Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Prince of Egypt


      The Prince of Egypt is a 1998 American animated musical drama film and the first traditionally-animated film produced and released by DreamWorks Animation. The film is an adaptation of the Book of Exodus and follows Moses' life from being a prince of Egypt to his ultimate destiny to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt. The film was directed by Brenda Chapman, Simon Wells and Steve Hickner. The film featured songs written by Stephen Schwartz and a score composed by Hans Zimmer. The voice cast featured a number of major Hollywood actors in the speaking roles, while professional singers replaced them for the songs. The exceptions were Michelle Pfeiffer, Ralph Fiennes, Ofra Haza, Steve Martin, and Martin Short, who sang their own parts.
      Former Disney chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg had always wanted to do an animated adaption of The Ten Commandments. While working for The Walt Disney Company, Katzenberg suggested this idea to Michael Eisner, but he refused. The idea for the film was brought back at the formation of DreamWorks, when Katzenberg's partners, Amblin Entertainment founder Steven Spielberg, and music producer David Geffen, were meeting in Spielberg's living room. Katzenberg recalls that Spielberg looked at him during the meeting and said, "You ought to do The Ten Commandments."
      The Prince of Egypt was "written" throughout the story process. Beginning with a starting outline, Story Supervisors Kelly Asbury and Lorna Cook led a team of fourteen storyboard artists and writers as they sketched out the entire film - sequence by sequence. Once the storyboards were approved, they were put into the Avid Media Compose digital editing system by editor Nick Fletcher to create a "story reel" or animatic. The story reel allowed the filmmakers to view and edit the entire film in continuity before production began, and also helped the layout and animation departments understand what is happening in each sequence of the film. After casting of the voice talent concluded, dialogue recording sessions began. For the film, the actors record individually in a studio under guidance by one of the three directors. The voice tracks were to become the primary aspect as to which the animators built their performances. Because DreamWorks was concerned about theological accuracy, Jeffrey Katzenberg decided to call in Biblical scholars, Christian, Jewish and Muslim theologians, and Arab American leaders to help his film be more accurate and faithful to the original story. After previewing the developing film, all these leaders noted that the studio executives listened and responded to their ideas, and praised the studio for reaching out for comment from outside sources.
      Art directors Kathy Altieri and Richard Chavez and Production Designer Darek Gogol led a team of nine visual development artists in setting a visual style for the film that was representative of the time, the scale and the architectural style of Ancient Egypt. Part of the process also included the research and collection of artwork from various artists, as well as taking part in trips such as a two-week travel across Egypt by the filmmakers before the film's production began.
      There are 1192 scenes in the film, and 1180 of them have special effects in them. These special effects were elements such as wind blowing or environmental features such as dust or rainwater. There were also effects design in terms of lighting, as it casts its shadows and images into a given scene. In the end, these effects helped the animators graphically illustrate scenes such as the ten plagues of Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea.
      Character Designers Carter Goodrich, Carlos Grangel and Nicolas Marlet worked on setting the design and overall look of the characters. Drawing on various inspirations for the widely known characters, the team of character designers worked on designs that had a more realistic feel than the usual animated characters up to that time. Both character design and art direction worked to set a definite distinction between the symmetrical, more angular look of the Egyptians versus the more organic, natural look of the Hebrews and their related environments. The Backgrounds department, headed by supervisors Paul Lasaine and Ron Lukas, oversaw a team of artists who were responsible for painting the sets/backdrops from the layouts. Within the film, approximately 934 hand-painted backgrounds were created.
      The task of creating God's voice was given to Lon Bender and the team working with the film's music composer, Hans Zimmer. "The challenge with that voice was to try to evolve it into something that had not been heard before," says Bender. "We did a lot of research into the voices that had been used for past Hollywood movies as well as for radio shows, and we were trying to create something that had never been previously heard not only from a casting standpoint but from a voice manipulation standpoint as well. The solution was to use the voice of actor Val Kilmer to suggest the kind of voice we hear inside our own heads in our everyday lives, as opposed to the larger than life tones with which God has been endowed in prior cinematic incarnations." As a result, in the final film, Kilmer gave voice to Moses and God, as well, yet the suggestion is that someone else would have heard God speak to him again in his own voice.
      Composer and lyricist Stephen Schwartz began working on writing songs for the film from the very beginning of the film's production. As the story evolved, he continued to write songs that would serve to both entertain and help move the story along. Composer Hans Zimmer arranged and produced the songs and then eventually wrote the film's score. The film's score was recorded entirely in London, England.
      Three soundtracks were released simultaneously for The Prince of Egypt, each of them aimed towards a different target audience and one was promoted by faith guru Rick Hendrix. While the other two accompanying records, the country-themed "Nashville" soundtrack and the gospel-based "Inspirational" soundtrack, functioned as film tributes, the official The Prince of Egypt soundtrack contained the actual songs from the film. This album combines elements from the score composed by Hans Zimmer, and film songs by Stephen Schwartz. The songs were either voiced over by professional singers (such as Salisbury Cathedral Choir), or sung by the film's voice actors, such as Michelle Pfeiffer and Ofra Haza. Various tracks by contemporary artists such as K-Ci & JoJo and Boyz II Men were added, including the Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston duet "When You Believe", a Babyface rewrite of the original Schwartz composition, sung by Michelle Pfeiffer and Sally Dworsky in the film. Amy Grant also sings a version of "River Lullaby".


Plot
      In Ancient Egypt, 1285 BC, Yocheved (Ofra Haza), a Hebrew slave, and her children, Miriam and Aaron, watch as Hebrew baby boys are taken and ruthlessly killed by Egyptian soldiers, as ordered by Pharaoh Seti I (Patrick Stewart), who fears an increase in Hebrew men could lead to an uprising. To save her own newborn son, Yocheved places him in a basket and sets it afloat on the Nile, praying that God will deliver him to a safe fate. Miriam follows the basket and witnesses her baby brother being taken in by the Egyptian Queen Tuya (Helen Mirren), who names him Moses.
      20 years later in 1265 BC Moses (Val Kilmer) and his foster brother, Rameses (Ralph Fiennes), are lectured by their father after they destroy a temple during one of their youthful misadventures. Rameses is berated for their misdeeds though Moses tries to take the blame; Moses later remarks that Rameses wants the approval of his father more than anything, but lacks the opportunity. Seeking to give him this opportunity, Seti names Rameses Prince Regent and gives him authority over all of Egypt's temples. In thanks, Rameses appoints Moses as Royal Chief Architect. As a tribute to Rameses, the high priests Hotep (Steve Martin) and Huy (Martin Short) offer him Tzipporah (Michelle Pfeiffer), a young Midian woman they kidnapped, as a concubine. After she nearly bites him, Rameses gives her to Moses, who ultimately helps her escape captivity. While following her out of the city, Moses is reunited with Miriam (Sandra Bullock) and Aaron (Jeff Goldblum). Miriam tells Moses the truth about his past, despite Aaron's attempts to protect her, and Moses denies it until Miriam starts to sing a lullaby that Yocheved sang for him the day she saved his life. That same evening, Moses has a nightmare that causes him to realize the truth. Moses asks Seti about the murder of the Hebrew babies; through his reply, Moses realizes that Seti considers the Hebrews inferior to him. The next day, Moses accidentally pushes an Egyptian guard off the scaffolding of the temple while trying to stop him from whipping a Hebrew slave, and the guard falls to his death. Ashamed and confused, Moses decides to go into hiding, despite Rameses' pleas that he stay.
      Moses crosses many miles of desert, and eventually reaches the land of the Midianites, Tzipporah's people, who worship the Hebrew god. After Moses saves Zipporah's sisters from bandits, he is welcomed warmly into the tribe by their father Jethro (Danny Glover), the High Priest of Midian. After assimilating in this new culture, Moses becomes a shepherd and gradually earns Tzipporah's respect and love, culminating in their marriage. One day, while chasing a stray lamb, Moses discovers a burning bush through which God speaks to him. God (spoken words voiced by Val Kilmer) instructs Moses to free the Hebrew slaves and take them to the promised land, and bestows Moses' shepherding staff with his power.
      Moses returns to Egypt with Tzipporah, entering the palace in the midst of a large celebration. He is happily greeted by Rameses, now Pharaoh and the father of a young prince. Moses tells Rameses to let the Hebrews go, demonstrating the power of God by changing his shepherding staff into an egyptian cobra. Hotep and Huy boastfully "repeat" this transformation by using illusions to turn two staffs into two snakes. Having not believed his brother, Rameses takes Moses to the throne room where Moses discloses that he has honestly returned to free the Hebrews, and rather than being persuaded, Rameses is hardened and orders the Hebrew's workload to be doubled. Moses and Tzipporah go to live with Miriam, who forgives Moses for his former disbelief, and convinces Aaron and the other Hebrews to trust him. Later, Moses confronts Rameses passing in his boat on the Nile. Rameses orders his guards to bring Moses to him, but they draw back when Moses turns the river water into blood with his staff; the first Plague of Egypt. Similarly to the earlier competition, Hotep and Huy use trickery and dye to make a bowl of water appear to be blood as well. Convinced of the might of the Egyptian gods and his own divinity, Rameses, again, refuses to free the Hebrews.
      As the days pass, God causes eight more of the Plagues of Egypt occur through Moses' staff. The plagues ravage Egypt, its monuments, and people. Moses feels tortured to inflict such horrors on the innocent, and is heartbroken to see his former home in ruins. Despite all the pain and destruction caused by the plagues, Rameses refuses to relent, and in anger, when Moses confronts him again, vows to finish the work his father started against the Hebrews, unwittingly providing the stipulations of the final plague. Moses, with nothing left to say to Rameses, resigns himself to preparing the Hebrews for the tenth and final plague. He instructs them to paint lamb's blood above their doors for the coming night of Passover. That night, the final plague, the angel of death, goes through the country, killing all the firstborn children of Egypt, including Rameses' own son, while sparing those of the Hebrews, since they had marked their doorframes with lamb's blood, allowing the Passover to identify them. The next day, Moses visits Rameses one last time, who finally gives him the permission to free the Hebrews and take them out of Egypt. Moses weeps at the sight of his dead nephew and for all his brother's pain.
      The following morning, the Hebrews leave Egypt, led by Moses, Miriam, Aaron, and Tzipporah. They are weary at first, but soon begin to heal and find hope and happiness. They eventually find their way to the Red Sea, but as they are resting, they discover that Rameses has changed his mind and is closely pursuing them with his army. With only a few minutes separating the Hebrews from the Egyptians, Moses uses his staff to part the sea, while a pillar of fire blocks the army's way. The Hebrews cross on the open sea bottom; when the pillar of fire disappears and the army gives chase, the water closes over the Egyptian soldiers, and the Hebrews are safe. However, Rameses is spared, and he is hurled back to the shore by the collapsing waves, screaming Moses' name in anguish. Saddened by what he and Rameses have lost forever, Moses bids his brother goodbye one last time and leads the Hebrew people to Mount Sinai, where he receives the Ten Commandments from God.

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