• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Matt Page


    Saturday, January 31, 2015

    Life of Brian in discussion with Jesus of Nazareth

    Mark Goodacre is currently teaching a module on Jesus in Film which is good news for the rest of us as it has led to him uploading his Celluloid Jesus pages again, as well as adding a substantial amount of new material and a few extra blog posts to boot.

    This week he's clearly been doing the late seventies as there are a few blog posts on Jesus of Nazareth and Life of Brian including YouTube links to all the talks from last year's "Jesus and Brian" conference.

    One post that particularly caught my eye was one where Mark discusses being "struck by several Brian - Jesus of Nazareth parallels". The one he discusses is a moment in Jesus of Nazareth when one of the villagers grumbles "What does Rome give us?"* It's memorable of course, because of the famous scene in Life of Brian where one of the leaders of the People's Front of Judea asks "What have they [the Romans] ever given us in return?" only for the group members to reel off an extensive list of benefits of living in the empire.

    What makes it particularly interesting to me is the short time gap between the two productions (just two and a half years between the first broadcast of Jesus of Nazareth at Easter 1977 and the release of Life of Brian in the autumn of 1979. Indeed the two films were recorded so close together that Brian was able to use its predecessor's sets. On top of this when you consider that British TV had only 3 channels at this point, that Jesus of Nazareth was a much publicised production and that this line of dialogue occurred in the first episode, then it's fairly likely that at least one of the Python troupe watched it at the time.

    Once you picture that, then it's not hard to believe that it's no mere coincidence that this line ended up in the Pythons' film, whether consciously or sub-consciously. Lloyd Baugh mentions Jesus of Nazareth's banalities and this is a particularly bad one - it's just not the way people express this kind of sentiment in real life. So perhaps the embryo of this scene was conceived then, whether spoken out at the time as a way of critiquing the programme, or something that just got lodged in the back of somebody's mind.

    I guess what interests me in all this is the way that it faintly mirrors the kind of critique of the early gospels we find in some of the later ones. Much has been made of the negative portrayal of Thomas in John's Gospel. Not a few scholars think that this might be John casting aspersions about Thomas and, by extension, the movement or the Gospel that came to be associated with him. Or think of the many times that Matthew and Luke take a pithy statement from Mark's Jesus and transforms it into a whole scene that makes the original phrase far more memorable - The Parable of the Good Samaritan for example.

    Those two example are from different ends of the spectrum. Many who would feel uncomfortable with the idea of John smearing Thomas in this way, would nevertheless be fine with Luke rearranging his material to make a particular point. But there are all kinds of these little interactions between the gospels, particularly the Synoptic Gospels, and given that they were written relatively close to one another it's not unreasonable to imagine those writing later taking their predecessor's words and enhancing, adjusting, correcting and, yes perhaps, even parodying some of what they had to say.

    I've just left a comment on Mark's post asking if he can remember any of the other examples of these parallels and will be interested to see whether any of these parallels also happen to parallel how the later gospel writers used their sources.


    *Note Mark has this down as "What do the Romans give us?", but on a second hearing I beg to differ.

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    Saturday, January 17, 2015

    2015's Coming Attractions

    This post has been edited more than once to add in extra films omitted in error when it was originally published.
    Having reviewed 2014's Bible film offerings I thought it would be a good idea to preview some of the films that will be appearing on both the big and small screen across the course of the next 12 months. In contrast to last year - where it was the films based on the Hebrew Bible which were in the majority, this year it's almost entirely New Testament films. So in no particular order here's what's coming up in 2015.

    Last Days in the Desert
    Arguably the most interesting sounding of this year's offerings is Last Days in the Desert which premieré's at the Sundance film festival in a few days time. It's had a good deal of press coverage, not least in the UK, due mainly to the presence of Ewan MacGregor as both Jesus and Satan. The film will deal with Jesus' 40 days in the desert and also stars The Nativity Story's Ciarán Hinds. The official website is still a bit sparse, but Christianity Today has a lengthy interview with both MacGregor and director Rodrigo Garcia.

