Like other religious leaders, I was courted by the makers of Prince of Egypt to review the project and offer my perspective. I was prepared to resist these overtures for fear of being politically manipulated. I viewed parts of the film in earlier stages and made suggestions, which were taken seriously, as were those made by others from a variety of religious traditions. In the end, again like the others, I, too, am won over. This movie is a spectacular revelation, both as a piece of filmmaking and also, more importantly, as a moving story of God’s intervention in the history of man. By dramatically recounting a historical incident from ancient times, it highlights the universal and always current themes of captivity and liberation, despair and hope, doubt and faith.
DreamWorks has lived up to its name.
When they began this project, the makers of Prince of Egypt knew they were treading on sacred ground. The Old Testament story of Moses leading the people of Israel from captivity is a literary cornerstone of Western civilization. It is an event that deeply informs the theology of both Judaism and Christianity.
There was the danger of trivializing the important subject through animation, but, instead, the animation proves to be a strength rather than a weakness. Through a combination of traditional and computer techniques, the film shows the viewer scenes that would have been impossible to film. The scene in which Moses splits the Red Sea (among many others) is brilliant.
I also feared it would be laden with political baggage. I once asked the four-year-old daughter of a friend whether or not she would see Disney’s Pocahantas. Elizabeth replied, no, because it was “propaganda” (and she could define the word). Indeed it was. The beautiful story of love and conversion was turned into a New-Age tale of environmental politics.
Prince of Egypt, on the other hand, is an explicit call to authentic faith. The core of the story is emphatically theocentric. Instead of a vague spirituality, Moses directly hears the voice of God and it entirely envelops him. He is altered irrevocably. You feel his conversion. Even the theme song “If You Believe” includes the line “If you believe, you will see God’s wonders.”
Another moral point that comes through: Sometimes faithfulness to truth may have negative consequences, but we must persevere in prayer and do God’s will. Moses goes to his Pharoah-brother, Ramses, to plead for mercy and freedom for the Jewish people, but Pharaoh hardens his heart. Yet Moses is faithful to God’s will.
Films and videos sympathetic to religious themes have remained a specialized and highly segmented market. This has created some tension between people of faith and Hollywood over the years.
Prince of Egypt begins to heal the breech, and then some. It appears that DreamWorks came to terms with the religious, Bible-centered nature of the American people. It is a movie to uplift the culture rather than drag it down. If the film does well, it will demonstrate that it is possible to make expensive, commercially viable films that show respect for religious values.
No doubt, DreamWorks will be accused of profiteering from people’s religion. But this is a wildly misguided charge. There need not be a contradiction in doing the right thing and making a successful, profitable production. The people at DreamWorks deserve to earn a good profit for their service to the American people in general, and to the religious communities in particular.
Generally, the market reflects rather than leads the culture. It is significant that a prestigious movie company like DreamWorks would undertake an Old Testament story on this scale. Most exciting is what this movie may portend for the future. May this be only the beginning of a new era in filmmaking. May it also forecast a return to faith in popular culture.
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