'Exodus' movie posts lackluster earnings

NASHVILLE (BP) -- Though it finished atop the box office its opening weekend, Ridley Scott's "Exodus: Gods and Kings" posted lackluster earnings and garnered mixed reviews from Christian critics.

Released Dec. 12 by Twentieth Century Fox, "Exodus" grossed $24.5 million this weekend, toppling "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay -- Part 1" from the number one spot in gross ticket sales, according to the website Box Office Mojo. In comparison, the controversial Bible-based film "Noah" grossed $43.7 million its opening weekend and was widely viewed as yielding disappointing earnings.

"To be sure, audiences looking mainly for spectacle will get their money's worth in the $140 million production," wrote movie reviewer Phil Boatwright in a Dec. 9 column for Baptist Press. "Unfortunately, when the film gives pause for narrative, those in charge seem bent more on questioning faith in God than reaffirming it."

"Exodus" tells the story of Israel's deliverance from slavery in Egypt, but with notable variations from Scripture's account, as noted in a review written by Brett McCracken that appeared in Christianity Today. "Exodus" stars Oscar-winner Christian Bale as Moses and focuses on his relationship with adoptive brother Ramses (Joel Edgerton), who becomes the Pharaoh.

McCracken notes Christian audiences may "call foul on all sorts of things: Moses wielding a sword but not a staff; Moses being chatty but Aaron having almost no lines; Moses killing lots of people and fighting in the Egyptian army; no 'staff-to-snake' scene; no repeated utterances of 'let my people go'; no 'baby Moses in the Nile' scene; and every other deviation the film takes from the narrative in Exodus 1-14.

"This approach might balk at the problematic casting of white actors as Egyptians, non-white actors as slaves/servants, and the inexplicable preponderance of British accents. And most of all, this approach would complain about the depiction of God's communication with Moses through a (spoiler alert!) zealous, wrathful 11-year-old British boy."

Despite the shortcomings of "Exodus," McCracken urged moviegoers to consider "what is good, true, beautiful, praiseworthy and excellent about the film," listing 10 reasons for Christians to "let ... skepticism go."

Among McCracken's reasons: "Plot deviations and minutiae aside, key themes of the Exodus story are there. Moses is rightly portrayed as a reluctant and rough-around-the-edges leader, though ultimately faithful to his calling. God's favor upon and covenant faithfulness to the Hebrews is evident, especially in contrast to the ineffectual polytheism of the Egyptians. The presence of God with his people is clear ('God is with us!' shouts Moses on the banks of the Red Sea), even as the 'wrestle' between Yahweh and the often-unfaithful Israelites also comes through."

McCracken additionally cited as praiseworthy the "exquisite" "artisan craftsmanship" of the film and its effective presentation of the 10 plagues of Exodus 7-11.

Chris Stone, founder of the Christian watchdog group Faith-Driven Consumer, had a more negative take on "Exodus," comparing it to "Noah" and arguing that both films underperformed financially because their directors deviated from the biblical accounts.

"Ridley Scott's failure thus far to deliver the core audience for Exodus speaks to a deep dysfunction within Hollywood, an elitist arrogance that supersedes good business sense," Stone said in a statement. "Both Scott and [Noah director Darren] Aronofsky allowed their personal bias to create a chasm between their films and their natural audiences. Consumers vote with their wallet. Conversely, filmmakers who respect the audience and their deeply held beliefs are rewarded."

Stone noted that "The Passion of the Christ," which was largely faithful to Scripture, grossed $83.8 million its opening weekend -- more than three times what "Exodus" brought in.

"Exodus" is rated PG-13 for violence, including intense battle scenes.

Compiled by David Roach, chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service.
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