    A.D. (NBC)
    If the premise of Last Days sounds like it might be sailing a little close to the wind for some, one production that will be playing it considerably safer will be NBC's 12-hour New Testament series A.D.. To some it's a sequel to 2013's The Bible; to others a remake of the 1985 series of the same name, though that film was also often referred to as Anno Domini. NBC have done away with all that, ensuring that the series will be impossible to search for, if a little easier to tweet about. The trailer for the film was released a few days ago and features Peter and Jesus fairly prominently, but not a great deal of Saul/Paul. There's a little more on NBC's official site as well as a companion site featuring a glut of resources for churches and character profiles. The series premieré is on Easter Sunday (5th April 2015).

    Another film certain to feature legions of Roman armies is Clavius starring the other, other, other child star of the Harry Potter series, Tom Felton. Felton will play alongside Joseph Fiennes in the story about "an agnostic Roman legionnaire" who is "thrust into the trial and crucifixion of Jesus Christ". Details are still emerging, not least whether it is Felton or Fiennes who will play the titular character, and when, in relation to the death of Jesus, will the story start and end. It's also unclear just how much of a cameo Jesus will play in this film. Fiennes' brother, of course, played the part of Jesus in The Miracle Maker.

    National Geographic’s Killing Jesus
    or, "It's a Jesus film, only this time...it's franchised". National Geographic have had a good degree of success with Killing Lincoln and Killing Kennedy, both based on Bill O'Reilly's and Martin Dugard's books of the same name, so you can see why they were tempted to jump back to the first century to film Killing Jesus as well. It's a little unclear when this is going to air, but it too may be an interesting project, not least because it features a Muslim playing the role of Jesus (Haaz Sleiman). It'll also feature Kelsey Grammer as Herod, as well as Stephen Moyer and Bible Films veteran John Rhys-Davies.

    Finding Jesus: Faith Fact Forgery (CNN)
    Finding Jesus is a six part documentary from CNN examining some of the historical artifacts surrounding the historical Jesus. In contrast to many of the exaggerated claims made for some of these artifacts, the documentary will take a more rational approach, carefully examining the evidence. The six sessions will cover, The Turin Shorud, John the Baptist (including the John the Baptist's finger relic), Judas (including the Gospel of Judas), the secret brother of Jesus (with the James Ossuary), the true cross (fragments of the cross relics) and Mary Magdalene (covering all that Da Vinci Code malarkey). Mark Goodacre is the series' lead consultant and you can find out more on the programme's official website.

    Another Bible films veteran, Ben Kingsley, will also play the role of Herod in Mary, a film with a long, and some would say troubled, past from the pen of Barbara Nicolosi. Nicolosi has been involved since at least 2008, and then the talk was of that being a fifth draft of the script. Since then big names have come and gone (Al Pacino), the title has become more Aramaic sounding and then shortened back to just Mary, but there's still no sign of a website and the release date of April 2015 on the IMDb is looking a little unlikely. Perhaps given the Easter competition, the producers are thinking that the run up to Christmas might be a better time to release the film. Or perhaps this story is going to keep running for a good while yet.

    Lumo Project (Big Book Media)
    Last year, the Lumo Project released its version of The Gospel of John. According to Lumo's official website the other three are underway, and, according to the IMDb, at least two of those will be released this year (though it says Matthew was released in 2014, so it's perhaps not to reliable on this point). Quite when, where and how many of these projects will be released this year is anyone's guess.

    David and Goliath
    Having spent a good deal of time in 2014 writing on films about David, I was certainly interested to hear that another was due to be released in 2015. Sadly, and despite the filmmaker's claims of spending a, um, gigantic, $50 million on the project, any sense of anticipation has pretty much trailed away upon seeing this promo. The idea behind this trailer is to try and lever out some much needed funds for promotion. All I'm going to say is that they're going to need to find some people with rather less wisdom than the offspring of this film's eponymous hero.

