Monday, 20 June 2016

Gods of Egypt (4 Stars)

How can the critics get things so wrong? This film was given advance reviews calling it a poor film, and yet I came out of the cinema today highly satisfied. Were the critics watching a different film to me? Or have they just lost track of what the general public likes? The job of a good film critic is to advise people whether to see a film or not. That's my opinion. Any praise or criticism of a film should relate to that. It shouldn't just be about telling the public whether a film is politically or socially relevant. The public goes to the cinema to be entertained.

Does "Gods of Egypt" entertain? The answer is a resounding Yes. The film has sword and fist fights. It has flying Gods. It has battles with giant monsters. I was thrilled from beginning to end. I expected nothing less. The film was directed by Alex Proyas, responsible for masterpieces like "Dark City" and "The Crow". He was justifiably annoyed at the critical reception of his film, calling the critics deranged idiots. He claims that they don't make up their own minds about films, they just look over the shoulders of the other critics, copying the opinions of one another.

A lot of criticism of the film when it was being made was that the majority of the actors chosen for the roles are white. In fact, all the film's major characters are white; only the supporting characters and the extras are black. I can understand the logic. "Egypt is in Africa. The people who live in Africa are black. So a film about Egypt should use black actors".

Unfortunately, this line of thought is based on ignorance of anthropology. The film's date isn't stated, but we can estimate that it takes place between 2500 B.C. and 2000 B.C. At that time the population of Egypt was Caucasian. It's unclear when dark skinned people (presumably invaders from central Africa) moved into Egypt, but some scholars put the date as late as 300 B.C., after the death of Alexander the Great.

There are three types of evidence we can use to determine the hair and skin colour of the ancient Egyptians: ancient paintings, mummified corpses and literary descriptions.

The drawings of people in the pyramids and tombs shows the skin varying from pale, to gold, to pink. No drawings show people with black skin. None at all. The hair colour varies from yellow, to brown, to black, but the majority of the drawings show people with red hair.

Recent DNA tests have shown that the majority of the mummified corpses had red hair. It's more difficult to determine the skin colour because of the decay of the flesh over time.

Combining the evidence of these two sources, we can deduce that the majority of the Egyptians from 1500 B.C. to 1000 B.C. had pale skin and red hair. Light blond and dark blond hair existed, but it was less common.

The problem with the literary descriptions is that they're more recent, from 350 B.C. onwards. The descriptions of Egyptian statesmen are inconsistent. Some describe them as dark skinned, and others as having a ruddy complexion. This suggests that the population of Egypt was already a mix of various races by this time.

What happened to the red-haired people of Egypt? There are two possibilities. One is that the red-hair genes were weak, and they were wiped out by intermarriage with other races. The other possibility is that the people migrated northwards to Scandinavia and the British Isles. This could have been a speedy journey (like the current migration from Syria to Germany), or it could have been the slow drift of a migrant people over the course of hundreds of years. A third possibility is that the red-haired people were slaughtered as rebels or inferior during or after the rule of Alexander the Great, but there are no historical reports to support this.

In case all this talk about the ethnicity of the ancient Egyptians is too complex for you to follow, what about the other features of the film? It shows Gods and men living side by side. Is that something you want to argue about? Not me. As far as I'm concerned it just shows that it's a fantasy film. We don't have to quarrel about details. Moreover, in a scene which takes place in space we see that the Earth is flat. Any critic who sits down and writes, "The film gets it wrong; the world isn't really flat" just doesn't get it. He really is a deranged idiot.

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