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The Prince of Egypt

Film Review by Dean Duncan Feb 4, 2015

This is a repeat viewing, after taking the whole family and really liking it, together, many years ago. The whole family tried it again. Here’s what we thought.

The Prince of Egypt is entertaining, respectful, substantial. It’s not perfect. Sandra Bullock’s Miriam is sounding merely callow at this distance, or maybe just too American. (Same thing? [Cheap shot!]). The sorceror number doesn’t play very well anymore. On a couple of occasions Martin Short’s autobiography finds him being just a tad too pleased with how funny he and Steve Martin are together. So, here.

Also, for all of the stodginess of C.B. DeMille’s famous second film version of the Moses story, back with ol’ Charlton Heston in 1956, it mostly resists the urge to find conventional dramatic motivation and explanation. His The Ten Commandments is an elemental, even geological phenomenon. Like it or not, it is that it is. The brother-tensions in this DreamWorks/Jeffrey Katzenberg version are really well calculated, but are they kind of frivolous? Not sure we need character psychology here, or mere motivation!

Still, there’s no need to quibble overly. The Prince of Egypt features a good, worldly protagonist, called and transformed for the cause of holiness. Not too many movies take that on. This one does so, and succeeds.

Also: the sense of antiquities (an empire here, Bedouin sufficiency there) is wonderfully evocative; the plague sequence, though un-historically condensed, is really chilling; Pfeiffer and Fiennes are terrific amateur singers; the parting of the sea is spectacular, and it means something because of Aaron’s tiny, intimate gesture of submission and belief. That means that this abundant religious film—as set forth and much disapproved of by Paul Schrader, 1972—uses its miracles as a sign of further divine favour, and not as the showy substance thereof. In this it goes against the grain of so much commercial religiosity, which seeks the Spirit in the wind, the earthquake and the fire (I Kings, 19). Bless its heart, this movie has it both ways!

The three faiths’ epilogue is pure public relations, and/or it is ethically and morally just right. Let’s make it the latter, and let’s further appreciate, further celebrate all our righteous forebears and their common ground.