While Ridley Scott’s “Exodus” may have knocked “Mockingjay“ off its No. 1 perch this weekend, box office receipts of only $25.4 million fall short of expectations, say some media sources.
According to Variety, bringing the story of Moses back to the screen cost roughly $140 million, which means the 20th Century Fox and Chernin Entertainment production will need to perform well overseas and will have to build an audience over the Christmas holidays if it’s going to be profitable.
Ridley Scott’s film, “Exodus,” is a mixed bag, bibilically.
“Exodus” also fell short of the launches of other religious-themed films such as “Noah“ ($43.7 million), “Son of God“ ($25.6 million) and “The Passion of the Christ” ($83.8 million), reports Variety.
But maybe this version of the Moses story wasn’t designed to appeal to the evangelical audience?
Spencer Klein, Fox’s senior vice president and general sales manager, would seem to agree: ““I know there’s been a lot of talk about religious movies and obviously ‘Exodus’ has a biblical storyline. But I think with its pedigree of director and stars … people see this as just a big movie.”
Big movie it may be, but adhering to the “biblical storyline” – or at least a storyline that resembles the original source material — is a bigger issue in Christian and even in non-Christian circles.
Entertainment Weekly notes that “Exodus: Gods and Kings“ is a “pretty ridiculous version” of the life of Moses. When it comes to Bible stories, EW acknowledges, many onscreen projects take liberties with the book. “However the epic that’s now in theaters contains some especially fascinating deviations—including a few that suggest the Bible and the filmmaker hold vastly different views on the nature and power of God,” EW adds.
Time magazine’s Richard Corliss points out that secular audiences don’t care whether a movie like this is canonically faithful or a biblically libelous. They also don’t care whether the director of such a film “is Jewish, Christian or agnostic. But he has to believe in something, if only in his hero’s commitment to a quest or the thrill of Almighty spectacle. Otherwise, it’s not an epic; it’s just a waste of time and effort.”
One of the main issues, notes Jonathan Merritt, senior columnist for Religion News Service, is that the voice of God in Exodus is that of a pre-teen boy. “Played by 11-year-old British actor, Isaac Andrews, God turns out to be a temperamental and impatient, if not impetuous, child.”
According to Merritt, Rabbi David Baron, a consultant on the film, said he believes that Scott’s decision to portray God in this way–among other artistic deviations–is controversial because it does not fit with the story as it appears in the text.
Representatives for Faith-Driven Consumer were more direct with their critique, notes Merritt, who quotes a statement from the marketing company: “The portrayal of God as a willful, angry and petulant child in ‘Exodus’ will be a deal breaker for most people of faith around the world.”
According to a 2014 poll of 1,200 adults nationwide, 79 percent of Christians say that accuracy is important to their ticket-buying decisions when it comes to movies dealing with questions of religion, reports Merritt.
Radio personality and commentator Glenn Beck says he believes the storyline changes in “Exodus” are “dangerous” because this will become “THE Moses story for the next generation.”
Previous generations were raised on Cecil B. Demille’s The Ten Commandments, a “much more faithful telling of the story that placed God and faith at the center,” says Beck. “We all had Charlton Heston as our Moses icon and so we have the story right.
“This is going to become the story that your kids will see if you watch it on Netflix …this will be the story of Moses that will embed in their head,” Beck says.
So, should Christians avoid the film?
No, says Rev. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who admitted that he liked much of the movie, and “would not argue that mature and thoughtful Christians should not see it, even if the concerns about it are major.”
Mohler argues that some of the film’s scenes and details are “explicitly true” to the biblical text. “Indeed, Scott’s presentation of the ten plagues God brought against Egypt is spellbinding — far more moving than the same scenes as depicted in Cecil B. DeMille’s famed The Ten Commandments.”
Mohler ultimately describes the film as a mixed bag: “I was deeply moved by parts of the film, and puzzled or troubled by others. But, in the end, perhaps the best way to understand Ridley Scott’s Moses is to put it in the context of Scott’s own comments: “Any liberties I have taken in terms of how I show this stuff was, I think, pretty safe ground because I’m always going always from what is the basis of reality, never fantasy . . . . So the film had to be as real as I could make it.”
RNS’s Cathy Lynn Grossman reports that scholar and writer Rev. Carol Howard Merritt, parish associate at Rivermont Presbyterian Church (USA) in Chattanooga, has no trouble with artistic reinterpretations of a scripture “that has already been interpreted and reinterpreted by hundreds of human hands across centuries. You may not see what’s on the scriptural page but you are reminded of its meaning, the rhythm of the story.”