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The Ten Commandments(1956)
The life of Moses and his leading of the Israelites to the Promised Land.
For more about The Ten Commandments and the The Ten Commandments Blu-ray release, see the The Ten Commandments Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on March 11, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Director: Cecil B. DeMille
Writers: Aeneas MacKenzie, Fredric M. Frank, Jesse Lasky, Jr., Jack Gariss, Dorothy Clarke Wilson, J.H. Ingraham
Starring: Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner, Anne Baxter (I), Edward G. Robinson, Yvonne De Carlo, Debra Paget
» See full cast & crew
The Ten Commandments Blu-ray Review
Cinema legend, Blu-ray excellence.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, March 11, 2011
The story of the birth of freedom.
In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth. Soon thereafter, He created man in His own image. Man quickly became a sinful, imperfect creature, but that hasn't stopped him from doing some pretty nifty things during his reign on Earth. He's made nature's curves straight; he's conquered not only the land but the waters and the air; and he's built marvelous, wonderful things that to this day amaze, even with centuries of historical achievements available for comparison's sake. Man's done all of this through that which God has given him, whether through his command over the lands and the animals and the birds in the sky and the fish in the waters or the skills of reason and ingenuity and the drive to achieve. From the dust from whence man came and the earth upon which he walks man has built both Heavenly monuments and instruments of sin, but man continues on, finding ways to use all God has given him for good and bad alike. Somehow, from the dust of the earth; the minerals found within it; through other, naturally-occurring elements; and the wisdom bestowed upon him by God; man has managed to create, among many miracles, the medium of film, a powerful tool for good and bad indeed but through which man may demonstrate his his own ability to create, whether to recreate history as accurately as he pleases or to build a brand new world of wonders that once only existed within man's own mind. One man, Cecil B. DeMille, chose to use the medium of film to retell the Biblical story of Moses. Moses was a simple man who lived thousands of years ago, chosen by God to lead an entire people to freedom and through whom God laid forth His Ten Commandments which, alongside the teachings of Christ, remain principles of the Christian faith. DeMille's film The Ten Commandments is a hallmark achievement of both man and cinema, a picture of visual wonders yes but more importantly a retelling of one of the greatest and most important stories ever told. It's a film that even today plays with not only heart and a love and appreciation for its source material, but it is also built on guiding principles of freedom, goodness, and faith that now and will forever be keys to a successful life.
Director Cecil B. DeMille opens The Ten Commandments by posing a question of freedom: should man be ruled by God's law or the law of dictators like the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses? Should men live as slaves under the rule of the state, or as free men under God? Though God created man, man ruled -- and still does, in places -- over others of his kind, often harmfully and inhumanely so. In the days of Moses and the Pharaos, man was without guidance, left to live under arbitrary power structures such as that created some thousands of years ago when Egyptians ruled over Hebrews who performed slave labor and received neither monetary reward nor personal satisfaction for their works. The slaves believed in a tale of a deliverer, one of their own who would guide them from the bonds of slavery and into freedom. When the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses I hears of the prophesy and learns that that very night the Hebrews's savior has been born, he orders the execution of every newborn Hebrew baby. An infant Moses is placed in a basket and sent down the Nile River, alone, his only hope of evading the terrible slaughter. Soon thereafter, his basket is discovered by Pharaoh's gentle daughter Bithiah (Nina Foch) who disregards the baby's Hebrew garb and claims him as her own. Moses (Charlton Heston, Planet of the Apes) grows into a fine Egyptian; he's not only a powerful conquering military leader, but he has his father's eye and may one day surpass even Pharaoh's own flesh-and-blood son, Ramses (Yul Brynner, The King and I), as the next ruler of Egypt.
Upon his return from a successful military campaign in Ethiopia, Moses is tasked with building a vast city in honor of the Pharaoh, while Ramses is ordered to learn the truth behind the mystery savior to whom the Hebrews continue to cling. Complicating matters is Moses's love for the beautiful Nefretiri (Anne Baxter), the young Egyptian destined to marry the next Pharaoh, whomever that may be -- not Ramses, Nefretiri hopes. She is also the apple of Ramses's eye, furthering the rift between the would-be ruler of Egypt and his brother-in-name-only, Moses. While working on Pharaoh's city, Moses comes to see the plight of the Hebrew slaves firsthand; he saves a woman from certain death and orders the slaves be given rations of grain and granted one day of rest per week. Neither Ramses nor his father find favor in this turn of events. Ultimately, Moses's true identity is revealed to Nefretiri; she remains faithful to Moses, but the Hebrew insists on discovering his roots and laying claim to his heritage. When word reaches Ramses of his brother's true identity, he convinces Pharaoh to exile Moses rather than make him a martyr; Moses is left for dead in the vast Egyptian desert, but God's plan for the Hebrew has only just been set into motion. With the Almighty God appearing to him, Moses is tasked with fulfilling his destiny and becoming prophesy personified: the man who will lead the Hebrew slaves from their Egyptian bondage.
