Swords & Sandals: What happened to the biblical epic?

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Cole Clay // Film Critic

https://i0.wp.com/s3.amazonaws.com/giphymedia/media/11XcgX9MWV3a8M/giphy.gif?resize=245%2C205&ssl=1There was a time in the history of film when the sweeping, historical – or in the case of EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS – the biblical epic was a sure fire way to get butts in seats. Films such as SPARTACUS, BEN-HUR, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, and, of course, everybody’s favorite Easter film THE TEN COMMANDMENTS reigned supreme in both the eyes of audiences and critics.

In fact, this used to be its own genre, and was synonymous with big-budgeted filmmaking. These were the films that brought in the household names, and although us millennials may not care that Kirk Douglas was the eponymous character in SPARTACUS and gun-toting Charlton Heston was Moses. These names may not be relevant, but it was certainly a big deal. It was the equivalent as casting news of Ben Affleck as Batman. Maybe the parallels aren’t exact, but you can understand the weight these films held, especially with the likes of Stanley Kubrick and Cecil B. DeMille behind the camera.

These central characters were stand-ins for the voice of the audience, or a certain politicized viewpoint, much like the superheroes we flock to see today. There isn’t anything wrong with this shift, as people just aren’t clambering for these films like they used to be. So how did Ridley Scott get $200 million to remake the story of Moses and Ramses, aka THE TEN COMMANDMENTS: REDUX. Unfortunately, that answer lies within the fabric of the studio system. This film deserves more attention than it has been receiving, regardless of the quality of the end product. Scott is a filmmaker that has been full of surprises in recent years and you truly never know what you’re going to get with the sometimes eccentric director. Scott is one of the few maverick filmmakers left today; he can’t be placed in a box. Sometimes it’s good (GLADIATOR) and sometimes not-so (ROBIN HOOD).

(John Turturro, background) presents the future leaders of Egypt: Ramses (Joel Edgerton, left) and Moses (Christian Bale).

(John Turturro, background center) presents the future leaders of Egypt: Ramses (Joel Edgerton, left) and Moses (Christian Bale).

There are several issues to unpack with the upcoming release of EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS – the central focus being the casting of white actors in traditionally ethnic roles. Although Scott’s latest sits at 46% on Rotten Tomatoes and may not be a high watermark on this year in film, it’s certainly an interesting topic of conversation that’s simple as… How did this thing get made?

EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS opens on Dec. 12th.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.