    The Ark (BBC)
    Lastly, and not put off by a major film released with similar subject matter being released last year is The Ark from the BBC. It might be promising, actually. A far more accessible and middle of the road portrait than Aronofsky's Noah last yuear, I would imagine, but not necessarily the worse for that. David Threlfall takes the lead role (having played alongside Russell Crowe in Crowe's other big boat thriller Master and Commander) ably supported by Joanne Whalley and Nico Mirallegro. There's a few glimpses of footage on this BBC general preview. Tony Jordan, who wrote 2010's The Nativity for the BBC, has written this one as well, so expect a humanised and sympathetic telling should this ever make it.


    Doubtless there are others I have missed and there are a number of other films gaining publicity at the moment that aren't even due to arrive until 2016, including the adaptation of Anne Rice's Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, another version of Ben Hur and Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth based on Reza Aslan's controversial book.

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    Wednesday, January 07, 2015

    Bible Films Blog Review of 2014

    In previous years, I’ve offered a review of the year, although this has rather fallen by the wayside in recent time. However, 2014 was a bit of a stonker, so it would seem remiss not to do at least something.

    The big news was, of course, the long awaited release of a number of biblical epics, which hit not just the odd art-house cinema, or graced a local congregation with a decentish video projector, but in the local, everyday cinemas. Russell Crowe was talking about Noah in primetime TV shows. The Guardian was offering opinion pieces about Moses every time Ridley Scott coughed in a vaguely atheistic manner.

    As it turned out neither film made the, um, waves, that their respective studios had hoped for and neither director will be pleased to hear that they are more likely to win a Razzie than an Oscar come the spring.

    But before all that there was the matter of the Son of God - not so much the actual one as the cinema release of the Gospel footage from the History Channel’s 2013 series The Bible. Cutting down a TV series to a movie is a risky strategy. On the one hand the popularity of the “best of” genre might mean that he TV series might just be part of a lengthy marketing campaign – the world’s longest ever trailer if you like. But the question still remained, why would people get in their cars, drive out of town and pay through the nose to watch something they have already seen for “free”?

    As it turned out Son of God did rather well, perhaps because compelling answers were found to that question. Buying a ticket to Son of God was a statement of faith, a chance to send a message to Hollywood. Or you could buy two and bring along a friend with whom you wanted to share your faith.

    From an artistic point of view however the quality of the product was largely the same as that of the original 2013 series. Jesus was still too blond and off-puttingly good looking; the dialogue and the acting still left a great deal to be desired; and it still wasn’t really clear what Jesus was actually about other than being nice.

    One Bible film hero who eluded, with consummate ease, any charge of being overly nice, was Russell Crowe’s Noah, who shifted from grunting environmentalist to genocidal maniac over the course of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah. It’s the kind of precipice along which many edge along when they tell us how bad humans in general, and children in particular, are bad for the environment? But that’s another matter.

    Actually the scenes where Noah contemplates whether he should kill his own granddaughter were, in my opinion, rather misunderstood. Noah didn’t want to murder members of his own family, he just thought it might be what “The Creator” was calling him to do. After all it was the logical extension of what he had already done – a point that may of the faithful struggle to appreciate. It was a great performance from Crowe, but the terrain of unlikeable anti-hero seemed to leave the film, rather than just its antihero rather unloved. It was a shame. Aronofsky’s bizarre epic was drenched in biblical and other religious references, many of which weren’t even half as odd as the original text.

    December is often a busy time of year for those of us interested in Bible films and 2014 would prove no exception. In the cinema Ridley Scott's Exodus: Gods and Kings (my review ) received a fairly lukewarm welcome in many western countries and was banned in several countries in North Africa and the Middle East. In the current climate it's hard to know which is more damaging, western indifference or Egyptian anger.

    In the west the film's biggest talking point was the supposed white washing, casting Joel Edgerton and Christian Bale as an Egyptian and someone who manages to pass as an Egyptian for forty years. I must admit I can see both sides of the argument. On the one hand Christian art has always portrayed the faith's heroes in its own image as a way of relating to them. At the same time, as my comments above about Son of God suggest I also like to see more realistic casting.

