THE BLOG
12/23/2014 12:12 am ET Updated Feb 21, 2015

'Exodus: Gods and Kings'

Just back from seeing most of Exodus: Gods and Kings.

I walked out after the parting of the Red Sea, which was depicted more as if an iffy forecast by Tom Skilling missed a low pressure system forming over Lake Michigan, than God majestically parting it to let his people go. Curious title, too, if the producers were trying to attract Jews and Christians, whom, one would think, would be the movie's natural audience. But, a surefire call out to polytheists everywhere.

The plural hinting that a familiar Old Testament testament had become an exercise in postmodernism. And, the movie itself, made funny by its close resemblance, in style, substance, and casting to Monty Python's brilliant, Life of Brian.

Starring Christian Bale (one of my favorite actors) seemingly channeling various members of the Brian cast as the need arose, and, hopefully with tongue firmly in cheek, purposely putting us all on as he spouts preposterous Anarcho-syndicalist pap to the Pharaoh, just as the Python crew did to the Romans.

I really went to see the spectacle of Ancient Egypt created by the magic of CGI, and was not disappointed. But, not thrilled either, in that, this director, Ridley Scott (another of my favorites), had already done the same quality of work with Ancient Rome in Gladiator (the capitals to make both Ages seem as important as the next CNN Breaking News Story). And, Peter Jackson, a decade ago, created an equally believable, with no historical record to base it all on, Middle Earth through the same technology. It made me realize that in today's rapidly changing world of movie special effects, and exploding visual game design, a pyramid or two, or a fully realized Memphis (not Elvis'), does not a good movie make.

The basic outlines of Cecil B. DeMille's Ten Commandments (1956, Oscar for Best Picture) are there, but addled by our age's insistence on infusing even ancient Biblical tales with contemporary news and political issues. It was a bit much, to this viewer, when the Egyptians storming the Pharaoh's granary, in the middle of bespoke plagues delivered by a vengeful Old Testament God, held 'Hillary '16!' signs as the Palace Guard mowed them down with unlicensed bows and arrows. Or when Ridley deliberately skimps on the Burning Bush's CGI as a broad indictment on Republican cutbacks of social programs. Or were these figments of a demented imagination?

Sidebar: curiously, the Pharaoh's son, dead, of course, after Passover, looks less like a terminated tyke than an American Girl 'Tutankhamen Collection' doll as he is cradled in Pharaoh's arms. Rosemary's Baby looked more real.

A, dimly remembered, pre-NRA Charlton Heston, playing Moses, demanding, 'Let My People Go' is transmogrified and brought up to date as a union-esque negotiator asking for better working conditions, including paid maternity and paternity leaves, longer lunch breaks, a smoking area, and a higher minimum wage for the Hebrew slaves.

It was about at this point that Life of Brian comparisons overwhelmed the eye candy of Sphinxes and palaces, and I wondered if it was all purposeful or post-ironic or something. I hope so.

Set pieces from when Hollywood knew how to do Biblical epics (circa 1956): the plagues; the Jews' expulsion from Egypt; God talking to Moses; the entire Egyptian army caught by the Red Sea doing what seas do when commanded by a wrathful Old Testament you know who... remind that Hollywood once knew how to tell a tale, even one as hoary and/or holy as this one. I would bet that Exodus: Gods and Kings will be forgotten in a year despite its reported $150,000,000 cost. DeMille's The Ten Commandments, by comparison, is still top of the tree despite a budget that wouldn't have paid for this movie's catering ($13M).

Which brings one to apologizing for discussing a movie that one did not see to completion.

Maybe something that would have proven to be my 'Paul on his way to Damascus' moment occurred after Moses patted the sand wet from the Red Sea receding next to him, to invite his long lost brother to sit with him, because that was the precise moment when I left.

Perhaps, to be au fait with the In crowd, they talked of the recent legalization of marijuana in several states, sharing a joint, with dialogue that reached across the millennia: Wow, my man, Pharaoh's Army got drownded! Let's go to Zion, and set the stage for reggae music.

Or, discussed insurance deductibles on the loss of equipment left on the wrong side of the Red Sea. Or, really livened things up by analyzing what health exchange they might, as a recently freed people, join.

I'd ask my other movie going friends about what happened next, but all of them exodused before I did. None lasting longer than the scenes of ravenous crocodiles tearing Egyptian fisherman limb from limb in a plague not noted in the Bible.

But, hey, you might say, why not a little crocodile rock, what with an unlimited budget, state of the art CGI, and imaginative screenwriters wanting to go that extra plague?

Why not, indeed.