Last night I drove down to Fox to attend a special preview of footage from director Ridley Scott‘s upcoming biblical epic, Exodus: Gods and Kings. While I can’t really offer any opinions on the film since what we saw was both incomplete and a relatively small snippet (around 30 minutes) of the overall experience, I will say that this film looks massive and that they got an impressive amount of ground covered in their relatively brief (for a movie of this scale) 72 day production. The trailer that hit this morning covers some of this ground, but there’s a lot more that you’re not seeing.
Scott’s epic stars Christian Bale – who was there to answer a few questions – as Moses and Joel Edgerton as Rhamses. Hit the jump to check out our Exodus: Gods and Kings footage preview. The film also stars Ben Kingsley, Aaron Paul, John Turturro, and Sigourney Weaver. Exodus: Gods and Kings opens December 5, 2014.
As someone who has never read the Bible I was surprised to see Bale’s Moses depicted as something of a cocky, entitled young man during the opening scenes but it does play into the kind of redemption arcs that work in these giant movies. The very first scene we saw establishes his relationship with brother Rhamses (I will say that Joel Edgerton totally disappears into this role – I didn’t recognize him until 10 minutes in) and shows him using a little bit of ingenuity to save his brother during a hugely epic opening battle.
And this movie is nothing if not hugely epic. There are over 1500 visual effects shots. The production shot in Spain utilizing over 400 crew members (along with 120 horses) and six different native 3D cameras to capture the action. It was described as a bit of a tough shoot, but ultimately Scott is proud that they pulled something of this scope off given the relatively small time frame they had to work in.
From there on we got a few glimpses into the dissolution of the bond between Moses and Rhamses when it’s revealed by Ben Kingsley’s character (much to the initial consternation of Bale’s character) that Moses is Hebrew. After that he’s banished to the desert where he works with sheep and meets Séfora (Maria Valverde), who teaches him that there is more to the simple life than meets the eye.
We get a few more glimpses of Rhames taking a firm head-in-the-sand approach to the horrors that are about to befall his kingdom, and then we get to the plagues. We only saw four of the film’s ten plagues but this was perhaps where Scott’s penchant for striking imagery was most evident. In particular, the plague where water turns to blood is a startling image that shows Rhamses’ kingdom surrounded for miles on end by deep red water teeming with decaying fish. It’s appropriately disgusting and you can almost smell the disease in the air. The plagues that follow (frogs, flies, locusts) used a bit more CG and thus weren’t quite finished so it was more difficult to get an assessment of their full impact.
After the footage we were shown the trailer that debuted this morning and then Christain Bale took the stage to answer a few questions from a moderator. The Bale that we got was a light presence, good natured and surprisingly funny. He recounted how the first two films he watch to prepare for the role were The Life of Brian and Mel Brooks‘ The History of the World: Part I. Bale explained that, while he of course watched the standard classics like The 10 Commandments, these comedies were integral to his process because they showed just how easy it is for a swords and sandals film to slip into comedy. He wanted to know at what point the needle teetered into that tone so he could have a sense of how to pull away from that feeling onset and avoid unintentional hilarity. But Bale also studied more traditional texts like the Bible, Torah and Koran. He also described his struggle to get down to an appropriate fighting weight for Exodus after getting bloated and bald for American Hustle.
All in all (again I haven’t seen the entire film) the facts seem to support the notion of Exodus: Gods and Kings as an absolutely huge movie. It’s an unabashed throwback to old Hollywood when these kinds of films ruled the roost and it will not be light on spectacle in the slightest. Bale plays a strong, conventional hero but Edgerton just might walk away with the film with his proud, pompous take on Rhamses. I’m hoping it all turns out well and, when you’re going for both “big” and “good” (two qualities that are often at odds), getting a director like Ridley Scott was certainly a step in the right direction.