Even more movies about Moses and the Exodus?

As a Bible-movie connoisseur, I could not help but notice the first few paragraphs of this Variety story:

Egypt’s Media Production City has announced three projects set to lens in the 21-million-square-feet studio complex.

Producer John Heyman’s $130 million “Nefertiti” project, Exodus Films’ $15 million “The Exodus Scrolls” and Blighty shingle Young Legends’ $5 million “Young Cleopatra” have all inked deals with Egypt’s largest film complex.

A media free zone with 31 video and cinema studios, the complex was opened by government decree in February 2000. Lensing on “Young Cleopatra” is set to start in November. “Nefertiti” is slated to start its two-month shoot in February. The long-in-gestation mega-project is a co-production with Egyptian shingle Misr Intl. . . .

Initially, my eyes were drawn to The Exodus Scrolls. Based on the titles alone, it would seem that this studio is specializing in historical epics, so of course I wondered if this particular movie might be about Moses and company — either by depicting the events of the Exodus directly, or by using them as background to another sort of story, a la Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981).

But a few seconds of Googling reveals that Nefertiti itself may be about Moses, on some level. The film will be based on Ahmed Osman’s book Moses and Akhenaten: The Secret History of Egypt at the Time of the Exodus, which apparently posits that these two men were actually the same person. And an item at Osman’s website states that this film will be about “the love affair between pharaonic Queen Nefertiti and the Biblical Prophet Moses”.

Given that controversies have erupted in Egypt over attempts to portray biblical heroes in film — which is forbidden by certain Islamic traditions — I would not be surprised if this film played down the Moses angle and played up the Akhenaten angle.

Interestingly, this would not be Heyman’s first movie to deal with ancient or biblical history; he was also a producer on Jesus (1979), Campus Crusade’s word-for-word adaptation of Luke.

Canadian box-office stats — May 27

Here are the figures for the past weekend, arranged from those that owe the highest percentage of their take to the Canadian box office to those that owe the lowest.

Away from Her — CDN $584,025 — N.AM $2,401,000 — 24.3%
Georgia Rule — CDN $2,100,000 — N.AM $16,281,000 — 12.9%
Fracture — CDN $4,670,000 — N.AM $36,604,000 — 12.8%

Spider-Man 3 — CDN $30,700,000 — N.AM $303,342,000 — 10.1%
28 Weeks Later — CDN $2,380,000 — N.AM $23,706,000 — 10.0%
Shrek the Third — CDN $18,480,000 — N.AM $201,380,000 — 9.2%

The Invisible — CDN $1,430,000 — N.AM $18,712,000 — 7.6%
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End — CDN $8,690,000 — N.AM $129,057,000 — 6.7%
Waitress — CDN $214,883 — N.AM $5,592,000 — 3.8%

A couple of discrepancies: The Canadian figure for Spider-Man 3 combines the regular release ($28,600,000), which came in at #3, with the IMAX release ($2,100,000), which came in at #6 — so I do not know what film would have been #10 in Canada if those figures had been combined. I believe the American figure for Spider-Man 3 has already combined the regular and IMAX revenues. Away from Her and The Invisible were #8 and #10 on the Canadian chart, respectively (they were #11 and #12 in North America as a whole), while Bug, Disturbia and Wild Hogs were #4, #8 and #9 on the North American chart, respectively.

MAY 29 UPDATE: The Canadian Press has figures for the four-day American holiday weekend, and has only one figure for Spider-Man 3. It also reports that Disturbia was #9 in Canada, while The Invisible was #10. The CP gives weekend figures only, and not the cumes, so I don’t have enough info to revise my list.

Movies with religious themes are being promoted to Christians? Quick, stop the presses!

The New York Times evidently thinks it’s news that a movie studio has hired Grace Hill Media to promote Evan Almighty to Christian audiences. Never mind that outfits like Grace Hill Media have worked on lots of films, and films with even the slightest religious elements are often considered for their possible appeal to religious audiences; I still get a kick out of the that the first junket I was ever invited to, as a member of the religious media, was for Racing Stripes (2005), a talking-zebra movie that had no religious content whatsoever, but it was safe for families, so…

The Toronto Star previews Not the Messiah

Eric Idle has been all over the Canadian media lately; he expressed his possibly-ironic outrage over Shrek the Third during a radio interview in Toronto, and I saw him being interviewed by George Stroumboulopoulos on TV the other day. Now The Toronto Star has an item on Not the Messiah (He’s a Very Naughty Boy), the oratorio based on Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979; my comments) which premieres in Toronto this coming Friday:

The new show is going to be a work-in-progress until the lights dim at Roy Thomson Hall. And no one was going to let a member of the media see a copy of Idle’s script or Du Prez’s score. So we have to rely on Idle and Oundjian’s descriptions.

