Reviewed by: Christine L. Pryor
© 1998 by National Religious Broadcasters. Reprinted with permission from NRB magazine.
Starring: Voices of Sandra Bullock, Ralph Fiennes, Danny Glover, Jeff Goldblum, Ofra Haza, Val Kilmer, Steve Martin, Helen Mirren, Michelle Pfeiffer, Martin Short, Patrick Stewart | Director: Brenda Chapman and Steve Hickner
What happens when a Hollywood entertainment company decides to do a film with a biblical theme? When the company is DreamWorks SKG, a lot of research, planning and innovation lead to a fascinating animated feature film.
DreamWorks interprets the story of Moses with brilliant animation, vast landscapes, sumptuous sets, a cast of stage and screen stars (Val Kilmer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Jeff Goldblum, Sandra Bullock, Steve Martin, Martin Short, Patrick Stewart) and special effects—used in 1180 of the 1192 scenes—of dust, shadow and light.
Many Hollywood directors insist the key to a successful film is a good story. Awe-inducing, ground-breaking artistic and computer-generated special effects endeavors aside, “The Prince of Egypt” is a good one. But don’t go to the theater with a pocket Bible, a pen light and a yellow highlighter.
If you’re expecting a scene-by-scene visual rendering of the biblical account of Exodus, remember that the studio is a Hollywood entertainment company, not a religious broadcaster. The film’s introduction states it is “true to the essence, values and integrity” of the story. So although DreamWorks SKG carefully secured the views of many theologians and religious leaders—including those of NRB president Brandt Gustavson and members Ted Baehr, James Dobson, Billy Graham, D. James Kennedy and Pat Robertson—several points of biblical inconsistency emerge.
A partial list of divergences: Moses is not reunited with his mother as an infant, he speaks flawlessly and therefore does not need Aaron’s eloquence, he kills the Egyptian by accident rather than murdering him, Aaron is reluctant to support Moses and discourages him from speaking to Pharaoh, the particular responsibilities of the Hebrews during the Passover are largely… passed over. Other discrepancies exist, enough to possibly spur a broadcast contest of guess the number of fictionalizations. [Read the true story of Moses. Go…]
Before you write a letter of disappointment to the creative people at DreamWorks, consider again the film’s introductory mission statement of keeping intact the essence, values and integrity of the Exodus. It is not intended to be a literal interpretation, but entertainment with a positive message. And despite the many textual inconsistencies, the film’s central theme is clear. In the words of DreamWorks principal Jeffrey Katzenberg. “A man has an experience with his God” which forever changes his life, his perceptions and his people’s history.
This experience for Moses is witnessing God speaking through a burning bush. Director Steve Hickner says, “The proudest moment for me was that we actually got the burning bush scene to work. You have to believe it works in order for the rest of the film to work. It is the central, pivotal moment of the film.” And Hickner has reason to be proud; with a Hans Zimmer score that beckons, weeps and inspires undergirding the visual images, the animation captures the solemnity of the experience, Moses’s human reactions and the Lord’s comforting response to Moses’s terror.
Will audiences believe the scene? More importantly, will they realize that they, too, can have a relationship with their Lord? When asked what he wants his children to take away from the film, production designer Darek Gogol responds, “I pray they’re going to get it and find the values in the film. The idea is that instead of interpreting it, let them watch it and then we’ll talk about it.”
Watch it and then talk about it. Perhaps religious broadcasting should take note of Moses going to Hollywood. Maybe “The Prince of Egypt” can attract seeking hearts through the flickering silver screen that would never approach the worn wooden altar. And maybe, just maybe, the prince of Egypt will lead a few people to the Prince of Peace.