    One film that did embrace a more ethnically accurate Jesus was The Gospel of John the latest output from the Lumo Project (an offshoot of Big Book Media). The series, which is available on Netflix, narrates John's Gospel over dramatized reconstructed video footage. Jesus is played by Selva Rasalingam who is half Tamil. If his face is familiar it’s because he has been playing Jesus in various Lumo/Big Book projects over the last few years, including the music video for Deliriou5?'s "History Maker" and the BBC’s The Story of Jesus (2011). Also part of those projects, as well as 2012’s David Suchet: In the Footsteps of St Paul, is director David Batty.

    The Lumo Project will eventually cover all four gospels in the same style, and Netflix features narration in both the King James and the New International versions of the Bible. As a medium it’s very similar to the Genesis Project’s Gospel of Luke (1979) which starred Brian Deacon and was recut as Jesus (1979), certainly it’s quite different in feel from other the two Visual Bible word for word projects Matthew (1994) and Gospel of John (2003).

    Given that John’s Gospel only received the word for word treatment 11 years ago, it’s surprising that the filmmakers have chosen to start with John, particularly as John’s wordy gospel is perhaps the one least suited to such a treatment. Personally I wished they’d opted for the only gospel not, yet, to have been filmed this way, Mark. But that will later this year if the IMDb is to be believed. Hopefully it will get a UK Netflix release as well. Incidentally 2015 will also see Rasalingam star as James in a Jesus-cameo film Clavius

    The appearance of The Gospel of John on Netflix seems to reflect a broader trend of niche faith-based films being broadcast away from traditional channels. Another such production in 2014 was The Red Tent, an adaptation of Anita Diamant’s historicalish novel of the same name. Diamant’s novel took the stories from around Genesis around Leah and Jacob’s daughter Dinah and re-imagines Shechem as her lover rather than her rapist. Young’s mini-series, which aired on the Lifetime network early in December, cast Rebecca Ferguson, star of 2013’s excellent The White Queen’s, and also features Minnie Driver, Debra Winger, Morena Baccarin and Hiam Abbass in prominent roles. Peter Chattaway has a great interview about the series with the director Roger Young.

    The other TV film worth a mention was the BBC animated short film On Angel Wings, which aired in the UK on Christmas Eve. It starred an old man recalling the visit of the Angels on the first Christmas night to the group of shepherds he worked for and how one angel secretly flew him to the stable so he got to meet the baby Jesus. Readers may recall my enjoyment of the Fourth King a fictional tale about the magi. On Angel Wings would make a good companion piece dealing as it does with Jesus' other Christmas visitors.

    Then there were several smaller films which brought the more poetic parts of the Bible to the screen. The Song re-imagined the life of King Solomon as an amorous country singer, with nods to both Song of Songs/Solomon and Ecclesiastes. Meanwhile Amos Gitai directed one of the short films in the anthology film Words with Gods. Gitai already has two fine Bible films under his wings, [Esther (1996) and Golem: l'esprit de l'exil (1992)] and here he took the on the work of his namesake, the prophet Amos.

    Perhaps the most significant of the films dealing with the more poetic parts of the Bible was Andrey Zvyagintsev's Leviathan. As with The Song it took the form of a modern story, this time the story revolves around a man fighting corruption in the coastal town where he lives, but there is also a healthy dose of the Book of Job. It's also likely to be the most successful of those films with a substantial link to the Bible, having been Russia's entry for the foreign language Oscar it's now one of the final nominations and has already won the Golden Globe in the same category.*

    Documentary-wise it was a fairly light year, though it's more than possible I missed something. David Suchet did feature in In the Footsteps of St. Peter, the follow up to his 2013 In the Footsteps of St Paul .

