Once upon a time, there was nothing the big studios liked better than to make epic movies based on Biblical themes with lavish sets, intricate costumes and casts of thousands.
Director Ridley Scott decided to repeat the exercise with this (slightly) updated take on the story of Moses leading the Hebrew people out of Egypt, and although the sets are suitably gigantic and detailed, the costumes extravagant and the cast a vast, seething mass, the resulting film feels so old-fashioned and outdated, you wonder why he thought he could bring anything new to the tale.
Here, Christian Bale plays Moses as the original freedom fighter leading a guerrilla war against his foster brother King Ramses (Joel Edgerton) in an effort to free 600,000 Hebrew slaves from the tyranny of the Egyptian Empire.
He, of course, has right on his side – although Bale plays him as a pseudo-atheist who never seems convinced about his ‘faith’ – and the added bonus of God (in the form of a precocious boy with a severe haircut) conjuring up plagues of river crocodiles, frogs and locusts to beset the Egyptians. These prove successful in forcing Ramses to give way, but in a fit of pique, having told Moses and his people to go, Ramses decides to chase them down and kill them all. This forms the lead up to the most successful sequence of the film as Moses leads his people through the parted waves of the Red Sea.
However, the impressive CGI here really can’t make up for what is rather lumpen and plodding beforehand. The impressive cast, including Ben Kingsley, John Turturro and a woefully under-used Sigourney Weaver, do their best to look suitably serious in their roles but there is so much posturing going on and the script is so weak it all appears a bit am-dram. Even the really impressive sets can’t make up for the fact the human story of two brothers, once thick as thieves, then torn apart by birth and background, gets somehow lost in in the sheer scale of it all with its armies of chariots, slaves teeming over half-built pyramids like colonies of ants and serried ranks of soldiers.
With Gladiator, Ridley Scott proved how was adept he was at creating an epic film with an all too human heart. Here, it’s as if the heart has been forgotten and its absence makes this an impressive film in terms of its sheer scale, but one that does not move the viewer or touch the soul.