39 thoughts on “Ancient Two-Fer: Exodus (2014) / Troy (2004)

  1. Exodus has some really good costumes and wigs,particularly on the supporting cast.The costumes look like real clothes,not mere props.Only moses sticks out as a sore thumb with his too modern hairstyle and monochromatic clothing when he should be swatched in natural dyes.That hair wig for the priestess,however,is inaccurate.It was a style generally depicted on royalty,and was actually a reed crown with a hollow depression on the top. This is what I have seen searching through the images of frescoes and paintings available online.
    Troy was just a faux historical eye candy with literally zero efforts on wigs, hairstyle and men’s armoury.

    1. What was with the Priestess anyway? There were no important priestesses in Ramesside times. God’s Wives of Amun were important in the Eighteenth Dynasty and would become very important indeed some two dynasties later.

      1. Could have been a priestess of Hathor. She was big from the Early Dynastic Period, and her temples date back as far as the 4th. Royal women were often highly placed in her temples, and in some depictions the priestesses of Hathor were depicted alongside the wives of the Pharaoh.

        1. Priestess of Hathor was a common title for royal and Noble ladies in some Dynasties but her High Priestess, if there was such a thing, would have hung out at Denderah, Hathor’s cult center. I don’t recall her ever being much of a national figure. I’m not even sure there was a high Priestess as opposed to a high priest.
          Now there was a supervisor of the Harem of Amun, a lady responsible for the female singers and musicians, a part time job for elite women, but she was an administrator rather than a priestess.
          Contrary to their reputation AEs weren’t a mystical people. Priesthoods, even high priesthoods were just civil service jobs and often combined with many other offices and titles.

  2. Sorry, but I don’t buy this BS about “The Egyptians, we wanted a custom look, even for the slaves, the courtiers. We basically had to start from scratch. We had to build everything, from the palace guards all the way through the principles”.
    If they really did their research so well, and thought about every detail, then why do I see side boob on most of the background female characters? And why does one of them have a ridiculous pony tail a-la Jasmine from Disney’s Aladdin? And why does Moses wear medieval ultramarine? And why do half of the fabrics look like nylon chiffon?
    Also, the slaves look nothing like Hebrew people, and Bale even less so.

    1. Also, why does Moses have facial hair. He was raised in the Egyptian court and would have been clean-shaven in the Egyptian style as befits his adoptive culture. Also, Moses had a speech impediment, which would have made it difficult for him to command his troops.

  3. I saw Exodus years ago and I have to say that very little stuck in my memory… I certainly don’t remember Sigourney Weaver looking so gorgeous! I do feel though that her costumes do lean a little towards ‘theatrical/operatic’ Egyptian; but she is certainly an actor who can pull off all that craziness with aplomb – defiantly wearing the costumes whilst refusing to allow the costumes to wear her. I had to laugh at Tara Fitzgerald’s frizzy haystack of a wig. Tragically good. I know just what they were trying to achieve, but how they so completely missed the mark is beyond me. Hilarious!

  4. In Ancient Greece/Troy, Didn’t married Ladies wear their hair up? Wouldn’t Helen try to wear her hair up?

    1. In Mycenaean times women seem to have worn their hair in long ringlets bound with ribbons or decorated with jewelry. Like Minoan ladies they wore fitted bodices with bell shaped skirts. Unlike the Minoans Mycenaean ladies covered their breasts. Men wore short tunics showing lots of leg, some images show them wearing what seem to be wide legged shorts. Unlike classical clothing Mycenaean was shaped and sewn not draped.
      What Ionian coast people were wearing I really don’t know but I’m betting against tie dye!

  5. The Exodus narrative is a bit too neat and trope heavy to be strictly historical but it is a historical fact that wandering tribes of semitic Beduins drifted in and out of Egypt from the Old Kingdom on and seeing that the early Hebrews were a federation of linguistically and culturally similar tribes an Egyptian connection is far from improbable.
    That said the costumes are AWFUL from the historical pov. They usually are but Moses’ armor is just plain terrible. Are those breeches? And yes, clothing was made of linen. Silk was unknown until classical times.
    I don’t know what the Troy designer is talking about. Those costumes vaguely resemble classical modes but certainly neither Dark Ages nor Mycenaean styles.

