Ridley Scott isn’t the first filmmaker to tackle the story of Moses, and he certainly won’t be the last. There’s drama in the prophet’s confrontations with the rulers of Egypt, there’s spectacle in the miracles he performed to liberate his people, and there are lessons to be learned from the way he led the Israelites and forged them into a nation, not least by giving them the Law. And filmmakers have been turning to Moses’ story for inspiration since pretty much the dawn of cinema.
Moses at the Movies / When we trace more than a century of movies about the Exodus, what do we learn?
Moses is revered by three major world religions as a hero of the faith, a prophet, and a lawgiver. He is also a thriving part of popular culture. When the National Rifle Association recently elected Charlton Heston, who is best known for his portrayal of Moses in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments, as its new president, the NRA’s vice president said that it was “a way of saying, ‘Hey, Moses is on our side.'” And when Jeffrey Katzenberg, cofounder of the DreamWorks studio, wanted to show that his animation team could compete with Disney, he produced The Prince of Egypt, the first major film about Moses in more than 40 years.
THEY’VE BEEN making films about Moses since at least 1907, when the Pathé studio in France released Moses et l’Exode de l’Egypte. The Vitagraph company in America followed suit with J. Stuart Blackton’s five-part The Life of Moses, released between 1909 and 1910. Moses has popped up in movies ever since, from the all-black cast of The Green Pastures (1936), starring Rex Ingram as ‘de Lawd,’ to Mel Brooks’ randy satire History of the World Part I (1981).
ABRAHAM meandered too much, and Jacob fell completely flat. Things started looking up with the epic Joseph, and now, with the brisk Moses under its belt, it would appear that ‘The Bible Collection’ has finally hit its stride.
And what a fast pace it is, too: Moses opens with a quick montage to show how this Hebrew came to grow up in the Egyptian palace and then it squeezes Exodus and Numbers into a mere three hours while skipping Leviticus and using just one or two chapters from Deuteronomy. (By way of comparison, it took seven hours for The Bible Collection’s first three videos to cover 39 chapters of Genesis.)