Swords & Sandals: What happened to the biblical epic?


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

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.