|It Is Also A "Must See" Movie For All People Of Faith
By Dan Wooding
The spectacular and profoundly uplifting animated epic about the life of Moses, THE PRINCE OF EGYPT, which will be released by DreamWorks Pictures December 18, is "a quantum leap in animation" and also a "must-see" movie for all people of faith around the world.
That is not just my conclusion after previewing this extraordinary movie, but also that of Dr. Ted Baehr, Chairman of the Christian Film and Television Commission.
"It is such a quantum leap in animation," Dr. Baehr said, "that it would be like asking those familiar with 1930's cartoon animation to imagine the first Disney feature."
The story of Moses is so powerfully portrayed on the screen in this movie that one Christian journalist who viewed it said afterward, "That was like an act of worship." The dramatic artwork, the incredible special effects, and the wonderful music all combined to make this a worthy, but very different successor to Cecil B. DeMille's THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, starring Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner.
THE PRINCE OF EGYPT features the voices of Val Kilmer as Moses and Ralph Fiennes as Rameses. It also brings together the vocal talents of Sandra Bullock as Miriam, Danny Glover as Jethro, Jeff Goldblum as Aaron, Steve Martin as Hotep, Helen Mirren as the Queen, Michelle Pfeiffer as Tzipporah, Martin Short as Huy, and Patrick Stewart as Pharaoh Seti.
The boldly original film also presents six new songs written by Academy Award-winning Stephen Schwartz (POCAHONTAS), and a musical score by Academy Award-winning composer Hans Zimmer (THE LION KING). THE PRINCE OF EGYPT is directed by Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner and Simon Wells and produced by Penney Finkelman Cox and Sandra Rabins. It features the talents of a vast army of animators, artists, and technicians.
How The Film Came About
The idea for the film about the man who was born a slave, raised by a king and then chosen by God to lead His people out of slavery, is based on the biblical book of Exodus. It came about some four years ago at the formation of DreamWorks Pictures, when the three partners, Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen, were meeting in Spielberg's living room.
Katzenberg recalls that fateful day when they were discussing why they would want to start a studio and what kind of films they would make. "When we came to animation, I said to them that, having become a student of animation and having watched it evolve over the years, I thought we were at a crossroads at which there was an extraordinary opportunity, both creatively and also as a business and as entertainment," said Katzenberg. He had previous served as Chairman of The Walt Disney Studios for ten years from 1984 to 1994.
"I talked about Walt Disney taking this technique of cartooning and making this unbelievable leap from making Mickey Mouse cartoons, which were very simple graphic, primary designs, very exaggerated motions, to the making of SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS, which to this day is still the most beautiful animated movie ever made. He made this quantum leap from cartooning to storytelling.
"My dream was to go back and take the technique of animation and tell a very different kind of story. Now, 60 or 70 years later, when you say animation, it means a fairytale cartoon for toddlers," said Katzenberg. "Animation isn't a technique; it's a genre. That vision has been passed on from generation to generation and it's so strong, that Walt Disney's vision of the genre is all we know. But animation to me is a technique, and I said to Steven and David that day, sitting in Steven's living room, that as for me, I wanted to tell a story like INDIANA JONES, using the technique of animation, because animation is about exaggeration, so to tell a bigger than life story, with bigger than life characters, bigger than life drama, that is what you can accomplish with animation. I said, 'I'd like to do a story like INDIANA JONES or TERMINATOR 2.'"
Not A Fairytale
Katzenberg recalls that Spielberg looked at him for two seconds and said, "Good, you ought to do the Ten Commandments."
"That's literally how the idea of doing this movie came to me," Katzenberg said. "Sitting there with us, David [Geffen] said, 'You know what. It's a fantastic idea, and a great story to tell, but let's be quite clear. It's not a fairytale, and it's not yours, and if you are going to do it, then understand that you are taking on a responsibility that is going to be unique and demanding, and you are going to have to go very aggressively into the world.' And, that's how it came about."
Katzenberg, a native New Yorker, continued, "Making a movie like this is quite a challenge, and it does take a rather remarkable group of artists coming together for what is a long and very arduous, challenging journey -- four years. These 450 artists who have had to walk this incredible line of, on the one hand, being individual creators and artists and, on the other, being team players. It is, in many respects, an interesting contradiction that goes on...in that being an artist is about individual expression. Figuring out to deploy such expression into a common, collaborative goal is among the many challenges of making a movie like this.
"This is probably the most dramatic animated movie ever made," he added.
"There are 1192 scenes in THE PRINCE OF EGYPT, and 1180 of them have special effects in them," Katzenberg explained. So virtually every shot in the film has got some type of what we define as special effect. These special effects can be as simple as wind blowing or environmental things like dust or rainwater. It can mean a design in terms of lighting, as it casts its shadows and images into a given scene, or it can be as complex as graphically illustrating one of the plagues.