“John Du Prez describes it best,” says Idle. “He called it iPod Shuffle music. Our evening is sort of like that. It never settles in one style.”

Oundjian says there are musical numbers that mimic several different styles, including one song in which Idle does a Bob Dylan imitation. There is even a mock-Mozart duet. “It’s very sophisticated music.”

“Yah, the Mamas and the Papagenas,” quips Idle.

The story itself starts with the Life of Brian, “but as seen through the eyes of different characters,” Idle says. “It’s not just about getting laughs. Otherwise we could have just read the film script.”

“There are moments of great tenderness,” says Oundjian. He adds that you don’t have to know anything about classical music to appreciate the show. Idle says there’s no need to see the movie.

Hopefully, the music will be made available eventually for those of us who are nowhere near Toronto — via mp3, CD, even DVD.

MAY 28 UPDATE: Matt Page notes that there was another article on Idle and the oratorio in the Globe and Mail last week.

The Ten Commandments — the animated film

Two months ago, I made an extremely brief reference to an upcoming CGI cartoon by the name of The Ten Commandments.

Tonight, I discovered that if you click here, you can see a promo featuring several of the filmmakers, including Christian Slater (who plays Moses), Alfred Molina (who plays the Pharaoh Ramses), Elliott Gould (who plays God) and Ben Kingsley (who played Moses himself in a 1995 TV-movie produced as part of “the Bible Collection“, but merely narrates this newest version).

I haven’t a clue what to expect from this film, though I note that Slater says it will go further than The Prince of Egypt (1998), which pretty much came to an end at the crossing of the Red Sea. It seems the new film will get at least as far as God telling the Hebrews that they must wander in the wilderness for 40 years.

This is at least the third project to bear this name in recent years. Of course, the name is most commonly associated with the films that Cecil B. DeMille directed in 1923 and in 1956. But last year alone, we also saw a TV mini-series and the DVD release of a stage musical starring The Prince of Egypt‘s Val Kilmer.

If the new cartoon sounds like a remake, that may not be entirely accidental; one of its two directors, John Stronach, was also a producer on the animated version of Ben Hur (2003) that featured Charlton Heston‘s voice a few years back. And Heston, of course, played Moses in the 1956 version of The Ten Commandments.

And speaking of actors, I can’t help recalling that Slater and Kilmer co-starred in Renny Harlin’s Mindhunters (2004; my review).

Anyway, the new film opens in September in “over 600 theatres”. Time will tell if any of those theatres are in Canada.

Nollywood produces its own Amazing Grace!

From a Variety story on the Nigerian film industry:

While Hollywood’s interest in Africa continues unabated, African helmers are making a concerted effort to get their own stories out to the world. Chief among these are Nigerian helmers keen to break away from the straight-to-video model of local filmmaking.

Nigerian helmer Jeta Amata’s “The Amazing Grace” — about how British slave trader John Newton’s voyage to Nigeria in 1748 led to him writing the famous hymn — has become the country’s biggest-ever hit since its release last October.

The Nigerian film industry, dubbed Nollywood, produces up to 1,200 pics a year, although these tend to be ultra-low budget exploitation pics. Amata’s film, boasting an unheard-of $400,000 budget, is the first Nollywood feature to be released theatrically in the country since 1979. With admissions of some 25,000 people, the pic earned nearly double the gross of previous box office champ “Mr. & Mrs. Smith.” . . .

Amata has sold North America rights for film to U.S. distrib Rock City. . . .

Amata’s film stands in contrast to Brit helmer Michael Apted’s similarly titled “Amazing Grace,” about the abolition of slavery in the British empire, which also featured the real-life figure of John Newton. . . .

Hmmm, I wonder if that other movie about John Newton, The Heart of Man, is still in the works.