Ridley Scott’s biblical misfire is now out on DVD and given that the story of Moses has been adapted so many times I thought it would be the perfect subject of another Relatables segment. But instead of comparing it to what might be the obvious alternative The Ten Commandments I’ve chosen the Dreamworks animation adaptation. He reasons for this would be that the Ten Commandments covers a much larger and longer segment of the story than Exodus does, by coincidence The Prince of Egypt covers exactly the same period of time, i.e the exodus from Egypt and then a flash forward to the revelation of the stone tablets. As well as this, though many will deny it, Ten Commandments has aged slightly. If it were made today we might brand it eccentric and convoluted, but for its time it is a definitive classic. So let’s switch to the two more modern versions of the story and why one succeeded and one didn’t.
For a start the basic principle of Exodus seemed misplaced as just an opportunity for Scott to show off the actors he can work with and the effects he can master. Though the plagues of Egypt are impressive the overall theme of the story should be the personal journey of Moses. They are a backdrop to his struggle rather than the centrepiece. In Prince of Egypt they are reduced to merely a montage, but the intimate turmoil that Moses undergoes as he witnesses the place that was his home being destroyed is excellently (and rhythmically, it’s a musical just so you know before you rush out to watch it, expecting grit and realism).
The relationship of the two brothers is the strongest part of Prince of Egypt in my opinion and that was really lacking in Exodus. It’s reduced to a simple case of Rameses being spoilt beyond belief and Moses as the rejected child. Prince of Egypt displays a much better view where both brothers are effectively lavishly spoilt brats, misusing their power and status to get away with whatever they want. But Rameses is actually subjected to harsher treatment than his brother by his father because he is the inherent ruler. His unwillingness to concede to Moses’ demands stems from his father’s teachings that an undisciplined ruler can be the ‘weak link’ that destroys a dynasty of empire building. It’s such a motivation and almost ironic that the brother who was worry free in his youth is suddenly burdened by the pain of thousands and his less lenient brother is now able to wield all power without fear of repercussion, or so he thinks. The characters are complex and beyond clichés that lord over those of Exodus.
Though Ridley Scott is renowned for completely submersing his viewers within the world he creates such as Gladiator or Blade Runner, here he falls short a bit. I’m not going to say that Prince of Egypt does a better job, in fact it’s considerably worse on that front. However its simplicity is more suited to the overall tone, certainly much better than falling short the way Exodus does. The small and intimate nature of it allows these miracles to appear grand and majestic through small and simple actions that come to mean more for the character and evoke deeper emotions within the audience.
So those are my thoughts on Exodus: Gods and Kings and why it wasn’t the Ridley Scott epic we were hoping it would be. Let’s hope he can do better with a return to science fiction and Matt Damon in The Martian, and that the increasing number of planned biblical movies (so far we’ve had Noah as well as this in the space of a year) can be better.