William Shatner’s Exodus

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When it was announced that Leonard Nimoy would return for a cameo appearance in the new Star Trek movie (read our analysis of the series here) but William Shatner wouldn’t, all the expected things happened — tempers flared, heated exchanges were made, and Shatner started a whole guerrilla YouTube campaign against J.J. Abrams and the franchise as it exists today. Part of it? Totally understandable. Shatner is “Star Trek.” And part of it is, well — dude, you died on screen.

william shatnerAs a result, Shatner and a few of his family members (at least) are going to boycott today’s national opening of the new film. But we at MyJewishLearning, as a nondenominational center for Jews of all shades, have been checking out Shatner’s oeuvre in an effort to represent all sides of the debate.

Mostly, we can’t get enough of Exodus: An Oratorio in Three Parts, Shatner’s dramatic-and-we-do-mean-dramatic rendition of the Biblical narrative. And, lest you think it’s chutzpah to record and release a cover version of this — well, you clearly haven’t heard enough of Shatner’s voice lately.

Yes, he’s bombastic. Yes, he is reminiscent of Charlton Heston in a way that it seems impossible to believe that it is possible for a mere human to replicate.

But there’s something both impressive and comforting about Shatner’s voice. It is a voice that’s both commanding and reassuring, confident and compassionate. He delivers lines like “Behold, when I come onto the Children of Israel and shall say unto them, the God of your fathers hath sent me unto you” with a grace and power that rises them from an archaic form of grammar and makes you believe that a man can actually
When he follows that up with God’s immortal declaration — “I Am That I Am” — we more than believe it. We feel it in our bones.

william shatnerThe orchestra that backs him up is more than adequate to the task. Slight deviations and pretensions, like the 5-minute introduction that starts out slow and quiet and remains that way for far too long, sometimes overstay their welcome, but almost unilaterally set the required moods both quickly and effectively.

But, man, when Shatner announces Yocheved giving birth — “and she called his name….MOSES” — he speaks in capital letters. His voice takes on epic proportions.

And there’s a choir backing him. This is a technique that anyone working with Shatner on any production should immediately embrace. Momentary Kirk cameo in a cheesy family comedy? Choir! James Spader storms into his office on Boston Legal to be greeted with a cheeky rejoinder? Choir! A dramatic reading of a space battle from his latest Star Trek novel? Choir! Aside from a few technical hiccups — in the middle of a brilliant adagio, crowning with emotion, the lead tenor avoids the ever-so-tricky Hebrew “ch” sound and comes out with “JOKEHBED!” — the recording is a flawless one. It won’t win converts to the Exodus story with the kind of modern verve and irreverence that, oh, a snarky animated series might…but with Shatner’s voice and power, you don’t need verve or irreverence. You just need a story as good as the Exodus.

Posted on May 8, 2009

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