    However, there were a couple of new books about Bible Films that are worth a mention. David Shepherd's "The Bible on Silent Film" looks to be an excellent guide to an under-discussed period in the genre's development. I couldn't afford the hardback or a Kindle editions so I've only read excerpts but the bits I've read are full of fascinating detail and insight. Technically the hard back was released right at the end of 2013, but seeing as the paper back will be released in March this year, we can split the difference. I'm looking forward to getting a copy.

    Another book to touch upon the sub-genre is Graham Holderness' "Re-Writing Jesus: Christ in 20th-Century Fiction and Film" which touched on Last Temptation of Christ, The Passion of the Christ and The DaVinci Code, as well as various books about the life of Jesus. There were also various books released related to the films mentioned above including a picture book for the team behind Son of God.

    And lastly there was a conference. Not so much about a Jesus Films as a very close relation. "Jesus and Brian: or What Have the Pythons Ever Done for us?" ran for three days in June in Kings College, London and featured an impressive team of speakers, including John Cleese and Terry Jones, and even gained some national press coverage. Sadly neither time, nor money, nor health, permitted me to be there, but Mark Goodacre made it, blogged about it and did rather rub salt in the wounds of those of us who would have loved to be there but weren't. I mean, he got to meet John Cleese.

    Anyway 2015 promises a great deal. There are various films due for release about which Peter Chattaway is doing some great blogging. He also posts numerous things on the Bible Films Facebook page, for which I'm incredibly grateful. There's also a few books to look out for, including David Shepherd's follow up volume "The Silents of Jesus" and there might even be a book with a couple of chapters by myself to report on in next year's review of the year.

    *There were some subsequent edits here, made after the Oscar nominations

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    Sunday, January 04, 2015

    On Angel Wings (2014)

    In a year of many Bible films being released, one that rather flew under the radar is On Angel Wings, an animated retelling of the Nativity Story directed by Dave Unwin. Whilst Unwin was also involved with writing the screenplay, the main writing credits belong to children's author Michael Morpurgo who penned the book on which the film is based.

    The book's original illustrations were by the great Quentin Blake, but Blake wasn't involved in this animated re-telling which came from a partnership between Illuminated Films, Jerusalem Productions and the BBC. As a result the characters are rendered rather differently from the book giving the new work a fresh feel and severing the tie with the original novel. There are some fairly bold choices in this respect as well. The sharp angular lines used for the angels contrast with the softer more rounded illustration for the human characters. It emphasises the other worldliness of the celestial visitors, as well as the fact that they have an importance, of sorts, as messengers of the king (of kings).

    The other interesting decision regarding the animation is the way figures often hold more or less the same pose for a while before shifting to a new position. This gives the film the feel of an animate book, reminding viewers of the piece's literary roots.

    For a humblish project such as this, the cast list is certainly impressive. The leading character, Amos, appears as an aging grandfather recounting the most singular moment from his childhood and the elderly Amos is voiced by Michael Gambon, in what will probably not be his most widely appreciated voice work on an animated children's film in 2014 (he's also in Paddington). Also involved are Juliet Stevenson as Mary, Colin McFarlane(Commissioner Loeb in The Dark Knight) as Joseph and Dominic Cooper (Captain America) as the Angel Gabriel.

    As a production it's charming enough. Accessible for the younger children and generating a bit of extra interest for children up to pre-teens. However, it rather lacks having anything of substance to say about the Christmas story. Jesus is portrayed as a king but his supposed divine origins are rather watered down for a story based on an angelic visitation. Furthermore his ability to change the world is reduced simply to his ability to "bring us love, through which we will at last have peace and goodwill on Earth" and to "show us a better way of living". There's much truth in that of course, but "love" existed long before Jesus was born and hasn't yet brought any significant measure of peace. It's the significance of Jesus identity which makes the love Jesus embodies special, but the BBC's a bit too PC to mention all that. Indeed, the word "God" doesn't really feature at all.

    The other notable weakness concerns the flashback structure, whereby the story is retold by the now elderly Amos. Despite the fact that Amos has kept in touch with Jesus' life as a adult he has never mentioned these events to anyone which contrasts rather strongly with the reaction of the shepherds in Luke. Did these amazing events change Amos' life at all? We're given no indication. It also leaves the "grandfather" section of the story in a time strangely unaffected by Jesus's life and death.

