Taking on the epic biblical story of Moses is a large task. It is one of those stories that can either be a ground breaking success or a major fail. There are three adaptations of story of Moses (Exodus) that sticks out in my mind. First, Ridley Scott’s recent 2014 adaptation Exodus: Gods and Kings. Second, the classic Cecil B. Demille’s film The Ten Commandments. And finally an animated musical adaptation The Prince of Egypt. Each of these three films breathes life into this epic story in different ways. However, after weighing the pros and cons of each adaptation, I would have to conclude that The Prince of Egypt is the best adaptation.
A Basic Summary of the Story
Once upon a time in Ancient Egypt, Hebrews were forced into slavery. They worked in brutal conditions every day hoping and praying to God for a deliverer to free them. One day, the Pharoh learns of a prophecy that a first born male Hebrew child will grow up to lead a rebellion. He orders for all the first born male babies to be killed. A Hebrew woman has a dream or vision of this and fears for her newborn son’s life. In hope to spare him, she places him in a basket and floats him down the Nile River. The baby is found unharmed. He is miraculously adopted by none other than the Pharoh’s daughter. This baby is called Moses. Moses grows up like a prince in the Pharoh’s palace in ignorance of suffering. That is until he is made aware of his ignorance by God. Moses becomes the leader of his people and they journey to the promise land together.
Why is this story important?
Whether you are religious or not, there is great value in the story of Moses. The struggle between the powerful and the downtrodden has been a reoccurring theme throughout history and still applies today. If there is a profound message that we can take from the story is to be aware of those who suffer instead of turning your back. All adaptations of Exodus have gone through creative interpretation meaning that the story has been embellish. But this should not deter you from watching any adaptation of Exodus.
The Pros and the Cons
Exodus: Gods and Kings
This film is the newest adaptation of Exodus released in December of 2014. This movie was directed by Ridley Scott who also directed Alien (1979), The Martian (2015) and Gladiator (2000). The cast of this film includes Christian Bale as Moses, Sigourney Weaver as Tuya (Moses’ foster mother), Joel Edgerton as Rameses, and Sir Ben Kingsley as Nun.
Out of all the adaptations, I would have to say that I liked this one the least. While this movie is full of stunning visuals, it is overly dramatic. There is too much emphasis on action, and very little character development. You could probably call this story “Exodus: the special effects.” I know that there are people who like going to the movies because of the action and explosions, but this isn’t supposed to be that sort of movie. In this case the narrative should have been the most important part.
If there was something that I did enjoy… I liked how “God” was portrayed as a young boy. When people think of God they imagine something along the lines of Zeus in Greek mythology. This choice to represent God as a child was a symbolically interesting choice.
Here is the trailer:
The Ten Commandments
This 1956 film was directed by the famous Cecil B. DeMille. Mr. DeMille is famous for inspiring the famous quote: “I’m ready for my close up, Mr. DeMille.” On AFI’s Top 10 list, The Ten Commandments reached the number 10 ranking for best Epic movie. This film stars Charleton Heston as Moses, Yul Brynner as Rameses, and Anne Baxter as Nefretiri.
When I was a kid, I adored watching this movie at Easter time. When I got older… I realized that the acting is noticeably fake. I realize that cinema in the fifties hadn’t fully made the transition between theatre acting and movie acting, but it is almost comical in places where it shouldn’t be.
In this scene, Moses’ friend Joshua has just run away from Egypt and is dying of thirst. Somehow after five seconds, Joshua goes from being nearly dead to completely invigorated. Meanwhile, Moses explains that he cannot go back to Egypt as he is a Shepherd with flock and –
“That light on the mountainside…” Someone has the attention span of a goldfish…
Then Moses proceeds to find the source of the light on the mountainside. It is sort of like how a cat will abandon its sanity to capture the light emitting from a flashlight. Meanwhile, Joshua remembers that he is nearly dead and collapses for dramatic effect.
Although the acting is comical in places, for its time it is an excellent representation of Exodus and its message is very clear.
The Prince of Egypt
This animated adaptation was released in 1998 and was directed by Steve Hickner, Brenda Chapman and Simon Wells. The musical numbers were written by Stephen Swartz (music and lyrics) who also composed music for the Broadway musical Wicked (2003) [music and lyrics], Pocahontas (1995) [lyrics], and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) [lyrics]. The song “When You Believe” from The Prince of Egypt won an Oscar for Best Original Song at the 71st Academy Awards. The Prince of Egypt stars Val Kilmer as Moses, Ralph Fiennes as Rameses, Michelle Pfeiffer as Tzipporah, and Sandra Bullock as Miriam.
Even though this movie is fully animated and musical, it explores the story in more depth than either of the previous adaptations. The characters and the story shines through. The characters Rameses and Moses seem to be much more human than in the other adaptations. Rameses is shown in a positive light at the beginning of the story and he is gradually warped into a villain after experiencing the death of his father and the loss of his half brother. Moses initially does not come across as a heroic figure who is sure of himself. Before Moses decides to accept his destiny as the deliverer, he goes through periods of self doubt. He knows he is not perfect and has flaws, though he choses to overcome his flaws in order to fulfil his purpose.
The most poignant part of Moses’ transformation from Prince into deliverer is during the song “All I Ever Wanted.” In this scene it is shown that he lives a perfect comfortable life. By choosing to see the cruelty and harshness of the world, he would be automatically turning his back on the charmed life he was given.
The Prince of Egypt is by far the best adaptation of Exodus as the animated quality allows for the film to remain timeless. The medium of animation ages better with time than a live-action movie. Also, The Prince of Egypt reaches an emotional depth that the other two adaptations fail to convey. Even though this movie is geared towards families, the suffering of the people of Egypt is not glossed over. It is portrayed in such a way that will tear at your heartstrings instead of repulse you from its graphic depiction of the horror. While the other two adaptations have their own merit, The Prince of Egypt remains to this day one of the best animated musical movies of all time, and the best adaptation of the story of Moses of all time.
Until next time,
- Yul Brynner in The Ten Commandments film trailer [By Trailer screenshot, from DVD The Ten Commandments, 50th Anniversary Collection Paramount, 2006 (The Ten Commandments trailer) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]