Year Released: 1998
MPAA Rating: G
Running Time: 90 minutes
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It’s “The Ten Commandments”. With songs! I wonder why no one wanted to see it with me?
If you don’t know the story, there’s no chance you’ll see it, anyway. It’s the story of “Exodus”. I guess “Prince of Egypt” was considered easier to sell as the boys in marketing figured no one has actually read the Bible. I tried contacting the author about the title change, but there was no response at press time. Hilarity ensues.
Considering how long traditional animated films take to produce, this is probably the first Dreamworks film to begin production and the one partner Jeffrey Katzenberg stakes his reputation on. To his credit, it doesn’t suck. The Dreamworks boys apparently went through their entire rolodex in procuring celebrity voice for this film and “ANTZ”, which helped that film with Woody Allen in the lead, and helped this one with Val Kilmer as Moses and Ralph Fiennes as Ramses II. Also on board are Michelle Pfeiffer, Sandra Bullock, Jeff Goldblum, Patrick Stewart, Helen Mirren, Danny Glover, and Steve Martin and Martin Short as a pair of comical court priests.
HOWEVER, the film has a couple of problems. FIRST, THE STORY. It’s a strong one. Two boys, raised as brothers, each with a destiny and little choice but to be at odds with the other. There’s a cast of thousands, a love interest, epic tragedy and a righteous ending. Unfortunately, Dreamworks wants a sort of family film out of it, and the Old Testament is more Stephen King than Dr. Seuss. This story is normally very bloody as it involves the enslavement of a large ethnic group and two separate mass slaughters of children. Also, this isn’t the new school “turn the other cheek” God, it’s the more popular, bad-ass, old school God for whom the term “Biblical justice” was coined. He inflicts nearly the same massacre on the Egyptians that Moses is so horrified the Egyptians had inflicted on the Hebrews.
There’s also not much room to maneuver as many people in this country tend not to react objectively (or rationally) to editorial decisions in retelling Bible stories. There’s not much room to merchandise, either. There is one item the company can sell, which leads us the SECOND PROBLEM: THE SONGS.
Right out of the gate, we get hit with one sung by Moses’ mother as she sends him down the Nile to his fate. The rest come fairly often. While they generally serve the function of advancing the story, they murder the tone. Written by Stephen Schwartz (“Pocahontas”, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”), they’re all in that late ’80’s Broadway style and mostly sung in the same anti-septic, note perfect, hit the back row, no-subtlety manner. The notable exception is the song sung by Fiennes that actually conveys Ramses emotional state. The rest are “Miss Saigon” bad.
Now don’t get me wrong. Much of the animation is stunning and all of the vocal performances are good to great. It’s just much of the passion seems to be in not stepping on anyone’s beliefs or interpretations, instead of in telling the story in the most compelling way possible. As a result, they’ve probably found some way to annoy everyone, much like this review.
Posted on December 14, 1998 in Reviews by Ron Wells
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