  6. Referring to the Exodus movie, what High Priestess is that? It would be news to students of Egyptian religion if there were a High Priestess (of any deity) during the Ramesside Period! God’s Wife of Amun, yes, but that isn’t the same thing. And that hair–I don’t know what to say. Looks like an alien, not an ancient Egyptian. I suppose it was inspired by the shape of Queen Nefertiti’s very individual blue crown (the one she wears in the famous Berlin bust), but that crown was unique to Nefertiti, and underneath it she was likely to have had her head shaven, or her hair twisted up out of the way.
    In the photo with the “Rick James-y” comment, the dress is all wrong–it’s not linen. The Egyptians of Ramesses’ time did not have silk (or cotton, for that matter, despite what you might have read in various crap-tastic novels), and the dark and bright colors are highly unlikely, to say the least.
    I wouldn’t expect Ramesses to be going out in public with his head bared, either, even as a Crown Prince, and certainly not as Seti’s co-regent (I take it that’s supposed to be Dad in the nemes headdress, in the background). And there are soldiers wearing a sort of modified nemes in that photo. Nope. Ramesses wouldn’t have had that shiny gold cloak, either, though I expect he would have loved it.
    Another problem I see in the stills (I have no interest ever in seeing ANY Exodus movie) is that the actors, for the most part, look like they are wearing costumes, not clothing they are comfortable in. Maybe if more realistic Egyptian clothing were used, the cast would feel at home in it.

    1. Ramesses’ armor is actually very close to the real thing as far as looks, though I’m not sure about the greaves.

        1. I didn’t think the AEs used leg armor. Not much point when one is fighting from a chariot, no?

    2. I also quite like Nefertari’s headress, the shape is right and gold sequins were used decoratively on headresses like the blue war helmet. The earrings are good too and the collar.
      Nefertari btw succeeded in giving Ramesses several sons, as did her fellow Great Wife Iset-Nofret and a large number of other women. By some counts Ramesses had close to a hundred sons, and almost as many daughters. He seems to have been a proud and conscientious father. He had his children represented in long rows of carved likenesses on his monuments and built a huge tomb for his sons, KV5. Daughters were apparently buried, like his wives, in the Valley of the Queen’s.

    1. Fair enough. It is pretty. And Peter O’Toole wipes the rest of the case off the screen in every scene he appears in.

  7. Christian Bale as Moses finding God? As I recall Exodus it was more like God finding Moses and pinning him to the wall. Moses was a very reluctant prophet.

  8. Some of it looks correct, but other parts of the costumes look so wrong it’s painful to me as an Egyptologist!

    For example, Sigourney Weaver’s beaded collar looks great. But then they’ve put some kind of weird, embroidered sheer fabric top and bottom. What the heck is that? It’s certainly nothing the ancient Egyptians ever wore. Her crown, tiara, whatever thing, looks more Mesopotamian than Egyptian too. Her dress looks too modern as well. It’s close fitting, which might be alright for the Old Kingdom, but in the New Kingdom a looser, flowing style was favoured. Also even if we say her character is like, ultra traditional or something, the neckline is wrong for an Old Kingdom sheath dress – it was very plunging, with the ‘straps’ covering the breast and the main neckline ending below the cleavage. I saw in the video that she’s even wearing a peacock feather headdress at one point! No no no no no! Wrong!

    Varma’s high priestess is all kinds of wrong. Yes, the hair emulates Nefertiti, but that should be an actual crown/headdress, not hair. And then they’ve put all these gold sparklies in it and just ugh no. Her own collar, with just rectangles of some gold coloured stuff, are not something the Egyptians wore either. It looks more like a modern “costume piece” than anything else.

