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THE TEN COMMANDMENTS

Cecil B. DeMille's THE TEN COMMANDMENTS ($25) is a classic film that I love and am compelled to watch time and again. Now, even though I love this film, and have seen it about twenty times, I am not oblivious to its flaws. In places, the dialogue is so preposterous that I'm amazed the actors could deliver lines such as those with a straight face. And speaking of the actors, some of the performances I would have to categorize as "hammy", while others are just plain wooden. Still, the spectacle of this production thrills me to this day, plus THE TEN COMMANDMENTS contains moments of sheer cinematic magic that outweigh the film's flaws.

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS is one of the greatest Hollywood epics ever produced under the studio system. When THE TEN COMMANDMENTS was made, artisans built every elaborate setting and the crowd scenes, teeming with thousands of people, actually require the participation of thousands of extras in thousands of costumes. Compounding matters is the fact that much of the film was shot on location in Egypt and the surrounding desert- not exactly to most hospitable place to motion picture equipment, nor the best place to work with thousands of extras. THE TEN COMMANDMENTS can truly be appreciated for the magnitude of its production and the Herculean effort that realization of Cecil B. DeMille's final film. The only way an epic film on the scale of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS could be produced today is with computer-generated settings and digital extras filling out the huge crowd scenes.

Some dramatic license is taken with this biblical tale, but only enough to make THE TEN COMMANDMENTS play like a motion picture with actual characters and key dramatic moments. THE TEN COMMANDMENTS tells the story of Moses, who born a slave in Egypt and set upon the water in a basket to save his life from the Pharaoh’s edict that every first-born Hebrew male child must die. The Pharaoh’s widowed sister finds the basket floating on the Nile and the infant boy contained within. Since he was drawn from the water, she names her adopted son Moses and raises him as a Prince of Egypt. When Moses reaches manhood the truth of his origins are exposed and he is cast out of Egypt. Eventually, God reveals to Moses that he is the deliverer who will lead the Hebrews out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. 

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS stars Charlton Heston as Moses. While Heston is the undisputed king of the Hollywood epic, he is rather stiff and wooden as the prince of Egypt, but he finally does catch fire when Moses becomes the prophet and deliverer of his people. Yul Brynner truly shines in the role of the Pharaoh Rameses. Brynner brings all the required swagger and arrogance to the role, yet the character never become cardboard thanks to charisma that Brynner exudes whenever he is on screen. All I can say about Anne Baxter’s performance as the Princess Nefretiri, is that it lacks restraint. Every time she says the name Moses, it is more overwrought than the last. Edward G. Robinson easily sheds his gangster image with the role of Dathan, the Hebrew overseer who sells out his people for personal gain. Sir Cedric Hardwicke delivers one of the film’s most memorable performances as Sethi, the old Pharaoh who would place Moses before his own son. Hardwicke brings a quiet dignity to the role that is truly regal, yet he imbues the character with a sense of poignancy. The luminous cast of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS also features Yvonne De Carlo, Nina Foch, Judith Anderson, Vincent Price, Debra Paget, John Derek, Martha Scott and John Carradine.

Paramount Home Entertainment deserves high praise for creating one of the most spectacular presentations of a classic film on DVD. Not only does THE TEN COMMANDMENTS look and sound astonishing, the DVD also contains the critical 16:9 enhancement for wide screen televisions. This VistaVision film has been framed at 1.78:1, thus making it a perfect fit to the aspect ratio of a wide screen television. I know that this will be one of the DVDs that I use to scrutinize any wide screen television that I contemplate purchasing. Jaw dropping is the only way one can describe how this DVD reproduces the film’s IB Technicolor hues. The vivid saturation of this transfer is about as close as one is likely to get to the look of an actual print in any home presentation of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. Even though the colors are intense, the DVD doesn’t show a trace of chroma noise or distortion. Topping the phenomenal color, is the DVD’s highly detailed image that pushes the limits of the NTSC system and gives one a clue as to why VistaVision was referred to as Motion Picture High Fidelity. The clarity of the image is startling, even darker sequences deliver more shadow detail than one would expect from a film of this vintage. Every detail in the breath-taking scenery, settings and costumes can be fully appreciated thanks to this presentation. Since 220 minute running time of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS is spread across two dual-layered DVDs, compression artifacts are almost undetectable on these superbly authored discs. 

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS sounds wonderful mixed into Dolby Digital 5.1, making the sound on this DVD almost an equal to the image. You would think that a soundtrack that is over forty years old couldn’t possibly sound as good as this one, yet it does. I was amazed to hear a fully discrete mix, with split surrounds coming from this DVD. Sounds emanate from every channel and the front soundstage has a wide sweep that one would associate with the magnetic stereo soundtracks of the 1950s (even though I doubt THE TEN COMMANDMENTS was originally presented this way). Sure, the soundtrack doesn’t have the full range sound one would find in new movie, but this track is no slouch either. The dialogue reproduces with a more natural timber than it has in the past, plus the rumble that came from my subwoofer on a number of occasions left me suitably impressed. Additionally, Elmer Bernstein’s classic score sounds better than I ever remember hearing it, with more life and better definition. An English Dolby Surround and French language soundtrack have also been encoded into the DVD. The interactive menus are simple in design, but deliver the required scene and language selection features. Three theatrical trailers are provided through the menus as supplement.

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS is an undeniable classic that belongs in just about every collection. Paramount has delivered a phenomenal presentation that is truly worthy of the film. Absolutely recommended.

  

 

 
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS 


The Ten Commandments

ENHANCED FOR 16:9 TELEVISIONS 

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DVD reviews are Copyright 1999 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.


 

 

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