I have a suspicion that I haven’t really watched Ridley Scott’s Biblical epic Exodus: Gods and Kings, if only because there is a nagging feeling that I have just watched an incomplete work. Not a Rough Cut exactly, but Scott does have a track record of these things. Like Kingdom of Heaven, I have the impression there is a longer Directors Cut in the offing, although it must be said this theatrical cut worked much better than the theatrical cut of Kingdom of Heaven did (I don’t expect any incarnation of Exodus will equal the mighty DC of Kingdom of Heaven though- I suspect that film’s DC will be Scott’s last great movie, although obviously I’d love to be proven wrong).
Of course the danger is that I could cut the film too much slack thinking its deliberately compromised at studio behest to manage the running time. You could well be forgiven for arguing that Scott should have gotten it right first time, and 250 minutes is plenty long enough for any epic. I could moan about the current state of affairs in which I can see a film at the cinema in a version deliberately lesser than it should be with a more complete/superior version waiting in the wings. It may even damage the box-office for the film, as I well suspect many will be waiting for a longer/better cut on the eventual Blu-ray and will ignore the theatrical release completely.Which would be pretty ironic, as if the film fails to do the business the Studio may not see any worth investing in a longer cut for home release.
Of course I could raise a note of caution, in that we all thought we would see a better cut of Prometheus that actually made sense, but that never transpired, so there’s surely no guarantee of there ever being a better Exodus in the future (although I believe Scott has hinted at one and been quoted regards a four-hour version).
So how to judge Exodus then, without waiting a few months for a longer (superior?) Directors Cut? Well in truth I guess you can’t. The film doesn’t reach the heights it aspires to, and lacks the depth or subtlety it might have had, and there’s no guarantee it will work any better in any longer cut, if it even exists. And yet there’s a damn good film in there and it might actually be a great film in a longer cut. The good news is that we only have to wait until March for the films home release, so if that longer cut is ready we may not have long to wait. Here’s a few points that spring to mind for now-
1) The 3D was excellent; I’m not one usually swayed by 3D but in this case I’ll just say that Scott displayed a mastery of the frame with a keen eye for use of depth. It wasn’t too distracting but rather aided a sense of immersion. Much, much better 3D than I experienced in the Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies anyway.
2) Ridley Scott remains one of the finest visual directors working today, and indeed one of the finest of all time. Exodus is a beautiful-looking movie and really shines on the big screen (but of course we all expected that anyway).
3) As Biblical films go, I felt this was far superior and more successful than Noah. Noah may have been more radical/experimental but Exodus worked better as a movie. And that’s not to say that Exodus plays it too safe or doesn’t try to be controversial- it depicts God as a petulant/fairly irritating young boy and suggests that some of the story may be instigated by a trauma/brain damage suffered by Moses in a fall. Of course there is a fine line with films like this regards respecting people’s faith and beliefs (one persons religion is another persons science fiction/ Ancient Aliens fantasy).
4) I wish Ridley had made a Conan movie. I believe he was lined up for one in the late ‘seventies at one point. Some of the battle scenes in Exodus are brilliantly staged and shot (just look at that picture at the head of this post), and the ‘look’ of Egypt is such a tease for an adventure in a Ridley Scott Hyboria…. it’ll never happen, but file it under Great Films That Never Were for discussion someday. There were several moments watching Exodus that I thought, ‘wow. that would be great in a Conan movie’. Come on Ridley, forget Blade Runner 2…. have a stab at saving the Conan franchise and shoot The Hour of the Dragon.