HOLLYWOOD, Calif. (Christian Examiner) – December is a big month for Christian viewers of television and film.
Women of the Bible by Roma Downey airs Dec. 7 on Lifetime, followed by The Red Tent, a Dec. 7-8 Lifetime mini-series on the lives of women in Bible times. Then "Exodus: Gods and Kings" opens Dec. 12 in theaters across the nation.
While expectations for the small screen are high, responses to previews of the Moses movie are mixed.
Billed as a Ridley Scott spectacular retelling of the story of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt, initial reviews show "the movie was splitting critics much like its main character Moses does to the Red Sea," according to the Daily Mail, a British online tabloid.
Critics exclaim the visual dramatics of "Exodus: Gods and Kings" but are not so keen about the storyline Scott takes or the top talent he cast: Christian Bale as Moses, Joel Edgerton as Pharoah's first-born son Ramses, Ben Kingsley as an elderly Jewish leader, Sigourney Weaver as Ramses' mother who found Moses in the bulrushes and John Turturro as Pharoah.
"Ridley Scott shows off his gifts as director, but the script and some of the actors let him down," wrote Stephen Farber in a review of the 20th Century Fox film for the Hollywood Reporter. And although billed as "this century's answer to Cecil B. DeMille's highly popular 'The Ten Commandments,'" Farber says controversies are piling up.
-- In October, Bale offered his opinion of God as "mercurial" at a screening of "Exodus" for reporters.
-- Critics have pummeled Scott for casting white actors to portray lead Egyptian characters, while enlisting ethnic actors to play lesser roles. Scott said he needed to use A-list artists to get financing.
But the greatest offense may be how God is portrayed in the movie.
Scott departs from Scripture and other adaptations about the story to present God not as the voice in a burning bush, or the Being behind a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire, but as an 11-year-old shepherd boy, Malak, described as "a fierce child" by Farber.
"Sacred texts give no specific depiction of God, so for centuries artists and filmmakers have had to choose their own visual depiction," Scott told Kim Masters for an article in The Hollywood Reporter. "Malak exudes innocence and purity, and those two qualities are extremely powerful."
Despite Scott's liberty with the Bible's account of how God presents Himself to Moses and Israel, "Exodus" still looks to be a profitable investment for its producers.
Critics like Farber say the action extravaganza parallels Scott's work in "Gladiator" and that the computer-generated imagery of plagues, 400,000 Hebrew slaves and supernatural disasters will capture the imaginations and satisfaction of many viewers.