoning, but that I find another cinematic version artistically uninteresting, maybe even gratuitous. And I don't think there's such an immense cultural need for the story to be told retold cinematically that my qualms about its artistic viability are overridden.

Edited by Ryan H.

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I'll grant that maybe it is some kind of necessity for cultural awareness or such (even if I'm not quite convinced that's the case, and would sooner see the culture become acquainted with the original than some cinematic version of it, unlikely though that may be), but at any rate, it's something that I'll gladly skip unless the film demonstrates a really interesting new angle. I think the cinematic potential for the story has largely been explored.

And yet, here we are without a serious big-screen version of the story that we can enter into today as an audience and watch with a straight face.

Obviously in order for that to have any meaningful consequences they would then have to go out and find out more about Jesus on their own, but I don't hold it against the film that it doesn't provide the additional context in itself.

I do.

Why? Why can't a work present a fragment of a story that is fully meaningful only if you know the larger story, if potentially intriguing if you don't? (This feels like a subject that was recently under discussion in another thread, does anyone know where?)

I'm not sure I understand. It sounds as if you're suggesting an all-or-nothing approach, as if a project that stops at Moses without getting to the Gospel doesn't have value.

Not at all. I'm just not convinced it has the value you've ascribed to it previously, since you've been speaking as though it's almost essential that we tell the Moses story again and again on film so that it's exists in the cinematic vocabulary of each generation (forgive me if that severely caricatures your own position, since it probably does, and so I'll hope you'll offer a nuanced re-statement of some of your comments).

My bottom line is that I think a culture, certainly any possible version of our culture, in which the Exodus story doesn't ring any bells is to that extent impoverished relative to one in which the story has currency.

That doesn't necessarily mean retelling the story "in the cinematic vocabulary of each generation." Sometimes a single telling of a story is sufficient to endure many generations. No one needs to retell It's a Wonderful Life; the telling we have is quite sufficient. The Ten Commandments has not aged as well. The former I can and do watch every year; for the latter, once a decade or so would probably be plenty, and I could easily live with missing a decade or two.

The Prince of Egypt helped. But it's not such a definitive statement that no further statement could possibly help further.

As I said previously, my primary grudge over the film lies not in theological reasoning, but that I find another cinematic version artistically uninteresting, maybe even gratuitous. And I don't think there's such an immense cultural need for the story to be told retold cinematically that my qualms about its artistic viability are overridden.

I don't understand. On the one hand, you keep alluding to other versions of the story, as if we've already seen this story told so often and so well that another retelling would be redundant, yet on the other hand you suggest that the story doesn't really have anything to say to the world, which seems to suggest that we haven't heard the story told well at all. In any case, I don't think we've heard the story sufficiently, and a retelling for our day could only enrich our culture in its tenuous semi-post-Christian-ness.

Nor do I understand having qualms about the artistic viability of a film based on nothing but its subject matter. Any story that has ever been well told can be well told, and even stories that haven't been well told might yet be. That's the storyteller's job. Why should we assume he'll do it poorly? Maybe he will and maybe he won't, but I don't see the obstacle to a well-told version that is neither redundant nor gratuitous.

Edited by SDG

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Why? Why can't a work present a fragment of a story that is fully meaningful only if you know the larger story, if potentially intriguing if you don't? (This feels like a subject that was recently under discussion in another thread, does anyone know where?)

My issue is not with the artistic viability of such an idea, but rather a question of responsibility, and the care with which Christians need to present the Jesus story in a public fashion. I think Gibson's handling of the Christ narrative in THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST was somewhat irresponsible.

The Ten Commandments has not aged as well.

It's undoubtedly dated. But I watch it every year, without fail, and still find it a cinematic benchmark worth revisiting. We'll never get a more iconic rendering of the story on film. It's that iconic power that ultimately stands in the way of future retellings having the same power.

On the one hand, you keep alluding to other versions of the story, as if we've already seen this story told so often and so well that another retelling would be redundant,

We have. But then again, I'm one of the guys who have seen all the TV versions that Peter threw out there not too long ago. They might not have been big screen, but they count as versions of the story, nonetheless. I've also seen the 1923 version of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS and PRINCE OF EGYPT. So, yeah, I'd say this story has had more than its fair share of treatment, and while it's perhaps never received that "perfect" adaptation, I think it's been done well enough. Similarly, I don't think any of the Jesus films have been done perfectly, either, but I'm not clamoring for yet another cinematic take on Jesus' life.

yet on the other hand you suggest that the story doesn't really have anything to say to the world

Well, save through the Christian lens, I'm not sure the story does have too much to say to the world. As you've pointed out, it's helpful in laying context, but I'm not convinced that it will be able to do much more. Even if it is one of the foundational narratives in the Scriptural texts, there may be Biblical stories (or even non-Biblical stories) to bring to the screen that will speak to our culture more powerfully than the Moses narrative, even if they're less "significant" when one considers the broader theological framework of the entire Christian faith.

Any story that has ever been well told can be well told, and even stories that haven't been well told might yet be.

Well, it's a matter of where you stand on remakes. I don't believe in remaking good films unless you have a substantially different angle on it. Cinema is such an expensive and difficult medium, and there are so few big releases made these days that I'd rather see all that effort and cash go to stories that haven't yet been told, rather than ones I've seen brought to life four or five or six different times.

Anyway, my negativity has dominated this threat a bit too long. I'll stop now. :)

Edited by Ryan H.

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Sheesh you guys. Way to explode a thread when I turn my back for a second!

I'm personally not crazy about this idea. Do we really need another Moses flick? Not particularly. THE TEN COMMANDMENTS is about as iconic and grandiose as you can hope to get with the story. I suppose you could go more "realistically" with things, but that's almost never an intriguing route.

Actually I really like the Burt Lancaster Moses the Lawgiver film/series which went that route.

MattPage wrote:

: This style would suit Judges so much better IMHO.

Yeah, that was my thought too. But who would want to make a movie in which our heroes conquer Palestine and conduct a campaign of ethnic cleansing?

We haven't had a live-action big-screen Moses in over 50 years (the Burt Lancaster, Ben Kingsley and Dougray Scott versions were all made for TV;

On Judges, this would only be a problem if the story was intending to be realistic, and the comic book genre is not really that. ANd even that's assuming there is no hyperbole in the Judges accounts.

On Moses the Lawgiver, it did have a cinema run though didn't it? I can never remember which title Moses/Moses the Lawgiver was the cinema one, nor can I remember how long the cinema edit was, but even if it was 4:3 Moses has still, just about , made it into cinemas once since DeMille.

I'd say there's certainly room for a new interpretation of the material. (Incidentally, the 1950s version of <i>The Ten Commandments</i> included a few nods to extra-biblical material, too, such as Moses' conquest of Ethiopia and his romantic involvement with the princess or queen thereof; you can read about that in Josephus, and possibly elsewhere.)

Indeed. I am heartened by the idea that this Moses may be a bit more linked to all that great Rabbinical material, which would make this something more steeped in Jewish storytelling. Sounds good to me.

Actually I suspect you'll be disappointed. The point I made on my blog was that DeMille also claimed to use ancient sources, but in reality that was a smokescreen for using other more modern works to flesh out the movie. I can't see this new movie doing anything more scholarly in that sense.

All of this you both know, but I thought I'd mention it anyway.

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a Moses film doesn't sound particularly interesting to me from an artistic standpoint.

I am just imagining how many favorite movies of folks here at the Arts and Faith forum would have if movies were made based on my interest in them before they were made. Sorry, Jeffrey, no New World. :)

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