FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Gods of Egypt

Too Many Glaring Marks Hamper Gods of Egypt (not just the White Washing)

by Kristin Battestella

Thief Bek (Brenton Thwaites) helps the exiled god Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) reclaim his Eye from the evil God of the Desert Set (Gerard Butler) in order to save his girlfriend Zaya (Courtney Eaton) from the underworld. Along the way, both mortals and gods face several fantastical obstacles and adventures as they seek the help of Ra (Geoffrey Rush). Unfortunately, thanks to an abundance of poor pacing and inferior special effects that can’t compensate for the muddled storytelling, pondering mythology, and misguided point of view; the whitewashing controversy from director Alex Proyas’ (The Crow) 2016 Gods of Egypt is just one of many problems.

An opening prologue and panoramic special effects are nothing but empty show when Gods of Egypt needed to start its story with either the gods themselves or the mortal quest. Instead, the omnipresent narration from our thief knows more about the gods then they do, leaving the tale padded with messy embellishments, unreliability excuses, superfluous scenes, and epic fakery. Assassination coups in front of the gasping crowd seem more like a play the gods put on for mere mortals – CGI gold birds and black jackals parkour in a reason-less fight because Gods of Egypt didn’t begin at the right point in the story and then compounds the timeline further by restarting a year later. Transparent graphics and always on the move cameras call attention to themselves – every scene is panning and sweeping with people coming or going but the visual distractions don’t disguise the muddled storytelling or the jarring, unrealistic, embarrassing, and noticeably pale casting. Poor writing from Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless (of Dracula Untold and The Last Witch Hunter infamy) likewise dumbs down the mythical and over-relies on effects rather than explaining its world or developing any characters – leaving Gods of Egypt a loosely strung together montage of random cool scenes featuring a magic carpet ride spaceship, underworld deserts, serpents chases, temple gauntlets, and talking rock monsters. It takes an hour for the mortal to round up the gods for some risky mission…because they couldn’t unite and do it themselves? What should be a straightforward quest treads tires thanks to a lot of walking here or there with no idea where the inept heroes are going or why. Viewers can’t take the fantastic risks seriously amid the quips, cliches, and convenient in the nick of time actions leaving no weight or consequences. Serious deaths are short or quickly forgotten unless there’s a need for underworld special effects, which kind of copy Lord of the Rings. Are they trying to get back Horus’ Eye? Are they trying to save the gal who’s actually doing alright in the underworld? Are they trying to stop Set from being badass? Whatever the messy crusade, a literal deus ex machina from Ra leaves no point to it any of it.

Apparently, personal vengeance isn’t enough motivation for Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s Horus. After he’s usurped, he drinks over it until our thief comes along to inspire him to make jokes while running away from CGI serpents. There’s no room to breathe life into the character, and despite this apparent star vehicle, there’s more for Nikolaj fans on Game of Thrones. Gerard Butler (300) has a great introduction as Set, but when he opens his mouth that lovely Scottish lilt becomes laughably out of place. His scenes seem like they are from a different movie, and Set only interacts with everyone else in a few scenes. For supposedly being the villain who rules over all in fear, most of Set’s speeches are sarcastic quips on said badassery, and he doesn’t actually do a whole lot beyond changing what he wants and why from scene to scene. Brenton Thwaites (Oculus) is a thief but also a lover – a blasé cool cat who thinks he’s better than the gods. Bek’s narrative frame and speaking out loud when he’s alone is purely to hit the audience on the head, and it’s the wrong perspective on the story for us to follow him. Bek’s stealing the Eye of Horus for his dead babe is a more important story than the vengeful gods? Really? This entire storyline could have been red penciled to strengthen the core, for rather than any god realizing his humanity redemption arc, the story unbelievably bends to suit Bek’s good at everything Mary Sue. Sadly, Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther) as Thoth – the God of Wisdom who’s more camp like Vanity Smurf rather than clever – appears once an hour in Gods of Egypt to kneel to the white people and joke about liking big butts and he cannot lie. Yes, seriously. Horus’ lover Hathor is played by Elodie Young (Daredevil), and she looks too young indeed as she easily passes between the gods to help or hinder when convenient. Courtney Eaton (Mad Max: Fury Road) likewise wears inaccurate but skin bearing costumes as the sacrificial girlfriend used for man pain, and Bek isn’t even that broken up over her because he can talk to her in the underworld and really just wants to trick the gods into bringing her back. Rufus Sewell (Tristan and Isolde) is here too as Set’s creeper architect, and Geoffrey Rush’s (Elizabeth: The Golden Age) Ra is some kind of Lear meets Gandalf because the all seeing, all knowing ruler of all Egypt above and below is an old, bald, white guy. Gods of Egypt has a large and big name ensemble that deserved more but unfortunately, everyone here is hopelessly out of place.

