2014 was the year for big budget Biblical-themed movies. There was Darren Aronofsky's Noah in theaters around Easter, Left Behind starring Nicolas Cage hit the screens near Halloween, and then this film, Ridley Scott's Exodus: Gods and Kings, was released just before Christmas. Of the three, it's safe to say that this one is the best. It was tapped to be one of the first moves Fox released on the new 4K Ultra HD format and though the film itself doesn't quite live up to the religious epics that came out of Hollywood's Golden Age, it both looks and sounds great.
This is the story of Moses, told from the time he was a Prince of Egypt through his freeing of the Hebrews. Moses (Christian Bale) is a cousin to Ramesses (Joel Edgerton), heir to the throne of Egypt. They are like brothers, loyal and faithful to one another, but as sometimes happens with brother, they have a falling out. Moses is just a bit better than Ramesses: a bit smarter, a better general, and more adept at dealing with the royal court. Even Ramesses father admits that Moses would make a better Pharaoh, but the rules of inheritance won't allow it. Soon Ramesses becomes jealous, especially after Moses saves his life on the battlefield, and as he takes the throne things go from bad to worse.
On a visit to a nearby town where stones are quarried for building monuments and temples, Moses interviews the leaders of the Hebrew slaves (they're never referred to as Jewish). One of their number recognizes the prince and, in a secret meeting that night, reveals to the powerful general that he's actually the son of a Hebrew slave. Moses doesn't believe this, of course, but if the tale were true it would answer some questions.
Before too long Ramesses hears the rumor, and while he's not sure if he can believe it, it does give him an excuse to get rid of the man he's come to dislike. Exiled to the desert, Moses wanders until he finds a tribe and becomes a shepherd.
One evening he cases some errant sheep up "God's mountain" and gets knocked out in a mud slide. He awakes to the image of a burning bush, and in a bit of a surprising change, God himself in the image of a young boy. God tells the general that he has to return to Memphis and free his people once and for all.
Scott's film is certainly epic in scale and a great spectacle. The ancient city of Memphis (mainly constructed with CGI) looks impressive and there is a lot of eye candy on the screen. There is the proverbial 'cast of thousands' that helps give the movie a realistic feel and a lot of attention was paid to the details.
While the movie is great to look at, unfortunately it doesn't connect on an emotional level. Even with the nearly two and a half hour running time, the plot points feel rushed and, well, plot points rather that the story of real people. For example, Moses meets his wife and ten minutes later they're married with a son. It happens so fast that when he leaves them to return to Egypt it doesn't feel like he's making a personal sacrifice.
It also helps if you already know the story, because some explanations are left out. I can see someone who had never heard of the ten Plagues of Egypt having trouble connecting them with divine intervention, at least at first. The end of the film is also abrupt and needs an understanding of the original story. The last few minutes of the film comprise Moses carving the 10 Commandments himself at God's instruction and then riding, as an old man, in a cart with a box. Viewers pretty much have to fill in the whole idol worship, wandering in the desert, and make the connection that the box is the Ark of the Covenant.
All in all, it's a wonderful looking movie and a nice story that doesn't quite hit the mark it's aiming for.
The Ultra HD Disc:
This release comes with both a 4K Ultra HD disc and a Blu-ray disc (which seems to be the same as the stand-alone BR) in a single-width keepcase. Unfortunately, the 3D version is not included.
As with the other 4K Ultra HD discs that I've viewed, the 2160p image which retains the OAR of 2.40:1 looks spectacular. The thing that most viewers will notice is a definite increase in the level of detail when compared to the BR. The rough weave of the cloth that the Hebrews wear comes through clearly, as does the grain in the stones that they are working. The dark scenes (and there are a fair number of them) are filled with shadows but these dimly lit areas show detail too. The bright scenes are just as impressive. The only flaw that was really apparent was that some of the larger panning scenes were not as smooth as one would have liked. Aside from that it's a great looking disc.
The audio was equally impressive. As with the other releases in Fox's first wave of 4K movies, this disc arrives with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track, but oddly no Dolby Atmos or DTS:X track. I couldn't find any nits to pick on the DTS-HD track though. The sound was immersive, especially in some of the bigger scenes such as the plague of locusts, and the dialog was strong. The background music was clean and clear and everything sounded quite impeccable.
The 4K disc itself includes a commentary track by director Ridley Scott and co-writer Jeffrey Caine. They were apparently recorded separately, and the two talk about the production as well touching on the historical and religious aspects of the film. There's also an optional pop-up trivia track that has information on the historical basis for the film.
On the Blu-ray disc there is also 15 minutes worth of deleted scenes presented in 1080p.
This is a movie that has the look and budget of an epic, but doesn't make the emotional connection that it was going for. The script isn't bad, it's just not as engrossing or as is should be. Making up for that however is the great presentation on this 4k Ultra HD disc: It sounds and looks magnificent. Recommended.