    Nefertari’s headdress is interesting. Right shape, although it’s not clear that it was made of metal disks. Not impossible though. Can’t really see her clothes properly but her collar looks correct (i.e. absent any fabric panels), and she seems to be wearing a flowing linen dress just as the real Nefertari was depicted.

    It’s clear that Ramesses’ costume was more inspired by the art of Angus McBride than ancient Egypt. There would have been less gold and more blue and green, either in enamel work or as lapis lazuli and turquoise. The gold greaves he wears make me wince! Like someone has slapped a Spartan’s greaves on poor old Ramesses. Incidentally, the dark purple attired extra in the shot of Ramesses and his mother is wearing an excellent example of the Old Kingdom sheath dress where the neckline ends below the bust – pity they couldn’t have put Sigourney in that. Oh, but her hair is wrong – too “Jasmine” as another commenter observed.

    Bale’s been given greaves too, by the looks of it. I’m not sure what’s up with his sheet metal collar either instead of beads. I like the pleated robes both he and Ramesses wear when they’re not at war, but Moses’ battle wear is too thick and heavy. The Egyptians didn’t have a whole lot of armour, the hot climate being a factor, and that one shot shows him with a full lamellar tunic AND some kind of leather thing on top? Nope.

    As for Troy… the Trojans’ armour is clearly inspired by that of the historical Hittites, which, since they were contemporary neighbours, I guess gets a pass. But they’ve put flipping greaves on it again, which the Hittites did not do. Helen is definitely wearing more of an Indian sari than contemporary Mycenaean or even Minoan attire, so that’s a nope. The crowns that she and Andromache wear, with those beautiful leaves and tiny flowers, are actually inspired by much later Greek crowns circa 300 BCE, almost a thousand years later than the period in which the Trojan war is supposed to be set.

    1. Sigourney’s costume is just awful from the authenticity pov, and I’m not thrilled from the aesthetic either. I thought there should be more color in Ramesses’armor too but wasn’t sure, thanks for the confirmation. And the lovely golden wreaths worn by the ladies in Troy did look very Hellenic era to me.

    2. Thank you so much for all the amazing info! I’m very curious to hear what you think of the big-budget spectacle “The Egyptian,” with Jean Simmons, Gene Tierney and Michael Wilding. It got a good write-up in the old costume design book “Hollywood and History,” which is all I know. What do you think?

      (The good news is, that “The Egyptian” is not about Exodus at all, so thank God for that.)

      1. Is that the movie with a scene set in an embalmer’s shop full of mummies Tobe pickling in huge tanks of natron solution?
        Judging from the stills the costume are a disaster, but the sets include a lot of copies of genuine Egyptian artifacts; a lamp from Tut’s tomb, a chair belonging to Sitamun, etc.

      2. All I remember of the costumes from that one were clunky wig covers (once again, cheesy costumes that looked like costumes, not real clothing). “The Egyptian” is lousy history, whether you’re looking at the movie or reading the novel–a piece of melodramatic, sensationalist (and misogynist) trash. I admit reading the book, but I was an undergrad at the time and more apt to finish books I didn’t enjoy. Then I tried another of Waltari’s books, and guess what–another scheming seductress targets the virtuous hero. That’s when the book went back to the library!
        Incidentally, that character in the Egyptian, Nefernefernefer (I think) was based on a supernatural character from a real Egyptian story, the “first tale of Setna.” The story we have dates to the Graeco-Roman period and recounts the magical adventures of Prince Kha’emwast, the fourth son of Ramesses II, who lived a millennium earlier. You can read it in Miriam Lichtheim’s excellent anthology of Egyptian literature.
        Back to the movie, the characters at the end are wearing ankhs (familiar hieroglyph for “life”) and referring to them as crosses; they are supposed to emblematic of Akhenaten’s heresy. They are no such thing, of course, and real Egyptians would more likely be wearing the ujdat-eye (eye of Horus, “healthy” eye) as an amulet.
        And finally, poor Horemheb! One of the most interesting kings in Egyptian history, and he ends up associated in the public mind with the over-acting of Victor Mature!