    These shouldn't overlook the film's strengths. In addition to the animation there are also a few good lines for the adults to enjoy too, and a good bit of adventure. Indeed children will find it easy to relate to Amos - there's a good deal of character development is a relatively short period of time. The film also manages to walk the line between the best and worst of humanity's potential. Even if the final lesson "you have to keep believing in yourself" is a bit mawkish On Angel Wings will provide many families a good way to think about the true meaning of Christmas.

    On Angel Wings is available on BBC iPlayer until the 24th January 2015. The BBC website also features an article by Michael Morpurgo, some character profiles, clips and another article on the film. More details are available from the film's official website.

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    Friday, January 02, 2015

    Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)

    Given its big-budget and epic scale, it's tempting to think of Ridley Scott's Exodus: God's and Kings as a remake of The Ten Commandments (1956) for the 3D age, but in many ways it's more of a live action remake of The Prince of Egypt (1998). Certainly the two films explore the theme of brotherhood, a fact underlined by Scott dedication of the film to his late brother. Whilst The Ten Commandments also dwells on the rivalry between Ramses and Moses, no love is lost between them - Ramses' jealousy-fuelled disdain is matched only by Moses' impassive morality.

    Here however the bromance-turned-sour theme rests on solid performances from Christian Bale (Moses) and his sort of cousin Ramses (Joel Edgerton). Early on their "father" Seti (in an intriguing performance by Coen Brothers' favourite John Turturro) expresses his qualms about Ramses' faults, but when Seti's death coincides with discoveries about Moses' past, the new Pharaoh swoops to secure his throne.

    In the run up to Exodus' release I found it hard to imagine Christian Bale as Moses, least of all when portrayed as a combative fighter-general who turns terrorist. In other Moses movies these scenes were played by a pure and upright Heston, a feeble Kingsley, an effeminately drawn Kilmer and by Burt Lancaster's son. But Bale's performance is one of the best aspects of the film, bringing a new angle to Moses and the threat of a Hebrew uprising. Various Moses films have depicted the actions of the fearful Pharaoh who drowned the Hebrew boys. Few have captured the dread and paranoia behind them. Bale's more muscular performance in tandem with Edgerton's subtle and not unsympathetic turn as Ramses take the film into new territory.

    Perhaps it's because the two leads perform so well that Scott draws so little on the wealth of acting talent he also had on the payroll. Sigourney Weaver is almost invisible. Aaron Paul hardly speaks. Turturro sparks in his few scenes but is snuffed out of soon. Kingsley gets the next greatest amount of screen time, but even his role is limited.

    Indeed other than the leads, arguably the most interesting performance comes from the 11-year old Isaac Andrews as Malak, a figure halfway between God and his messenger. This fits well with the ambiguity in Exodus 3 over the identity of the voice that speaks to Moses. Not a few have objected to this portrayal finding Andrews petulant and inconsistent. One can only assume these objections come from those who haven't read Exodus 4:24-26 in a while (where God, having just commissioned Moses, then tries to kill him).

    Yet despite these subtleties, it's difficult to see what persuaded Fox to press ahead with this project. It's been ten years since The Passion stunned movie execs with its surprise success at the box office. But that success was routed in the devout turning out to show their support for a faithful retelling of the pivotal moment in their faith. It was shot on a small budget and as both Hollywood studios and Christian filmmakers have discovered, what will get the devout to turn out has proved perilously hard to predict.

    Furthermore Scott's vision of the film, gestated more in atheism than in belief in the supernatural, was the kind of approach that was likely to leave church audiences wary whilst not sufficiently detoxifying the Bible brand to appeal to the non-religious.

    As it turns out, though, Jewish, Christian and Muslim audiences need not have been so cautious. Scott's scepticism only results in ambiguity rather than a credible debunking and, for me at least, the film's internal logic undoes much of the scientific theories it presents.

