The Prince of Egypt Reviews
Katzenberg and his vast team pulled it off (I rescreened it this Passover with a room with half adults and half kids) and it held everyone's attention throughout. If there is anything disappointing about it, it's the extreme care taken not to offend, resulting in a film that can leave a bland taste at many pivotal moments. To its credit, it's not remotely triumphalist (like most Haggadahs) and portrays all its Egyptian antogonists as sympathetic human beings, caught in an inexorable grand design.
The story does borrow an non-bibilcal embellishment from the DeMille epic, which is making Moses and Ramses 'brothers' who are torn apart by their adversarial roles. This choice provides the thurst of most of the drama in the story, so that we relate to the story on a basic human level. The script also takes a big liberty, revealing Moses' Hebrew roots much later than in the bible (in early adulthood), causing a much more wrenching decision and reaction than if he were a child, as in the orgiinal story.
As for the voice actors, Ralph Fiennes gives the most complex and indelible performance as the unfortunate Pharoah who is caught in a tragic conundrum with his daddy issues and his tragic, fated role. Jeff Goldblum amusingly plays Aaron as a whiny, often spineless brother, and Sandra Bullock gives a sassy sincerity to sister Miriam. Steve Martin and Martin Short get a few chuckles as the comic relief as a pair of pompuous pagan priests, but the film holds back the yucks so they don't overwhelm the serious intent of the bigger enterprise. Makes sense, but it does feel like a wasted opportunity.
When the film was released, I was unimpressed by Val Kilmer's decidedly mortal and apparently colorless take on Moses (and God!). He's low key and very inwardly tortured, but upon further screenings, Kilmer's take is apt. Interestingly, MOSES is the audience's surrogate in the story, we experience the story through his emotions and his revelations. As for his 'voice of god', Kilmer makes no attempt to take on another voice, so God's words appear to be expressed directly on Moses' brain - as his concience. This is an effective strategy and is not as jarring as a big booming basso 'GOD' voice as in Demille's Ten Commandments.
I am a fan of the Stephen Schwartz songs, they are tuneful and advance the plot nicely. Schwartz is a unappreciated talent, and has written a bunch of hit Broadway shows (Godspell, Wicked) and animated movie tunes that will be long remembered both for earworm catchy melodies and deft lyrics. That said, as evidenced by the Whitney/Mariah duet of 'When You Believe' the songs have the dated melisma style of nineties Disney style pop (a la Mencken) and their production style is already starting to sound dated. I should also mention I appreciate the original Hebrew, right out of the bible, retained in the English version, especially during the song of the sea at the film's climax, they are an fitting and reverent way to give honor to this deeply spiritual moment.
As for the plagues and the gore, they're handled with taste and creativity. The execution of the first born scene is brilliant, and doesn't skirt the point. There's no angel of death, but a ghostlike travelling light. An Egytian child goes in the doorway, out of frame, the light passes through him, then we hear his body drop and his lifeless hand flops into the shot. It's an unforgettable moment for what it doesn't show.
The main reason to see P of E is the spectacular animation, with stunning lighting and colour effects inspired by Egypt itself and a distinctive, psuedo-Modigliani style line drawing effect on the human characters that gives the film a pleasing and majestic look and feel. Despite its flaws and shortcomings, it's hard to imagine a more successful take on a pivotal, primal story that means so much to so many. The delicate balance of all the various senistive aspects of this challenge has been met. Highly recommended.
The song at the beginning was mind blowing. It was very touching.
I did liked the cartoon a bit.
[font=Arial][color=darkred]I'll start right off by saying hands down this is THE finest animation I have, and most likely will, ever see in any film. There are so many countless moments where I would just stare agape in such awe caused by the lavish moments of wonder on screen. The scenes are constructed with endless beauty and at certain times I did had something stired inside me from the wonderous eye-candy presented. People look like people, not sketched Disney cartoons. The animation and movement are so lifelike and fluid that'll you'll easily be lost inside it and forget you are indeed watching a film people drew by hand. I feel compelled to personally drive down to the Dreamworks studios and shake every individual hand in gratitutde that had any part in the animation process of this film.[/color][/font]
[font=Arial][color=darkred]But while the visuals are lavish and splendid and just about every other adjective you can think of, the story suffers. The head folks had difficulty using the story of Moses because three seperate religions use that story for their own purposes and beiefs. The trick is not pissing off any of the religions, and the end product is a very vague and gentile Sunday School lesson. They give you the message to believe, but believe in what? It's never explained. The main characters tread over the thin ice of religous ire, and because of that intimidation they are often vague in descriptions and purpose. The idea of faith is pretty much gagged and taken away to be replaced with the supposedly more noble (and note; more universally agreed upon) issue that slavery is bad. You can't help but feel a little like the producers chickened out with the material and hid behind the idea of slavery to not rise anyone's blood pressure over a cartoon tale.[/color][/font]
[font=Arial][color=darkred]Unlike Cecil B. Demill's epic 'Ten Commandments' what 'The Prince of Egypt' does decidingly better is paint the characters as real people. By making Ramses(Ralph Fiennes actually getting his second chance this decade to persecute Jews in a movie) and Moses(Val Kilmer, who also surmises the voice of God, but if God were Kilmer don't you think he would've passed on 'The Saint'?) not so black and white you have established that they are indeed people and both have their reasons for what they each do. You can see the motives and understanding for each, plus the tension and drama gets a shot in the arm.[/color][/font]
[font=Arial][color=darkred]While the music and message can be easily passable they can't detract from the greatness that this movie projects with its simple and marvelous visions. You will gasp when the Red Sea is parted. I must confess though after multiple viewings on DVD the story and songs are indeed growing on me as is my impression of the film. This movie is more effective on your TV screen than the big screen. But man, I hope heaven looks as beautiful as this film.[/color][/font]
[font=Arial][color=darkred]Nate's Grade: B[/color][/font]