Friday, October 3, 2014

Is "Exodus: Gods and Kings" the Surprise Best Picture Nominee?

Christian Bale
There is a particular question that should be raised when discussing director Ridley Scott: what happened? For starters, the director is one of the few distinguished faces to innovate technology over the course of his long career. He is important in that way. However, he also used to direct amazing movies that were Best Picture worthy. In one such case, he won Best Picture with Gladiator, which saw a perfect blend of visual effects and swords and sandals epics. Since, he hasn't been too noteworthy in this case and with the back-to-back maligned films of Prometheus and The Counselor, there looks to be some dismay in him ever returning to the Best Picture race. That is, until Exodus: Gods and Kings comes out this December. With its big effects and lead by Oscar winner Christian Bale (Best Supporting Actor - The Fighter), it does seem like he is striving for that title.

It does seem ludicrous to think that Exodus: Gods and Kings stands any chance at the Best Picture race. Biblical epics haven't been necessarily popular at the Oscars since the 1959 winner Ben-Hur. However, alongside director Darren Aronofsky's Noah, it looks like these films are on the rise. Just like he did with Gladiator and swords and sandals epics, Scott may be trying to popularize this genre by doing it better than anyone else can. He has the technology and the skill to do so. Also, with Bale in the lead role, it does seem like a more prestigious execution than he normally would be known for. Still, with those who have seen footage from the film giving it ominously positive feedback, there looks to be a sudden dark horse contender in this race.

The only real issue is that this is The Ten Commandments story through and through. For fans of biblical epics, there is no hero to the genre more important than Charlton Heston. In fact, despite its dated nature, director Cecil B. DeMille's production remains universally acclaimed. It is the singular vision of the story to most. While it isn't blasphemous to revise it for a modern audience, none have stood the test of time. Also, none of them have been nominated for Best Picture. This is quite a challenge for Scott to distinguish himself from Oscar's own history. However, if he could find new life to make Gladiator into a fun little film full of cutting edge techniques, then Exodus stands some chance.

Of course the initially released trailer for Exodus wasn't very promising. It seemed a little vague and campy. Knowing Scott's recent film output, that would be problematic if it was to be taken seriously. However, with the feedback coming out and a newer trailer, please feel free to raise your expectations because Scott has done it again. He has made a film that looks enviably awe-inspiring in scope in ways that call for the big screen treatment.

Here's the trailer:

If nothing else, the trailer promises to give us the wonderful second coming of blockbuster spectacle. Along with Interstellar and The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies, there looks to be a crop of big spectacle films that will leave us in awe. But which one is going to take the top prize? For many, Interstellar has been that film for quite some time. It is deservedly so, as director Christopher Nolan has proven himself time and again. With it also being his longest film, he is likely to push the scope of his vision into new and exciting territories. Even then, Exodus isn't too far behind. It also helps that the film is written by Steve Zailian, who is a great screenwriter in general and won for Best Adapted Screenplay for Schindler's List.

However, the film has yet to really track anywhere. Maybe the buzz around Scott's past few films are going to impact the way that the film is seen. As it stands, I didn't really consider it as a potential nominee until the praise started coming out. Even as a big Christian Bale fan, I am worried that it is just going to be a big campy spectacle. While Noah delivered a lot of fascinating visuals and bold story telling, it didn't capture the zeitgeist as many would have hoped. This choice to update the biblical epic is an interesting thing that may not pay off entirely. Of course, for those that can enjoy Exodus on its epic merits, then it may be distinguishable enough to be nominated.

Will Ridley Scott ever get back into the Oscar race? Is Exodus: Gods and Kings the surprise Best Picture contender? Will biblical epics ever hold relevance like they once did?

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