Gods of Egypt has epic music, fiery motifs, giant gods, and traditional Egyptian iconography. The picture is bright and colorful with golden palaces and steamy reds. Unfortunately, all the sweeping comes in wide pans and distance shots. The chariot escapes, fatal arrows, fake jungles, and slow motion is downright laughable, and Gods of Egypt will look very, very bad within five years thanks to the poor graphics. It’s obvious these visuals, regal dangers, and any sexiness are toned down for mainstream appeal, but the overdone CGI close-ups make it seem as if all the people were filmed at different times and then inserted into the frame together. Slowed panoramas show one good action move, but then the rest of the fight choreography is a whole lot of nothing leaps or parry embellishments. People fly through the air or slam against the walls as the camera follows their swoops up, down, or sideways, and it all makes Gods of Egypt look too fake and fantastic – doubly so when again considering how the point of view unevenly or conveniently goes back and forth between mortals experiencing the fantastic and gods coming down from high. The eponymous folks die pretty darn easy and the Mary Sue nobodies achieve some really unbelievable feats! If every slow motion moment spectacle was cut from Gods of Egypt, you’d save fifteen minutes, no lie, as the continued over-reliance on special effects borders on a partially animated feature culminating in big battles and more slow motion falling without the people or gods having learned a thing. I want to skip over all the weak incidental CGI transitions, which can’t build a world better than the simplicity of courtly strife nor compensate for the poor storytelling.

Had Gods of Egypt been firm in its own myth and magic and took a stance on whether this was going to be about gods or men, it might have been really cool. Instead, the picture is presented from the wrong perspective at the wrong point in the story and doesn’t put on the right point of view thanks to graphics being more important than the personal quest making it impossible to suspend viewer belief. Gods of Egypt’s two hours plus never develops the world into one deserving of that time and remains ridiculously overlong for a thrill ride action adventure. Embarrassingly white, modern, and out of place people contribute to the glaring storytelling problems. Rather than any rewrite clarification on its mythology or a more multi-ethnic cast, Gods of Egypt underestimates our knowledge of omnipresent Egyptian lore with its superficial spectacle bang for its blockbuster buck, expecting viewers to go along with the poor slight of hand when 300 (which Hollywood is apparently still trying to recreate) and Stargate did it better. Unfortunately, Gods of Egypt is painfully unaware that the audience won’t sit still for frustratingly bad visuals, jarring whitewashing, noticeable movie machinations, and no clear story.

Odds and Deadends : The Mummy (2017): A Universal Problem

I love a good monster movie. And when it was announced years ago that Universal Studios were reviving their classic monster movies, I, like the rest of the horror world, had a small heart attack. Then Tom Cruise got attached to The Mummy and we realised that they were going all in. It was going to be mind-blowing.

Until it wasn’t.

I’m going to outline my thoughts as to why the rebooting of the iconic collection failed, and I’m going to split it into the following three categories:

1) The film itself.

2) The heritage and genre.

3) The Marvel effect.

  • THE FILM ITSELF

The MummyThat the other two categories feed into this general discussion of the movie as a whole is not to be ignored, but this first category ignores that the film is part of a larger narrative and just focuses on the filmmaking and storytelling itself.

The first glaring issue is the over-reliance on CGI set pieces used to try and carry the film. From large green screen sandstorms to a plethora of unrealistic zombie mummies, the film might as well have been completed animated. The worst part of it all is that these set pieces come thick and fast, with no rhyme or reason, or sense of proper narrative timing. You look at a Marvel movie (such as the new Spider-Man: Far From Home), and you notice that they normally break it up into three main parts. A fight early on, one in the middle, then the big wind up for the third act. It’s your basic three act structure with a large action sequence in each, and it allows the movie to have the downtime to build on its characters. Even movies such as those in the James Bond or Mission Impossible franchises will do the same sort of thing, with a sprinkling of smaller sequences here and there, but it’s still just the three big moments. The Mummy has so many that the rhythm is off. It just doesn’t feel right.

