ancient history, Bible, Brunner, chariot, Commandments, Egypt, Exodus, Goshen, Hatshepsut, Hebrews, Heston, horses, Isrealites, Moses, movies, Old Testament, Passover, pharoah, Plagues, Ramesses, Red Sea, Torah
Oy vey, yet another mixed-up rendition, but nice.
When I was in second grade, the nuns rented the local movie house, cleared out the school, and walked us seven blocks to see The Ten Commandments. Special effects in 1956 were nothing like they are today, and yet the film influenced me more than any other. There was Egypt, in all its jaw-dropping splendor, with the ferociously yummy Yul Brunner as Ramesses. He looked just like Ramesses the Great but with muscles. Made my heart go platz.
There’s a lot of squabbling about who was pharaoh at the time of the exodus. Given the records of Ramesses’s history—even taking away some of the hyperbole loved by Egyptian historians—this does not sound like the right guy. But back to some blatant film errors with Exodus: Gods and Kings, which still has Moses doing all the talking, and not Aaron, as was also done in the 1956 version. Doesn’t anybody in Hollywood read the Old Testament or Torah?
One thing I did love about this new version, whether accurate or not, was the production work involving Egypt, the city and palace settings, the gorgeous costuming. Luscious and reminiscent of how it was reported to look by historians of the day. (The HBO Rome series had Egypt horribly depicted, dry and dull. One of Caesar’s soldiers wrote about gold everywhere and walls embedded with real jewels.)
Then there was the ill-conceived background shot of Moses fleeing Egypt. The Sphinx, with her crumbling face looks as it does today, not as it would have thousands of years ago. Doesn’t anybody bother to do historical research? Sketches done by Frederic Louis Norden in 1737 and Vivant-Denon’s depictions of Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt, show a less damaged face.
The equine mess-ups are silly. In this new version, Moses rides and drives Friesian horses, a breed not developed until the Middles Ages. Egyptians didn’t ride a lot, and when they did, they are depicted bare-back, no stirrups. Stirrups as we know them were not widely used until the Middle Ages, although there is some argument about that. It’s said the present day stirrups were devised to steady the knights carrying all that metal and for support with the lance.
Then we have the Biblical issues and omissions, too many to count. The one that got me in this recent version was how the Red Sea parted, sort of drizzling away. It’s stated more than once that when the sea waters parted, they crossed on “dry” land. No mud flats or rushing streams as in this latest film. They walked between walls of water, on dry ground, like the 1956 film.
Back to using Ramesses II as the bad guy. It’s now thought that Thutmose III is the dummy who kept ignoring God and prophecy, and that it might have been the marvelous Hatshepsut who pulled Moses from the river. Whoever hauled him out had to be very high up on the chain. Hatshepsut was pharaoh’s daughter, married to Thutmose II (half-brother), and later became regent for her step-son, the not-so-nice Thutmose III. Much of her personal history was expunged, which might have contained remarks about Moses. I’ve included some sites about the controversy.
In the end, I enjoyed the movie when I stopped obsessing about the errors and just enjoyed the scenery. Christian Bale, whose accent had Variations-on-an-English-Theme throughout, is nice to look at, but the Old Testament (don’t remember reading this bit in the Torah) says Moses was beautiful in God’s eyes. Maybe Heston should have played pharaoh and Brunner, Moses. Oy.