I’m writing this on the day before the release of Exodus: Gods and Kings, the new Biblical blockbuster film by director/producer Ridley Scott, in order to give you a taste of what the critics are saying you should expect if you decide to see it.
By all accounts, the film is spectacular in its vision and effects, while reflecting the spiritual ambivalence of its atheist creator. As a result, there is much speculation as to whether traditional Christians and Jews will come out in great numbers to see the film.
Christians’ range of bewilderment-to-revulsion for Noah, contrasted with their overwhelming affection for such films as God’s Not Dead, Heaven Is For Real, and Alone but Not Alone, just to name three, suggest they may sit this one out. To whatever extent the film ignores and distances itself from the Biblical narrative, it’s entirely possible that Christians will ignore and distance themselves from the film.
Based on the opinions of 20 critics so far, the film has a scant 52 Metacritic rating (out of 100). Here are a few examples of what the early published critics have said so far, both positive and cautionary:
- Variety: “What’s remarkable about Scott’s genuinely imposing Old Testament psychodrama is the degree to which he succeeds in conjuring a mighty and momentous spectacle — one that, for sheer astonishment, rivals any of the lavish visions of ancient times the director has given us.” [This may be the factor that brings Christian and Jews to see the film, and not its theology.]
- World Magazine: “Christian Bale seems to play Moses with multi-dimensional complexity, but God doesn’t get the same depth of character…. The buzz, hiss, and tsk-tsk among Christian circles over Darren Aronofsky’s Noah have only just hushed down. Now with the release of the trailer and a media preview of the next biblical epic, Exodus: Gods and Kings, the fire is slowly roaring back up again — though whether it will produce roars of applause or a cacophony of boos is still unclear. Given the controversy over Noah, probably both.”
- Entertainment Weekly: “Is it possible to sit through a movie, mentally cataloging its absurdities, and still walk out dazzled? Because that pretty much sums up my experience watching Ridley Scott’s eye-candy spectacle Exodus: Gods and Kings, an over-the-top Old Testament epic that’s essentially Gladiator with God…. And yet, before you’re able to get too distracted by Exodus‘ flaws, Scott reaches back into his bag of pixie dust and whips up another grand illusion. These feats all climax with the parting of the Red Sea, the biggest special effect in the history of religion.”
- Christianity Today: “For Christian audiences, one approach to Exodus: Gods and Kings would be to distrust and dismiss it at the outset, looking only for what it gets wrong, embellishes, excludes, or underemphasizes. This approach would call foul on all sorts of things: Moses wielding a sword but not a staff; Moses being chatty but Aaron having almost no lines; Moses killing lots of people and fighting in the Egyptian army; no “staff-to-snake” scene; no repeated utterances of “let my people go”; no “baby Moses in the Nile” scene; and every other deviation the film takes from the narrative in Exodus 1-14. This approach might balk at the problematic casting of white actors as Egyptians, non-white actors as slaves/servants, and the inexplicable preponderance of British accents. And most of all, this approach would complain about the depiction of God’s communication with Moses through a (spoiler alert!) zealous, wrathful 11-year-old British boy.”
All of this is in direct contrast to the classic 1956 Cecil B. DeMille film The Ten Commandments. DeMille’s movie, which clocked in at a staggering 3 hours 40 minutes (compared to tomorrow’s Exodus which will be over in 2 hours 30 minutes), took in $128 million. Adjusted for inflation, that would be a box-office take of over a billion dollars today.
DeMille wanted to make the biggest and best Biblical epic ever, but he also wanted the most accurate one as well. He talked Old Testament Biblical scholar Dr. Kyle Yates into consulting with him on the writing and making of the movie. Dr. Yates, a native of Apex, North Carolina (and, I am honored to say, distantly related to me by the marriage of my first cousin to Yates’ niece), was a highly acclaimed faculty member at Baylor University, lionized for his many years in the pulpit and his myriad books for preachers before his return to academic life. After the release of DeMille’s movie, Yates was interviewed and was quoted as praising the authenticity and Bible-accuracy of the project. “I consider the whole work a powerful depiction of truth,” he said, adding that he believes that everyone who reads and believes the Old Testament should see the filmed story.
For your reference, here are trailers for both films. I wonder: What would Dr. Yates say about the new one?