And it also means that parts, such as the desert sandstorm near the beginning of the film, are irrelevant. We saw the crows take off after the sarcophagus when it is airlifted away, and it is these birds that will bring the plane down. Why is the sandstorm needed? To add a little hint of ‘danger’? To make sure the audience doesn’t forget we’re in the desert? It makes no sense. When the sandstorm blows through London in the final act, it was a wonderfully gothic image, capitalising on the fear of outsiders and things that shouldn’t happen. But having this be a singular, major event that cut out communication lines, throwing all the heroes into confusion, would have been wonderful, and saving the sandstorm for this moment would have made it seem much more threatening. As it is, we’ve already seen a sandstorm do nothing. Why should we be scared of this one? Short answer: we aren’t.

One of my other issues was the lack of subtlety in the film in any department. The scares were ham-fisted attempts at CGI skeletons that didn’t take the time to allow the tension to build. And the amount of exposition is ridiculous. Jekyll’s opening speech gives most of the plot away, and leaves no mystery as to what is to come. It’s bad filmmaking and bad storytelling at the best of times, leading to a picture that rushes from one big scene to another, and has to have things spelled out quickly in between each blockbuster moment to make sure we’re following along. It’s nowhere near efficient craftsmanship.

  • THE HERITAGE AND TONE

When Universal said they were reviving the monster movies, audiences wanted horror. They wanted to be scared, brought back to being a kid. Universal, wanting to compete with summer blockbusters, changed their classic horror into an all-out action thriller with a few horror elements scattered around. There’s even some funny moments scattered around, such as when Jenny yells ‘Get her, Nick!’ to Tom Cruise’s character as the newly revived Princess Amanet heads towards them in the forest. Really? ‘Ger her, Nick!’? It’s not the movie audiences wanted, or were promised.

Because the movie goes for a grander scale, the horror, when it is there, never really hits. Sure, give your plagues and your zombies an apocalypse to try and bring about, but even these focus on a small group of survivors. Think Night of the Living Dead or 28 Days Later. Horror is deeply personal, and you have to make sure it feels personal to a protagonist we connect with, in order to make us truly feel it.

This is something Bram Stoker did wonderfully in his novel The Jewel of Seven Stars, a personal favourite novel of mine, and one I’ve already discussed on HorrorAddicts.net ( I’ll put a link to my analysis of the character of Queen Hera from the novel at the end of the article). Stoker’s tale presents an ancient Egyptian threat rising from the dead, like The Mummy, but for two-thirds of the narrative, everything is confined to one house and plays out like a murder mystery. It’s closed and confined, and because of this we empathise with the characters because we know them intimately. When the terror comes, we feel the fear because we’ve put ourselves in their shoes. As a result, the possible apocalypse after the book is finished feels much more worrying.

  • THE MARVEL EFFECT

The Dark Universe is Universal’s attempt to replicate the success Marvel Studios have had with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The trouble is that Marvel seems to be the only ones that have really cracked the format. Disney tried it out into Star Wars, but the bad reception to Solo halted their plans for possible Obi Wan and Boba Fett films. The DC Universe has its fans, but has never really caught the approval like Marvel has, and only recently has Aquaman and Wonder Woman really hit the box office hard. One can only wait to see how the Godzilla monster-verse goes on, but if the reviews I’ve seen of Godzilla: King of the Monsters are anything to go by, it doesn’t look good.

The Mummy’s primary problem is that Universal threw all their chips in too early.

The film isn’t just about the eponymous mummy, but the introduction to the whole world. But rather than sneak in suggestions and nods, and build the whole thing up slowly, whilst still allowing each film to be its own unique piece, they’re already interconnecting everything at the very heart. The beating heart of this connection is the Dr Jekyll, head of the Prodigium organisation. However, instead of letting Jekyll just be an incidental part of the storyline, or his true identity being a big reveal at the end of the film, they made him integral to the movie.

