Commentary

What’s Wrong & Right with 'Exodus: Gods and Kings'

By Ted Baehr | December 10, 2014 | 10:26am EST

This image released by 20th Century Fox shows Christian Bale in a scene from "Exodus: Gods and Kings." Photo: 20th Century Fox, AP

The story of God’s deliverance of the Jews from Egypt 3500 years ago or so, told in the Book of Exodus in the Bible, is one of the greatest, most exciting and most inspiring historical stories ever told because it follows such basic rules of storytelling.

Director Ridley Scott’s new epic, EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS, tries to follow the Bible, but it does so in a manner that avoids the richness of the biblical story and could be summarized as the Cliff Note version of a comic book version of the story of Exodus. The best that can be said is that it’s gloriously junky, with magnificent battle scenes and spectacular special effects, but diminished by mediocre character development and an annoying lack of setup of biblical events.

For all of those readers concerned about the theology of Exodus, God is the real hero of EXODUS the movie. Thus, in the movie, God does use Moses to set the people free. However, the messenger of God is a young boy, who may or may not be God Himself. It must first be noted that in Colossians 1:9 and elsewhere in the Bible, it says that the only physical manifestation of God is Jesus, who is fully God and fully man. Thus, for those who want an old God played by some famous thespian, Jesus came as a baby, who was, of course, fully God and fully Man. So, without resorting to the aberrant developmental, progressive theology of some 20th Century theologians, there has been orthodox theological discussion about the appearances of Jesus and the incarnation, and in the Bible, God incarnated as Jesus grows from an infant through boyhood to manhood.

In other words, the movie can be interpreted in a positive way and should not be attacked unfairly. That said, the story has been much better done in THE TEN COMMANDMENTS and THE PRINCE OF EGYPT where MOVIEGUIDE® brought in prominent theologians to keep the movie’s theology on track.

Thus, although some people will complain about how Ridley Scott visualized and dramatized the story’s supernatural aspects, the real puzzle and most annoying part of the movie is the clunky, clumsy dramatization throughout the movie. Since MOVIEGUIDE® knows some of the filmmakers, who are Christian and have done some great movies, it’s perplexing why the story of Exodus is so badly told in this movie.

In good storytelling, you set up events just like you set up a good joke. The filmmaker has to promise and then deliver what he promises. The Bible does just that in the story of Exodus. God tells Moses what’s going to happen, and then the reader waits with great expectation until it happens the way God said it would.

In the movie EXODUS, Moses does not tell Pharaoh that he has to let the people of Israel go free or the plagues will incur such as: the water will turn to blood, and the frogs and then the locusts will plague Egypt. The plagues just pop out of nowhere, unless you know the biblical story. Perhaps, Ridley thought that everyone knows the story so well that they will know what is about to happen and experience jeopardy through precognition. Even so, however, when Moses does warn Ramses about the impending death of the firstborn unless Ramses sets the Hebrew people free, there is some sense of jeopardy in the movie.

In the final analysis, therefore, what the Christian community and others of faith and values, including Jews, should do is help people understand the true story of how God set His people free. Reading the Bible after seeing EXODUS was thrilling. So, be prepared to hand out copies of the Bible or just the Exodus story. Time and again MOVIEGUIDE® receives correspondence from people who want to know the rest of the story. EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS is a great opportunity for those who love the story of Exodus to tell their friends and loved ones the rest of the story.

Since 1978, I have been helping Entertainment Industry leaders and content producers, writers and directors reach the majority of the population who want movies with drama, values and faith. For many years, we have been analyzing movie scripts to “tune them up” using the 122 criteria of the Report to the Entertainment Industry, which includes everything from dramatic structure to philosophy to history to theology. Also, since the 1970s, I’ve been telling my students in the filmmaking workshops and classes that I teach how to make a successful, entertaining, satisfying movie. I tell them that a great movie is a great story well told, with an inspiring, uplifting, edifying message and a positive worldview.

If you want to make a movie that won’t bore the average viewer or that attracts a large, enthusiastic audience, there are certain rules of good filmmaking you must follow.

Among the most obvious ones are: 1) The movie’s script must build toward an exciting or entertaining climax; and, 2) The story must involve a strong amount of jeopardy for the protagonist(s).

According to the Report to the Entertainment Industry 10-year study of all the major movies released by Hollywood and the major independent studios, movies with very strong Christian worldviews averaged $73.27 million at the box office, but movies with very strong Non-Christian worldviews averaged only $21.01 million. The differences were even wider in a five-year study conducted by Movieguide®. According to the five-year study, movies with very strong Christian worldviews averaged $82.97 million per movie, but movies with very strong Non-Christian worldviews averaged only $21.84 million.

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The overseas box office tells a similar story. For example, 80 percent of the Top 10 Movies Overseas between 2009 and 2013 had strong or very strong Christian, redemptive content, including positive references to Christianity, Jesus, God, or faith.

We are here to help, and we have helped many of the leaders in the Hollywood Entertainment Industry to make movies that succeed at the box office.

In the Golden Age of Hollywood, filmmakers sought the advice of experts including theologians. In fact, on the TEN COMMANDMENTS, C.B. DeMille enlisted the help of hundreds of experts.

The bottom line is that the Entertainment Industry is a business. It makes good business sense to understand your audience, and we are here to help them do just that.

Ted Baehr is the Chairman of The Christian Film & Television Commission™ and Publisher of MOVIEGUIDE® (www.movieguide.org), a family guide to entertainment.  An award-winning media authority, he is used by God to redeem the mass media and teach families to be media-wise.  His books include "How To Succeed In Hollywood (Without Losing Your Soul)" and "The Culture-Wise Family," among many others.

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