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Gods Of Egypt
Your enjoyment or hatred for Gods of Egypt, one of the most critically derided films of the year so far, depends entirely on how you'd like to perceive it.
As a modern big budget epic blockbuster with bankable and up and coming stars and expensive special effects, it's a downright embarrassment. With stiff acting, depthless and cliché-ridden "Hero's Journey for Dummies" screenplay, and Playstation One era cutscene level CGI, it's baffling that such a cheap looking and uninspired film was released by a major studio. Yes, I count Lionsgate as one of the majors, since they currently own the YA market with Hunger Games and Divergent.
The second way to approach Gods of Egypt is to pretend it's a SyFy Channel special movie, an Asylum mockbuster without a bigger movie to "mock", if you will. If you squint and imagine you're watching a flick made for basic cable, then it's almost an impressive achievement. However, you can repurpose any subpar film in your mind and force yourself to like it by significantly lowering your expectations. All I'm saying is that if, for some reason, you find yourself craving a SyFy Channel original movie, perhaps while under the influence of an herbal supplement that's legal in The Netherlands and some US states, pop Gods of Egypt into your Blu-ray player for a slight upgrade in quality.
The third approach is when things get a bit tricky. The film's director, Alex Proyas, is an ambitious yet taut master of tone and genre. Even though he's had more misses (I, Robot) than hits (The Crow) in his career, he's a filmmaker who always employs a specific and unified approach to each film. After all, Dark City is still a sci-fi/noir masterpiece mainly because Proyas was able to stick to his vision from the first frame to the last. So if Gods of Egypt's unabashed cheesiness and cheap look isn't an accident, then what's going on here?
My theory is that Proyas and his team set out to recreate one of those 1950s B-movie fantasies full of swashbuckling heroes battling a myriad of monsters based on ancient myth (Basically any intellectual property that's public domain) without a hint of irony or an attempt at tinkering with the material to make it more palatable for a modern audience. It's not an homage or a throwback to those films, it is one of those films, only with bad CG replacing stop motion animation that more than likely would have been created by Ray Harryhausen.
The incredibly simple story follows the episodic structure of such films, most of which set a basic goal for our hero, then spends a chunk of the story as the hero goes on a journey to fetch the magical items needed for that goal, only to quickly end the story with the completion of said goal, usually thanks to the aid of a deus ex machina. The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Jason and the Argonauts, Jack the Giant Killer, take your pick of obvious examples.
The screenplay of Gods of Egypt is not much different. It has some attempts at contemporary banter between Horus (Nicholaj Coster-Waldau), a god who's bent on revenge after his uncle Set (Gerard Butler) kills his father Osiris (Bryan Brown) in order to rule Egypt, and Bek (Brenton Thwaites), a lowly human thief who helps Horus on his journey in exchange for the possibility of his loved one coming back from the dead, but the tone mostly sticks to the wannabe Shakespearean operatics of 50s cheap fantasy flicks, as if the elevation of similar material into the mainstream by the likes of Spielberg and Lucas never took place. Egyptian characters being played by the whitest of white actors also fits the casting of these old films, cultural appropriation and shameless whitewashing be damned.
So if the intention was to loyally recreate a cheap old style of filmmaking while using the kind of budget that the original makers of those films would drool over, a-la Tarantino and Rodriguez's Grindhouse experiment, the main question that swirls around in my head is, why!? Film buffs who unironically enjoy old B-movies is already a niche audience, the amount of people out of that group who'd actually be interested in a rethread of this style using tacky CGI can be counted with a single hand.
Or, maybe the whole thing is a form of cinematic trolling, a film intentionally made so bafflingly out of tune with the modern audience. Maybe it's a Producers-type situation, where Lionsgate desperately needed a huge flop as a tax write-off.
The first word that comes to mind when attempting to describe the overall look of Gods of Egypt is "gaudy". This is a blindingly bright and shiny film, covered in golden hues. If you'd like to see what Donald Drumpf's mind would look like, look no further. The crisp 1080p transfer doesn't do the film many favors, since it accentuates the cheesiness of the special effects. This would have been a great film to enjoy on VHS, the blurriness of the format would have efficiently masked the terrible (Or intentionally terrible?) CG work.
Gods of Egypt's dedication to an unabashedly over the top tone pays off when it comes to the DTS-HD 7.1 audio transfer. The bombastic score and sound effects will give your surround system quite a workout. The sound mix is so constantly crowded, that sometimes it's hard to clearly hear the dialogue, which is a blessing in disguise in this case. I also admire that a 2.0 track for late night listening is included.
Storyboards: A series of animatics with CG that doesn't look that different from the final product.
A Divine Vision: A fairly superficial look at the overall design of the film.
Of Gods and Mortals: A 10-minute EPK where the poor actors have to find anything good to say about the film. Truly cringe inducing.
Transformation: Another 10-minute EPK, this one about the costumes and make-up.
On Location: Footage of the shoot in Australia. Nothing really interesting here.
The Battle for Eternity: Another superficial, self-serving EPK, this one about the stunts.
A Window into Another World: Okay, now this is getting really sad. This is a 10-minute featurette where the visual effects artists talk about the "groundbreaking" CGI used in the film.
For that extremely niche audience who want to see a modern cheesy B-movie without any hint of irony or an attempt to modernize the episodic structure of those old films, Gods of Egypt might be very satisfying. For those looking for an honest to goodness modern blockbuster entertainment with clever writing, impressive special effects, and an engaging story, for Osiris' sake, run away.
Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com