This has multiple risks. It risks sidelining the main focus of the movie, the mummy herself, and it risks, if you’ll excuse the vulgar phrasing, Universal blowing their load too early. Universal didn’t keep their powder dry. Hold Jekyll and Hyde back and you’ve got a whole other movie in store to unleash. If The Mummy goes down, you’ve got another shot. Notice how Marvel, in the first Iron Man film, only announced Nick Fury in the post credit scene. They could easily have cut it had the test screenings been bad, and simply kept it as a one-off movie that made a decent splash, whilst also jettisoning the movie from a wider connected universe if they needed to. They can even bring Iron Man back into the storyline in 10 movies time if it takes them that long to get into their rhythm.

The Dark Universe, complete with logo at the beginning of the movie, announces very plainly that everything goes together. You’ve got obvious nods to Dracula and The Creature from the Black Lagoon in the jars Prodigum has in its stores, clearly showing Universal’s intention to use them at a later phase. In one, opening movie, we’ve got four of the classic monsters together. All we needed was someone to be invisible, and Jekyll to have a daughter marrying a doctor called Victor Frankenstein, and Universal would have taken down almost every monster they had in their arsenal in one go.

In a bid to outdo Marvel with their interconnected universe, the producers relied on the fan base of the monsters of the past to carry the movie with references and nods all by themselves. In the end, when these fans didn’t get what they wanted, Universal were left canning the other projects they had set up. Their interconnected world had crashed at the first hurdle, and because the rest of their plans were integral to the first film being a hit, it set up a chain of dominos that knocked the other films down.

One can only hope that Leigh Whannell (and Blumhouse, I believe) will have the sense to work slowly, building up a series of films that are tense, scary, and operate by themselves, which have the potential, but not the necessity, to interlink later on. Whannell has already established himself (along with James Wan, ironically directing movies in another connected universe, having released Aquaman last year), at being able to bring about an interlinked horror franchise with The Conjuring universe. Let’s hope that he can learn from the mistakes that Universal made with The Mummy, and slowly bring us the spectacle we all wanted, and still want, to see.

-Article by Kieran Judge

-Follow him on Twitter: KJudgeMental

My article on Queen Hera from The Jewel of Seven Stars can be found here: https://horroraddicts.wordpress.com/2018/09/05/odds-and-dead-ends-resurrecting-the-queen/

Bibliography

28 Days Later. 2002. [Film] Directed by Danny Boyle. United Kingdom: 20th Century Fox.

Aquaman. 2018. [Film] Directed by James Wan. USA: DC.

Creature from the Black Lagoon. 1954. [Film] Directed by Jack Arnold. USA: Universal Pictures.

Dracula. 1931. [Film] Directed by Tod Browning. USA: Universal Pictures.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters. 2019. [Film] Directed by Michael Dougherty. USA: Legendary Pictures.

Iron Man. 2008. [Film] Directed by Jon Favreau. USA: Marvel Studios.

Night of the Living Dead. 1968. [Film] Directed by George A. Romero. USA: Image Ten.

Solo: A Star Wars Story. 2018. [Film] Directed by Ron Howard. USA: Lucasfilm.

Spider-Man: Far From Home. 2019. [Film] Directed by Jon Watts. USA: Marvel Studios.

Stoker, B., 2009. The Jewel of Seven Stars. United States of America: Seven Treasures Publications.

The Mummy. 2017. [Film] Directed by Alex Kurtzman. USA: Universal.

Wonder Woman. 2017. [Film] Directed by Patty Jenkins. USA: DC.

 

Odds and DEAD Ends: Resurrecting The Queen

Resurrecting The Queen: Queen Tera in Bram Stoker’s The Jewel of Seven Stars,

When people think of Bram Stoker, they invariably think of Dracula. His novel, The Jewel of Seven Stars, is perhaps overshadowed simply by the importance of the vampire, but it is by no means an inferior novel. Detailing the attempt to resurrect an ancient Egyptian Queen, the novel went on to inspire movies such as Hammer’s Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb, and in some ways the Universal adaptation of The Mummy with Tom Cruise. In this article, I will discuss Queen Tera, and the way she is portrayed as a constant threat to patriarchal society.

