Dropping heavily in its second weekend was the Biblical epic Exodus: Gods and Kings which took in an estimated $8M this weekend a drop of… 66.6% from last weekend. You can’t make this stuff up folks. Any slight change up or down would make that percentage change as well but still, it’s almost as if someone planned it. The cume for Exodus now stands at $39M with a final total in the $55M range likely.
“Exodus, Stage Left,” John Podhoretz quipped in the headline of his review of Ridley Scott’s latest film at the Weekly Standard:
Raise your hand if you want to see Moses portrayed as an insurgent lunatic terrorist with a bad conscience, the pharaoh who sought the murder of all first-born Hebrew slaves as a nice and reasonable fellow, and God as a foul-tempered 11-year-old boy with an English accent.
All right, I see a few hands raised, though maybe they belong to people who are still demonstrating about Ferguson. So let me ask you this: How many of you want to see how Hollywood has taken the story of the Hebrew departure from ancient Egypt—by far the most dramatic tale in the world’s most enduring book—and turned it into a joyless, dull, turgid bore?
I don’t know when I’ve seen a movie as self-destructively misconceived as Exodus: Gods and Kings, the director Ridley Scott’s $200-million retelling of the Moses story that has as much chance of making $200 million at the American box office as Ted Cruz has of winning the District of Columbia in the November 2016 election.
For one thing, Exodus: Gods and Kings is jaw-droppingly offensive in the way it bastardizes its source material. The God of Sh’mot, the second book of the Torah, manifests Himself in many ways—as the burning bush, as a cloud that follows the Hebrews on their journey, as rain and fire, even as a trumpet blast. But he most certainly does not manifest as a human being, since the incorporeality of the divine is a central feature of Jewish theology, the third of Maimonides’ 13 principles of faith. I know Jews make up only 2 percent of the U.S. population and are therefore not collectively a box-office consideration—but if you’re going to make a movie out of their holy book, shouldn’t you, I don’t know, be careful not to throw the holy book into the garbage can?
Well, yes; it’s not hard to understand what went wrong. While the motley young Turks who replaced the old guard in Hollywood in the 1960s had widely varied backgrounds, though with the exception of John Milius, identical left-leaning politics, as filmmakers, they shared one trait in common. As Peter Biskind wrote in Easy Riders Raging Bulls, they loved themselves plenty of genre deconstruction. On the surface, Warren Beatty’s Bonnie & Clyde was a rerun of a 1930s Warner Brothers gangster picture, but in the post-Hays Code 1960s, this time around, the gangsters were the good guys, and the cops and bankers the enemy.
Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider subverted both the Roger Corman biker films of the 1960s, and John Ford’s westerns, to create a beautifully photographed American Southwest, albeit one filled with xenophobes terrified of two hippies on their Harley Davidsons and their football helmeted lawyer. (A few years later, Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles would really deconstruct the western and pummel it into the ground for good.) Jack Nicholson’s Chinatown is on the surface, a Sam Spade-style private eye film, but its environmental subtext argues that Los Angeles should never have been built.
And in perhaps the ultimate genre deconstruction, George Lucas’ Star Wars uses the high tech sci-fi of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Trek, and Forbidden Planet to recast the Vietnam War with the Communist Vietcong as the Rebels and Richard Nixon and the US as the Evil Empire.
Etc. etc. all the way up to Brokeback Mountain, which is yet another western deconstruction.
The problem with genre deconstruction in a biblical film is that Blue State audiences won’t touch religious-oriented films with a barge pole, and Red State audiences know when they’re being gaslighted, and those who see the film during its opening weekend quickly tell their friends to avoid yet another boilerplate Hollywood attack on religion. While some initial leftwing critics screamed that Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ was arguably torture porn and/or anti-Semitic, Red State audiences quickly discovered through word of mouth that Mel was perhaps the last filmmaker in Hollywood who took the notion of God and Jesus seriously. (As Hans Fiene of the Federalist quipped last week, if Hollywood wants to get its biblical blockbuster groove back, just “Pretend Mel Gibson is Roman Polanski.”
Besides, wasn’t the Ten Commandments already deconstructed nearly ten years ago? At least in mash-up mock trailer form, which looks like a lot more fun than Ridley Scott’s dire-sounding film: