I always find it a bit strange when studios pre-screen random clips from upcoming movies, but with the racially insensitive hubbub currently surrounding Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods And Kings, any talk about the actual movie could do absolutely no harm. There’s the age old saying that “there is no such thing as bad publicity,” and the worst case scenario after screening some clips only involves a few negative articles running on random entertainment sites – at least people might forget about the race card, right?
Last night, I attended the New York City pre-screening of the Exodus: Gods And Kings footage preview, expecting nothing more than a slew of clips in the vein of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah. Everyone knows the story of Moses, Rhamses, and the ten plagues, and everyone knows actors like Sigourney Weaver and Christian Bale, so what could go wrong when there’s a budget worth millions and millions of dollars? Touting the latest in 3D technology, Ridley Scott promised time and time again that we’ll be blown away by his biblical retelling, just like so many directors before him have attempted to execute.
Now I won’t say that I LOVE Noah, as I respectfully admire Aronofsky’s retelling of Noah’s fabled arc creation, but I can guarantee that Exodus: Gods And Kings will NOT be a mirroring effort. Far from it. There’s a reason Scott wanted people to see early footage of his upcoming film, and that’s because he’s created a rich, luscious world that he can’t wait to parade out like his prized hog – and hot damn does he deliver the three-dimensional goods. Please note that the clips shown were unfinished, with some of the post-production work still left to be completed.
In the first clip, we meet a young Moses (Christian Bale) and Rhamses (Joel Edgerton), preparing for battle while the Pharaoh (John Turturro) bestows his wisdom upon them. We know Moses and Rhamses aren’t related by blood, but their bond is strong and they show a camaraderie both on and off the battlefield.
Before heading into action, Scott introduces us to Egypt’s bustling landscape, providing sprawling aerial shots that establish an overwhelmingly intricate city upon our first glance. Before long we’re watching Rhamses rush into battle, protected by his guard, while Moses shows superior fighting skills in the face of danger. After an unfortunate crash, Rhamses finds himself alone and vulnerable, facing death until Moses swoops in and saves the day. The only purpose is to establish a brotherly bond soon to be broken, but the action provides a grand launching point for Scott’s massive technical scope. Waves of soldiers ride in on horseback, with the lucky ones traveling in pimped-out chariots, and the frantic battle is nicely choreographed without being hard to follow.
The second clip introduces us to Ben Kingsley’s character Nun, a Hebrew elder who Moses interrogates in connection with talks of uprising. Moses and Nun have a discussion about God, as Moses denounces any existence of a higher power. Nun looks curiously at the Egyptian prince, suggesting a deeper knowledge that Moses triggers. The conversation is brief, but Moses’ early beliefs are established and Kingsley gets a wise introduction. We also meet Aaron Paul’s slave character Joshua, being whipped for causing mischief or something of that nature.
Clips three and four go hand in hand, as we first sit down to dinner with a visibly upset Rhamses who suspects Moses’ true upbringing, and then we meet Moses as he’s being exiled. This is the splitting of Rhamses and Moses, the breaking up of the band if you will, which drives a wedge between two inseparable companions. There’s an intensity present, especially from Edgerton’s barbaric leader, as he chews away at crab legs while spitting hatred. You can tell Rhamses’ decision isn’t widely popular, as Moses gets a salute from the escorting soldiers as they show him out.
Cutting to happier times, Scott’s fifth clip is about Moses’ marriage to Séfora (María Valverde), which is everything that you’d expect. There’s a ritualistic ceremony complete with a tying of the couple’s wrists, symbolizing their tethered bond, followed by Séfora’s reaffirmation of Moses’ love before a little post-wedding consummating. Valverde is sweet and Bale plays a happy husband, but the clip doesn’t offer much more than a contrast to the action previously shown.
The sixth clip introduced sees Moses sneaking back into Rhamses’ palace, warning the foolish ruler that God’s will won’t be merciful if things aren’t changed. Moses knows Rhamses hasn’t been ruling Egypt fairly, and he also knows that a cycle of ten plagues awaits if Rhamses doesn’t learn from his own egotistical mistakes. Rhamses lies while staring down a sword, as Moses reveals he’s been receiving messages directly from God. We all know the biblical story, and it’s kept fairly straight forward.