To note, I’m using a copy of the novel which includes the original ending and the second, revised ending. I’m basing my discussion on the original ending because it’s darker and, presumably, the direction Stoker originally intended. Also, selfishly, because I much prefer it.

Let us first note that, aside from Margaret Trelawny (and a brief mention of her mother), Queen Tera is the only female character in the novel, and she never utters a word. Her characterization is presented through the male characters of the novel; the documentation of Van Huyn’s book, or the recounting of Corbeck and Trelawny. The power that she exhumes, therefore, may or may not be interpreted to be being played up by the male characters to increase the sense of a threat that she poses. Note that before we are given a name, we have the warning that “‘The “Nameless One” has insulted them and is forever alone. Go not nigh, lest their vengeance wither you away.’” (P.84)

With all that in mind, what is initially deciphered from the sarcophagus reveals Tera to have challenged the male-dominated society of the priests, “‘who had by then achieved immense power’” (p.87). “‘In the statement, it was plainly set forth that the hatred of the priests was, she knew, stored up for her, and that they would after her death try to suppress her name.’” (p.88). Their motivation is her strength in being able to combat their overthrowing of the monarchy, “‘They were then secretly ready to make an effort… that of transferring the governing power from a Kingship to a Hierarchy.’” (p.87) The priests, to their own gain, attempt to get rid of her, “‘make out that the real Princess Tera had died in the experiment, and that another girl had been substituted, but she conclusively proved their error.’” (P.88)

Tera, however, shows incredible resilience thanks to her own determination and learning from her father, “‘He had also had her taught statecraft, and had even made her learned in the lore of the very priests themselves.’” (p.87). She even breaks the tradition of a male ruler, though others try to align her to it. “‘In the following picture she was in female dress, but still wearing the crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt, while the discarded male raiment lay at her feet.’” (P.88). She is very much her own woman, not afraid to show her sex, going against the patriarchy set up for the Kingship, and against the priesthood. “‘She seems to have seen through the weakness of her own religion.’” (p.113)

Her intelligence is noted by the present-day protagonists, who even say that the mummy’s gender may affect their knowledge of the situation, that “Men may find that what seemed empiric deductions were, in reality, the results of a loftier intelligence and a learning greater than our own.” (P.164) Mr. Trelawny also states that:

“We might have known that the maker of such a tomb – a woman, who had shown in other ways such a sense of beauty and completeness, and who had finished every detail with such a feminine richness of elaboration – would not have neglected such an architectural feature.” (P.95)

However, Queen Tera possesses a knowledge which the others do not, which ensures their eventual demise and her assumed resurrection. As is noted by Carol A. Senf, “What makes Tera so overwhelming is her violence and ability to over-power the assembled experts.” (p.107). The science and understanding of all the men in the room cannot save them from Tera’s avenging evil, just as the priests could not stop her eventual revival.

It is this knowledge of another world, knowledge beyond that of the priests and the protagonists, that they fear. Women’s rights movements are slowly gaining momentum at the time, and just a few years before the novel’s publication, in 1898, Stoker’s native Ireland had the Irish Women’s Suffrage and Local Government Association arise from the Dublin Women’s Suffrage Association. Gender politics is on the rise, and the female threats to patriarchal power could not have been far from Stoker’s mind.

This fear of female invasion to the modern patriarchal society is what makes Tera so terrifying. Killing dozens of people throughout the recorded events, based on a combination of ambition and supernatural power, fuelled by a wrath based on gender politics very closely linked to the rising gender politics of Stoker’s time, Queen Tera is an overshadowed classic villain of gothic horror. With gender politics still very much in the public consciousness in today’s world, perhaps revisiting this pushed-aside novel by one of modern horror’s founding fathers, is worth the time for all of us.

Article by Kieran Judge

Bibliography

Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb. 1971. [Film] Directed by Seth Holt. United Kingdom: Hammer.

Senf, C. A., 2010. Bram Stoker. Wales: University of Wales Press.

Stoker, B., 2009. The Jewel of Seven Stars. United States of America: Seven Treasures Publications.

The Mummy. 2017. [Film] Directed by Alex Kurtzman. United States of America: Universal.