"Pharaoh, let my people go!"—Moses (Charlton Heston)
In Cecil B. DeMille's epic The Ten Commandments, we follow the story of Moses (Charlton Heston, The Omega Man, Planet of the Apes), a Hebrew secretly raised in royalty in Egypt's palace. Upon his discovery that he is not of noble decent but the blood of slaves, Moses's life is forever changed when he comes into the presence of God and discovers his true calling in life: return to his previous homeland of Egypt and help free the Hebrews, people who have been kept in slavery by the Egyptian Pharaoh. Moses encounters an adversary in the form of Rameses (Yul Brenner, The King and I), Moses's one time brother and now ruler of Egypt. But the stronghold of a king is no match for the unrelenting power of almighty God, and with the guidance of the Lord Moses will lead his clan out of the clutches of bondage and into the freedom of divinity!
If It's A Wonderful Life is the one film associated most with Christmas, The Ten Commandments must take that title when it comes to the Easter holiday. A staple on cable TV as the spring season comes around, The Ten Commandments is a lavish, hammy Biblical epic filled with stiff acting, wordy dialogue, and (by today's standards) rudimentary special effects. But oh, how entertaining it all is! There is something glorious and intense about Cecil B. DeMille's epic film about the life of Moses and his quest to free his people. Like Mel Gibson's smash hit The Passion of the Christ, The Ten Commandments cleaned up at the box office upon its initial theatrical run in 1956, proving that while Hollywood may often balk at religious films, the fact remains that when done right they can be hugely successful (not to mention profitable).
The Ten Commandments features Charlton Heston in what may be his most recognized role as Moses, the man who would be Pharaoh of Egypt but by the beckoning of God discovers his Hebrew roots, leading his people to freedom. Heston commands the screen and while his acting is sometimes wooden (as are many in the film), he's still an imposing force to be reckoned with. Yul Brenner is equally as good as Rameses, the embodiment of stubborn ego as he attempts to thwart Moses's God, always in vein. Other standouts in the cast include Anne Baxter as Moses's would-be lover Nefertiti; legendary Edward G. Robinson as the scheming Dathan (whose final film would end up being the Charlton Heston sci-fi classic Soylent Green); Yvonne "Lily Munster" De Carlo as Moses's wife; John "Hey, I Married Bo" Derek as Joshua; and in a rare non-horror role, Vincent Price (House of Wax) as the master builder Baka.
While the performances in The Ten Commandments are well worth noting, the real star is DeMille's sprawling sets, huge cast of extras, and awesome special effects. When Moses finally leads the slaves from Egypt, it's a sight to behold as seemingly thousands of Hebrews crowd the dessert in search of freedom. The centerpiece is the parting of the Red Sea and its subsequent disposal of Rameses's guards and chariots. Though it's obvious that blue screens and split film are at work, the effects are still chilling and awe inspiring in their grandeur. It's a spectacle that is still a sight to behold, even in these times of CGI wonderment.
For those who love The Ten Commandments, DVD is the perfect way to watch it again and again. The message is a great one, the movie is well made, and Heston once again proves why he'll always be cinema's best representation of Moses. It's power has not diminished over time.
Let it be written, let it be done!
The Ten Commandments is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, spread across two discs. Overall, I think this is a great looking transfer, considering it's an almost fifty years old film. (I have not seen Paramount's original DVD release, so I can't do any kind of comparison.) While the print does show a bit of grain and fuzziness at times (often due to the special effects), this is the best The Ten Commandments has ever looked—the colors, black levels, and flesh tones all appear to be in solid shape. A bit more clean up would have been preferred, though this is certainly better than watching the pan and scan version on television.
The soundtrack is presented in a newly remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track in English. Much like the video presentation, I found this sound mix to be very good, if not great. There are a few instances where all of the speakers are engaged fully (when God speaks to Moses, the parting of the Red Sea, et cetera), though mostly this is a very front heavy mix. All aspects of the track are free and clear of any hiss or distortion. Also included on this disc are a French Mono soundtrack, an English Dolby 2.0 mix, and English subtitles.
Paramount has produced a new "special collector's edition" of The Ten Commandments, complete with a new six-part documentary that runs a little under 40 minutes. For those who are looking for some back story on the film's conception, the casting, the shoot, and more, this is a very good place to start. Equally as informative is the commentary track by Katherine Orrison, author of "Cecil B. DeMille's Epic, The Ten Commandments." Orrison hardly takes time for even catching her breath as information is doled out for over three straight hours. Both of these features are wonderful wells of info on the making of The Ten Commandments. Also included on this disc is newsreel footage from the premiere in New York and three theatrical trailers for the film.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary Track by Katherine Orrison
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