Early 2016 certainly gave us lots of wild spectacle films, including the heavily derided Gods of Egypt. This fantasy adventure, functioning as a combination of space opera an Ancient Egyptian mythology brought to life, is gloriously stupid in a way that should be fun-bad, but sadly becomes too repetitive to hold onto even that sort of acclaim. One can praise this film for having a ridiculous amount of (poor) CGI used to create a compellingly goofy original feature, but that does mean sitting for over two hours to try and enjoy it. Now this ambitious flop has made its way to Blu-ray.
The ridiculous story involves Egyptian gods battling over power and control. Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is Horus, the rightful heir to the throne, but things go awry when his uncle, Set (Gerard Butler), kills Horus’ father and takes the crown for himself. Set also rips Horus’ eyes out for good measure, but thanks to a plucky young thief, Bek (Brenton Thwaites), Horus gets one eye back and makes a deal to help Bek bring his girlfriend back to life in exchange for help to take down Set.
There is a great mystery here, as one has to wonder where things turned a corner in regards to the film’s tone. A film this gleefully silly must be self-aware to some degree, but that likely wasn’t due to screenwriters Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless. These two are responsible for Dracula Untold and The Last Witch Hunter and they seem to be guys hired on to write the most basic stories possible, where any actor can be inserted to match bland personas and deliver an occasional joke to make sure we’re all having fun with what passes for dialogue.
Perhaps the performers are the ones to credit for the improved turn towards goofiness. Coster-Waldau and Thwaites are no Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom, but they do play well together. Butler is having a grand time playing the Scottish-accented Set with nothing but moustache-twirling villainy on his mind. I could try to say something about Elodie Yung and Courtney Eaton as the female leads, but the film barely tries to do anything with them, so why should I?
Rounding out the gods, perhaps someday on Inside The Actor’s Studio, we might hear a great story from Chadwick Boseman (42, Get On Up and Captain America: Civil War) regarding his choice of accent and mannerisms here. Perhaps his performance is the perfect encapsulation of frustration as to being the one black actor among the main cast members in a film about Egyptians. Then again, we have Geoffrey Rush as Ra, a performance that requires him to make insane facial expressions, while hurling fire bolts at a giant smoke worm creature in order to protect Earth. That’s a sentence so distracting that you may have forgotten how I brought up the issue of whitewashing the film.
It seems to be no matter at this point though, as Gods of Egypt has arrived in theaters, riding a wave of backlash for its casting choices, with director Alex Proyas steering the ship. Proyas, a visionary director who gave us an excellent (and very racially diverse) superhero movie back in the day with The Crow and one fantastic sci-fi/noir with Dark City, has not gone on to make features as compelling, with I, Robot and Knowing as his previous credits, but not for a lack of trying. At least with this film it appears as if Proyas was able to throw everything he wanted at the wall, regardless if it stuck. This is also why I propose he is the one who turned things around to make this film what it is.
Rather than make Gods of Egypt super angst-y and full of all the dark grittiness that populates so many other would-be blockbusters and supposed franchise-starters these days, Proyas goes big and broad. This film may be set on Earth, but it is out of this world with life and imagination when it comes to the visuals. Even when the film decides to repeat the same exposition once more or delve into the dramatics, there is always something grand and at least potentially astounding in plain sight. At $140 million, you’ll be sure to notice the money spent in the film, even if the effects are sometimes quite awful.
It is such a shame that Gods of Egypt is not more fun. At 127 minutes, this film is about as long as the original Clash of the Titans and certainly just as campy, but falls into obvious traps that I wish were avoided. Again, I blame the writers, as everyone else seems committed to make great fantasy trash. The ingredients are all here to make a film that bounces from one wild set-piece to the next, but too often does the film rely on the same outcome. Characters get to a location filled with traps and they escape by running away, jumping, and grabbing onto something at the last moment.
An interesting bit of trivia is how Gods of Egypt, an Australian production, shares over 200 of the same actors and crew with Mad Max: Fury Road. That in mind and as much as I like Proyas’ work on films featuring practical sets and other bits of visual imagination, it is clear why the action pales in this film. The modern trend of choppy editing and close-ups makes the action jittery and boring to watch. At least the film goes bonkers by having the gods stand 12 feet tall and occasionally morph into mech warriors with figures fit for robotic Calvin Klein advertisements.
From the first preview I can’t say I was disinterested in what Gods of Egypt would have to offer. Casting problems aside, this is the kind of nutso original feature that could have been so wildly over-the-top that I could forgive its stupidity. To its credit, the film basically is that, but it has so much unnecessary padding and a lack of creativity when it comes to sustaining momentum as we are hurled around the world of this film. It is nice to see Proyas grasping at a big budget project like this but the ambition it took to get this film made was sadly undone by a lack of a stronger pulse. No, not even Scottish-Egyptian gods or Geoffrey Rush hurling fire were enough.
Problems with the film aside, I expected this Blu-ray to look and sound great and it does. This Blu-ray is presented with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer and does a fantastic job of showing off the originally shot digitally with Red Epic Dragon cameras. As mentioned in the review, this film is a CG-fest, but that CG does not always look very good. This home presentation certainly highlights some of the more egregious scenes, some of which come off a little soft here, but it actually does very well by the scenes that stand out in this area. The ridiculous snake creatures we see plenty of tend to look pretty fantastic. There are a few practical elements in this film when it comes to sets and costumes and that all plays very well. Colors come across incredibly well here, which is expected, but great to see. Then you have the character textures, who are done proper justice here. Lastly, the black levels are deep and inky. For a film incredibly dense with visual effects, enough is done to preserve what was originally seen.
The audio does not have to worry about suffering in the same way as the occasionally cruddy visuals. Armed with DTS:X (basically a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track), this Blu-ray has everything it needs to present a pretty amazing auditory experience. The bigness of this film is completely captured here. The bombastic score and sound effects mix well with the various action sequences that involve even more sources of audio. The LFE channel gets plenty to work with. Dialogue is always clear and balanced well with everything else going on. Even when the film is at its wildest, the various surround channels always feel well utilized.
The lack of a commentary track is disappointing, as it would have been great to learn more about the creative journey that was the making of this film. Instead, we get a series of featurettes that do a decent job of going into some of the key aspects of making this film.
- Deleted Storyboards
- A Divine Vision: Creating A Cinematic Action Fantasy – An overall look at the making of the film.
- Of Gods and Mortals: The Cast
- Transformation: Costume, Make-Up and Hair
- On Location: Shooting in Australia
- The Battle for Eternity: Stunts
- A Window into Another World: Visual Effects
- Digital Copy of the Film
I really wish I could be closer to recommending this film. There is certainly a wild vision to make a crazy Egyptian-myth based adventure film that is almost dumb enough to work. The actors vary in how over-the-top they can get, while the film balances bad effects with a tone that is playful, but still too overstuffed for its own good. Fortunately, for those checking it out at home, this Blu-ray features an absolutely terrific video/audio presentation to help viewers get the most bang for their buck. The extras are also decent enough to get a look at what went into putting this thing together. Gods of Egypt is too much of a dud, but it has its moments for those not looking for much.