        1. Ok, that’s great to know. Thanks so much for the feedback!

          BTW, are there any movies set in ancient Egypt where the costumes are GOOD?

          1. Well, there aren’t many movies set in ancient Egypt to begin with (a good thing, in my opinion). No, I can’t think of any–producers always seem to want shiny, colorful, and “glamorous.” Look at Elizabeth Taylor’s gowns in “Cleopatra”–they don’t look Egyptian OR Greek.
            There’s a perception of Egypt as being a land of luxury, decadence, tyranny, and exoticism. Where are the men hoping to train for a scribal career (they won’t be eligible for corvee), the parents worried about misbehaving children, the woman fretting because she’s got “nothing at all” to wear for the upcoming festival (what she actually said was, “I’m absolutely naked!”)? Where are the stomach aches and the dental disasters? Ramesses II could tell you about the latter.
            Even recent documentaries get really basic stuff wrong. I haven’t seen much of them; this is where not having cable is a good thing. (When I was teaching, I would have felt an obligation to watch them otherwise.) But I have seen some clips with nemes headdresses on commoners and more of that colorful clothing. And there was a sequence in an episode about Hatshepsut (Discovery Channel, I think, in 2007), in which the actress playing Hatshepsut walks out a door and looks up at a statue–of Ramesses II!
            The only Discovery Channel disaster I’ve seen was the one featuring Joanne Fletcher, about the alleged identification of Nefertiti’s mummy. This was during a meeting of the local chapter of the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE), an organization that lay people can join (check them out at http://www.arce.org). (Note to Kendra: I find Fletcher to be incredibly annoying and can’t understand why she’s on television so much when there are plenty of Egyptologists with better credentials and superior presentation skills. At least get a haircut, Joanne!) Anyway, the documentary was boring and repetitive, and the highlight of the whole thing was the appearance of the “High Priest of Amun” in an enormous wig that stuck out at least a foot from his head on each side: a wig that no Egyptian would have worn, certainly not the High Priest, who would have had a shaven head. Then my professor’s voice from the back of the room: “Who…does…your…hair?”

  9. Exodus has Miriam being Moses nanny? The Biblical account identifies Miriam as Moses’ older sister, and Moses’ nursemaid as his mother. Miriam’s role was just to wait in the bushes until someone found him, and jump out all like “hey, i see you found a baby there! My mom just so happens to be a nursemaid, should you need one.”
    And if the account is to be believed, then likely Pharoe’s daughter would have known what was up, and been cool with it. As an an ancient Egyptian, she Would have believed that her chances of getting into the afterlife when she died were based on her heart being lighter than Anubis’ feather, which was achieved by the good deeds you did being more numerous (and more noteworthy) than the bad ones. So ancient Egyptians frequently performed good deeds seemingly just for the hell of it. There is one ancient account (non-Biblical, but i don’t remember which one, at the moment), that describes an Egyptian woman adopting her slaves, so that they could be her legal heirs. Not to mention that there must have been Egyptians who Felt morally opposed to the decree to kill Hebrew children, so they likely did what they could to help (secretly, of course). I haven’t watched Exodus yet, so maybe they portray her as knowing exactly who Miriam is, but so many movies show Moses‘ adoptive mother as having no idea that her (always hairy and bearded) son could possibly be Hebrew.
    Also, all if these people should be middle eastern/north african or greek/mediterranean, not white.

    1. Small correction to my own comment: this would have been well before Alexander the Great and the Ptolemaic Dynasty, so there wouldn’t have been any Greeks in the royal family. They definitely would have been North African, though.

  10. My favorite old cheesy big-spectacle “Egyptian” film is the 1955 Land of the Pharaohs, complete with Joan Collins as a scheming princess and the big seal-the-tomb-with-sand-driven-clockwork finale. I loved the callback to that finale in the Brendan Fraser Mummy film.

