I was just going to ignore Ridley Scott‘s Exodus: Gods and Kings, which I saw last Friday evening, but duty calls. It’s second-tier Scott at best. It might even be third-tier. It didn’t feel like anything more than a soulless, scene-to-scene, grab-baggy CG demonstration film. Scott basically threw money at his problems, and money wasn’t enough. Exodus is basically about (a) Scott wanting to avoid the shadow of Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 version at all costs, which means staying well clear of the Christian Biblical stuff at all costs, and (b) throwing massive gobs of CGI at each and every visual composition in this film, but having no clear emotionality or thematic undercurrent. I sympathize with Scott wanting to avoid the Old Testament mythology and wanting to spin a counter-myth, but the story is the story — there’s nothing to hold onto without the Bible bullshit.
The Exodus performances, which are also about avoiding the color and tone of the 1956 performances, are nothing special. And no Exodus performance approaches the studly venality of Yul Brynner‘s Ramses, a performance that still has bite and snap. The plague scenes are wildly over-the-top. The climactic Red Sea effects are cool, but it’s utterly ridiculous to have Moses and Ramses do a mano e mano face-off in the damp bed of the Red Sea as the killer wave is about to engulf them…absurd. I never thought I’d say this, but as cornball and creaky and in some ways loathsome as the DeMille version is, it at least understands itself and knows what it’s about and has that hokey Victorian DeMille aesthetic. It’s not as accomplished or textured as Scott’s film, but at least it delivers something spiritually palpable. Scott’s film only delivers VFX.