Work a Few of God's Miracles
"I remember talking to the team at the beginning and saying, 'So we have a little job for you. We just need you to work a few of God's miracles. We just want you to part the Red Sea.' We assembled a team of about 85 artists to do just that and bring into the making of this movie, what would be a new state of the art technology in filmmaking."
Because DreamWorks was concerned about historical and theological accuracy, Katzenberg decided to call in Bible scholars, Christian, Jewish and Muslim theologians, and Arab American leaders to help his movie be accurate as well as excellent. After previewing the developing DreamWorks' animated Bible story, all these leaders noted that the studio executives listened and responded to their ideas, and praised the studio for reaching out for comment.
According to DreamWorks spokeswoman Tzivia Schwartz-Getzug, "We havemet with as many different faith communities as you can possibly imagine. We have reached out as broadly and as deeply as we can, [because] we are interested in receiving input and letting us know if we are understanding the story as they understand it."
Katzenberg said, "One of the things we decided when we took the decision to make the movie was that this is not our story. It is not a fairy tale that is simply taken and adapted to tell a version of it, or that services a theme or an allegory or something else that we would want to tell. From the very beginning it was our goal and our mandate to take this Bible story and to be as faithful and accurate in our telling of it as we could be, in the context of understanding that we have 90 minutes to tell the story of 80 years of a man's life. So that forces us to make a lot of choices along the way, but we did not want those choices to do anything that would affect or change or diminish the essence of the message, the values of the story as it exists in the Bible.
"We have treated this story and told this story in its context of 3000 years ago as fact. Tzivia Schwartz-Getzug's job was to reach out to a very diverse group of very informed group of people to help us fulfil that goal. That meant talking to scholars, Biblical experts, theologians, educators, philosophers, and clergy... an extremely diverse group of people across as wide as spectrum as we could possibly find. Since our intention was very clear, in order to do that, we felt very comfortable inviting people in to help us achieve that goal."
Dr. Ted Baehr brought in several Christian theologians early in the production process and their advice was usually incorporated in the movie. Dr. Baehr also helped DreamWorks develop a strategy to reach out to the Christian audience and recommended many of the Christian leaders who eventually came to view the work in process. Billy Graham was among them. Baehr commented that he is overjoyed that the Christian Film and Television Commission could be an integral part of making THE PRINCE OF EGYPT both authentic and a success.
Dr. Baehr said that the DreamWorks team made several expensive but important changes to the film after receiving input by the theologians and Biblical experts.
When asked how he had been affected by making the movie, Katzenberg replied, "I think faith and the role that faith plays in each of our lives is a very personal thing. It is something that should be cherished and respected that way. I am very comfortable in saying to you that it plays a role in my life, and working on this movie has been a privilege unlike anything I have worked on before, but I also have to say that I don't think there is an artist who worked on the movie who wouldn't say the same thing to you."
He then revealed that DreamWorks is now in planning to produce a series of direct-to-video Bible stories that would follow this picture. "The one that is in production right now is JOSEPH, and will come out about year after THE PRINCE OF EGYPT, but in video. We also are moving in production on NOAH, and there are two or three others, which are very important characters in the Bible."
As an added dimension to THE PRINCE OF EGYPT movie and its soundtrack album, the writing/producing team of Buster and Shavoni were hired by DreamWorks to create and produce two albums inspired by the movie: "Inspirational," which is mainly Christian gospel artists, and also "Nashville," a compilation of songs performed by some of the Music City's top talents. Buster and Shavoni conceived the albums. The "Inspirational" album features talents of from the genres of pop, urban and gospel music, including such cross-over chart-toppers as Boyz II Men, Jars Of Clay, DC Talk, Carman, and Take 6; gospel artists such as Kirk Franklin, BeBe Winans, CeCe Winans, and Fred Hammond; and, traditional gospel stars such as Shirley Caesar and Donnie McClurkin.
Baehr, who is the Founder and Publisher of MovieGuide, the authoritative family guide to movies and entertainment, added, "In the final analysis, THE PRINCE OF EGYPT is not a DreamWorks story, or Steven Spielberg's story, or even Jeffrey Katzenberg's story...it is God's story (the story of how He set His people free... the story which foreshadows, explains and elucidates the Greatest Story of all time (the story of how Jesus the Christ set each of us free from bondage, sin and death!"
When I asked Jeffrey Katzenberg what he thought Moses would say if he had been able to see the movie, he smiled and passed on the question to director Steve Hickner who said with a huge smile, "Let all the people go to the movie!"
I couldn't have said it better!