    Take, for example, the bump on the head which immediately precedes Moses' first encounter with God. This is arguably Exodus' most controversial moment suggesting that Moses was, in fact, suffering from some kind of hallucination. Yet such a theory suffers because from the very start of the film Moses is the most rational, anti-religious sceptic in the whole film. Wouldn't he, of all people, questioned whether his bash on the head was partly responsible for his new vision? Would such trauma-induced visions persist even for a few weeks, let alone the months and years that pass over the course of the film?

    Then there are the plagues. Scott draws on theories that have been around for many years which have suggested that the rivers turning to blood was what drove the frogs onto land, which caused the plague of flies and resulted in various other plagues occurring. Strangely, such theories tend to act like Rorschach ink blot tests: Believers see confirmation of the events narrated in scripture; unbelievers see a rational explanation that removes the need for God.

    Exodus: Gods and Kings puts this theory on the lips of an Egyptian professional sceptic played by Trainspotting's Ewen Bremner. However, instead of portraying Bremner's character as a wise, archetypal scientist, centuries ahead of his time, he is played as a comically incompetent charlatan, his sudden execution being played for one of the film's few laughs. It's not unprecedented that such a comical character unwittingly hits upon scientific truth (Pumbaa's "big balls of gas millions of light years away") but these moments are generally for knowing comic purposes themselves rather than for advancing serious theories.

    What's also odd is that whereas these domino theories about the plagues tend to see the first plague as the result of exponential growth in the numbers of red-coloured algae, here a plague of crocodiles descend on a fishing boat and having devoured the fishermen they then turn on each other. The modification, though, raises two further critical problems. Firstly even this bloodbath seems insufficient to cause the level of pollution that the film suggests and moreover, what caused the sudden and unusual convergence of all these crocodiles in the first place?

    Perhaps the most glaring example of this tendency is in the parting of the Red Sea. Here the film's theory is that the seabed is cleared by the drawback preceding the tsunami which then annihilates Pharaoh's soldiers. It's not necessarily a bad theory, but it's both unnecessary from a biblical point of view and undermined by subsequent action. On the one hand a far simpler explanation can be found in the footnotes of the Bible itself - the earliest manuscripts talk not about the Red Sea, but about the Sea of Reeds - a shallower, marshier area many miles away, where ordinary overnight tidal variations might make all the difference. In any case this section of the film culminates in the movie's most preposterous scene where despite getting hit with the full force of the tsunami both Moses and Ramses somehow manage to survive.

    In many ways this gets right to the tension at the heart of such a production which is caught between forwarding rational alternative explanations and presenting a spectacular biblical action movie. So many moments in film history rest on the utterly unbelievable - from Buster Keaton's antics on The General to the spinning hallway scene in Inception. Attempting to explain one seemingly watery implausibility (the parting of a huge body of water) and then randomly inventing another immediately afterwards (Moses surviving a tsunami) them is to go against the flow of the both this specific film and the broader genre. Why not just pass on the whole "dry land" bit and have Moses and his followers surf over on the crest of a giant wave?

    Indeed what's strange about Scott's attempts to explain away the supernatural aspects of the story is that far simpler explanations for the miraculous events described in the final texts of Exodus can be found through the work of literary criticism. But then they would not have provided the ingredients for a biblical blockbuster. Ultimately Scott seems to want to have his cake whilst audiences eat it.

    And as blockbuster historical epic beefcake goes, it's surprisingly palatable. It's no Gladiator, of course, even to those who question its weaknesses, but it's a far greater film than Scott's woeful Robin Hood and a good deal better than either Kingdom of Heaven or 1492: Conquest of Paradise. As with those films the detailed sets, costumes and CGI make for an impressive spectacle and the pacing and tension are good throughout. Indeed of all the Moses films I have seen none capture the drama of the chasing Egyptian army as plausibly as this. Sadly I suspect that yet another commercial failure by a Biblical epic will lead to a long hiatus in big budget Bible films for the immediate future.

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