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Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)

Ridley Scott

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#1 opus

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Posted 12 October 2009 - 09:40 AM

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´┐Ż life that the writers culled from Rabbinical Midrash and other historical sources.

 



#2 MattPage

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Posted 12 October 2009 - 10:33 AM

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.

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#3 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 12 October 2009 - 11:21 AM

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.)

#4 M. Leary

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Posted 12 October 2009 - 11:31 AM

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.

#5 Ryan H.

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Posted 12 October 2009 - 11:36 AM

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.

#6 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 12 October 2009 - 11:48 AM

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.

#7 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 12 October 2009 - 12:09 PM

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.

#8 SDG

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Posted 12 October 2009 - 12:14 PM

WPS

(what Peter said)

#9 CrimsonLine

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Posted 12 October 2009 - 12:29 PM

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.

#10 Ryan H.

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Posted 12 October 2009 - 12:38 PM

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., 12 October 2009 - 12:38 PM.


#11 Overstreet

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Posted 12 October 2009 - 12:46 PM

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...

#12 SDG

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Posted 12 October 2009 - 01:24 PM

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, 12 October 2009 - 01:25 PM.


#13 Ryan H.

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Posted 12 October 2009 - 02:04 PM

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., 12 October 2009 - 02:05 PM.


#14 SDG

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Posted 12 October 2009 - 02:55 PM

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.

#15 Ryan H.

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Posted 12 October 2009 - 03:16 PM

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., 12 October 2009 - 03:23 PM.


#16 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 12 October 2009 - 03:34 PM

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.

#17 Ryan H.

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Posted 12 October 2009 - 03:37 PM

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.

#18 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 12 October 2009 - 03:41 PM

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.

#19 Ryan H.

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Posted 12 October 2009 - 03:55 PM

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.

#20 SDG

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Posted 12 October 2009 - 03:56 PM

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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