  11. Oohh, I struggled with both these movies…
    I fell in love with ancient mythology as a child (even though I was probably too young to appreciate some of the context), & dreamed of being an Egyptologist/ archaeologist when I was younger; I read every book & on Ancient Egypt & mythology, & later bought every book I could on them – I watched every ‘historical epic’ that came my way- even crappy ones; the older ‘Helen of Troy’ movies (the old Rosanna Podesta one, & that one with Rufus Sewell as Agamemnon & a brunette Emilia Fox, as Cassandra) the super-cheesy ‘Land of the Pharaohs’ – ‘Colossus of Rhodes’ – ‘The Egyptian’ – ‘Serpent of the Nile’… don’t @ me, my viewing standards were super-low back then!

    I think the most historically accurate part of Troy’s costumes was probably the Spartan dancers, with their ‘Minoan-look’ dresses (like- that is the era of the Trojan War- would it kill you to go for that?**) – maybe some individual items of male armour, but pretty much nothing else- I mean they had an Egyptian-looking temple/ tomb-thing in Trojan lands, for pete’s sake!! Why??!!!

    I didn’t hate ‘Exodus’, but it felt like I wasn’t destined to remember it, a day after watching.
    I had the same problem with ‘TUT’- only worse- like, some of the costumes were cool, from an aesthetic point of view, but in terms of accuracy? What makes it so much worse – we have so many freaking artefacts from his tomb, & the era (18th Dynasty) in general; why, why , why can’t they just look at the stuff, & go from there- why make up some garbage, fantasy crap for a supposedly historical movie?
    If I wanted that, I’d get hammered & watch ‘Gods of Egypt’!
    I mean, ‘The Mummy’ for all its’ faults was a fun watch, & blended history & fantasy so well- I didn’t even really mind the absurd amount of gold shown.

    **I had a book at my school library, on the Iliad/ The Odyssey, I think it was published by Usborne, back in the late ’80’s or early ’90’s – it was so beautifully illustrated, with Minoan-style costumes- there was variety & difference, & comparisons between the artwork of the illustrator, with the historical evidence.
    I think there was a docu-drama done by the BBC back a ways, about Atlantis that had Minoan-inspired costumes, but I only saw a couple of screen-shots of it – I can’t imagine how much better a big-budget movie with this styling would have been.

    1. 100% agree! The dancing girls in Sparta were probably the most historically accurate costumes in the whole movie- & maybe some of the armour…

      Why did the Egyptian clothes in ‘Exodus’ have to be so colourful? There are historically very few references/ examples of them dyeing it- the big one was their pale blue mourning dresses – why couldn’t they have just shown more of a contrast to the resident Hebrews, the Bedouin-like people Moses lives with, & other foreign visitors to the royal court? I think that would have come off better.
      And I’m just curious- why did they think they had to design the costumes ‘from scratch’?
      The 18th Dynasty/ New Kingdom was one of the most well documented periods of Egyptian history- every book I’ve ever read on Ancient Egypt has pictures of tons of artefacts from the 18th Dynasty…

  12. And there are so many paintings from the Eighteenth Dynasty and the Ramesside Period showing clothing! Maybe it’s too “plain” for Hollywood? I’m sure Hollywood does not like all that white and off-white; it’s not shiny and “glamorous” enough. Tunics and sheath dresses for women of the earlier Eighteenth Dynasty, then those sheer robes and the sari-lilke wrap dresses later on. Tunics and kilts of various lengths and degrees of elaboration for the men. At court, elaborate wigs of various styles for both sexes. Kohl for the eyes, for anyone who could afford it. For the wealthy, jewelry of gold with semi-precious stones (turquoise, carnelian, lapis). Occasional silver jewelry–Egypt did not have a lot of silver, certainly not enough to have the walls of beaten silver that are one of novelist Pauline Gedge’s most egregious errors. Papyrus sandals. Headcloths on people doing dusty farm work such as winnowing–if such people are ever even considered by producers or costume designers. See? Was that so hard?

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: