The extravagance and ostentation of ancient Egypt can seem rather theatrical to modern eyes, but as realized in Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings, it couldn’t be more true to life. So says Dr. Alan Lloyd, a professor of Egyptology seconded to Scott’s crew to consult on the film’s extraordinary re-creation of the Egyptian cities of Pi-Rameses and Memphis in the time of Moses. “It’s as accurate as one could expect,” Lloyd says. “By and large, Egyptian-set movies have done a respectable job, and Exodus is no exception.”
The president of the Egypt Exploration Society, Dr. Lloyd has published many papers on the ancient Egyptians and participated in digs of the Old Kingdom tombs in Saqqara. As the author of Ancient Egypt: State and Society, Dr. Lloyd literally wrote the book on the institutional and ideological behaviors of the Egyptian civilization.
He was, then, the production’s logical first step in seeking consultation on a film that goes to great lengths to understand and interpret the whims of a society that has been extinct for millennia. “I was asked for advice on whom they should approach to deal with a series of jobs that needed to be done on a consultancy basis,” he remembers. “I replied that I was capable of providing everything they had in mind.”
He met with Scott, and their conversation was as much about cinema as Egypt. “We talked about the technicalities of filming, and particularly the use of digital technology to create such things as armies for battle scenes.”
Dr. Lloyd says the production went to great lengths to get costumes, make-up and the physical environment right. But he didn’t begrudge Scott a little artistic license. “There are things which aren’t entirely accurate,” he says. “The prominence given to cavalry in the battle context (for example). The ancient Egyptians at the relevant period did not use cavalry, though horsemen certainly occur in our documentation. However, this is a case where the cinematic needed to take precedence over historicity.”
Lloyd’s involvement mostly took place through email with department heads such as production designer Arthur Max and costume designer Janty Yates. “I’d respond quickly to their requests for text, images and sources of information,” he says.
Of particular importance to him was the film’s use of the ancient Egyptian-era forms of communication. “There were many requests for text in hieroglyphs, hieratic and Hebrew,” explains Dr. Lloyd. “This was a good thing and would certainly enhance the plausibility of the film.” Filmmaking, he says, operates under a different agenda from academia. “The timescale is much tighter. In academia, accuracy is paramount, whereas in filmmaking, ultimately, it’s cinematic effect that is most important.”
Lloyd is so far enthused with the Exodus footage he’s seen. “I was enormously impressed by the treatment of physical contexts and the special effects applied to the battle scenes, the plagues and the crossing of the Red Sea,” he says. “The film packs a great deal of punch.”