The Ten Commandments is a film that, more or less, speaks for itself, or maybe better said, speaks for its source material. Based around the Biblical Book of Exodus -- so named for the mass departure of the Hebrew slaves from their Egyptian captors -- Cecil B. DeMille's film is a standard bearer for the story of Moses and, as the director says in his introduction, a story of the birth of freedom, that most basic human desire to live on one's own terms, in an ever-constant position to choose to satisfy his own wants and needs rather than forcibly submit to the whims of another. That's the basics of the story, but behind the want for freedom and the exodus of a peoples is the tale of God's power and grace that's truly at the center of it all and without which the story would not unfold as it did in life and does in the film. The Ten Commandments is greater than all its visual splendor and the work of its cast because of the message it carries with it, a message not only of freedom and faith but of the power of God to overcome all, a theme repeated throughout the Bible. Of course, "ask and it shall be given unto you" and "seek and you shall find" aren't codes for "get it now, get it free." God isn't a genie in a bottle -- even though He could be -- but the story of the exodus is a demonstration of His working through life, a combination of using life experiences and miracles alike to guide the hearts of men towards good even when He allows the hearts of others to be hardened. The story of Moses is a story of God's power, His fulfillment of promises, the power of faith, and the goodness that comes from perseverance. The people believed, and so it was done. It wasn't easy -- nothing ever is -- but the story reveals the importance of hanging onto faith even when the ills of the world seem to have done away with any chance for salvation, be it from something seemingly inconsequential in one's personal life or the enslavement of an entire race of people.
Of course, there would be no reason to watch the film if all it did was dully recount Moses's story; better to spend about four hours reading the Book of Exodus than sludge through a generic motion picture. No, this needed to be something special, something as grand, as timeless, as memorable, as meaningful as the story on which it was based. Cecil B. DeMille's picture is all of that, a timeless treasure that, visually, might not hold up under the scrutiny of today's magical special effects but that, thematically, certainly captures every last bit of essence the story has to offer and doing so with a grandeur that's rarely matched even with modern filmmaking techniques. The film is completely absorbing for both the story it tells and the way it goes about telling it; the former is already established, but the picture is rounded into form by both its visual wonder and the commanding performances of its cast. The sets and costumes of The Ten Commandments are second-to-none. The film thrives on creating a wonderfully detailed period appearance; as to the accuracy of it down to the last little stitch or the finest little texture there's no way of really knowing, but the film certainly manages to dazzle with a general ornateness that gives the movie proper almost enough visual heft to match the weightiness and historical importance of the story that goes along with it. A stellar cast rounds the film into form. Charlton Heston is superb in the lead role; his command of the part is uncanny, and his character's transformation from dedicated dictator to benevolent overseer to a defeated man to a return to prominence thanks to the grace of God is remarkable; the physical transformation -- the removal of his Egyptian garb and the application of some gray into his hair and a beard on his face -- is nothing next to the emotional aspect of the performance. The transformation is gradual and natural; Heston's mastery of the part and all of its intricacies is reason enough to watch the film, even if the performance, once or twice, is afflicted by bouts of overacting as Heston is prone to do. On the flip side is the venerable Yul Brynner; he plays the part of Rameses with a stoicism that's perfectly matched to what is perhaps the character's greatest Biblical descriptor: his "hardened heart." Brynner's is a no-nonsense performance that captures the character's arrogance and single-mindedness to perfection. The remainder of the cast is excellent, too, but Heston and Brynner command the screen and make the movie theirs, not lessening the other roles but certainly reducing them to complimentary pieces behind the dueling leads.
The Ten Commandments Blu-ray, Video Quality
In a word? Gorgeous. Paramount's Blu-ray release of The Ten Commandments is a magnificent sight to behold on Blu-ray. The studio has smartly spread the film out across two discs to ensure the best possible quality; no worries, the break comes at the film's intermission, with disc one running 2:15:48 and disc two clocking in at 1:35:49. The image certainly benefits from the added breathing room. The film opens with Cecil B. DeMille stepping out on stage to speak on his picture's behalf; the curtains behind him are awash in scrumptious detailing, and the contrasting gold and gray color scheme appears naturally rendered. Both amazing detailing and lush color reproduction remains throughout the film. Whether the texture of the old straw basket used to carry baby Moses down the Nile, the orante detailing in both the stitching and accents on the regal Egyptian clothing, or the sandy and pebbly Egyptian terrain, the transfer exhibits precision details both up-close and far from the camera. The image is incredibly crisp and nicely detailed even at a distance; depth of field is fantastic, too, and the transfer is capable of revealing sharp and intricate textures far off into the back end of the frame. Colors are breathtaking; bright blues, natural greens as seen in foliage, and even the varied earthen colors that are prominent in the film are all wonderfully rendered. Flesh tones enjoy exceptional neutrality, and black levels are generally strong. The image retains a light coating of grain; though a few scenes do favor a slightly smoothed-over texture, they are easily the exception rather than the rule. Of course, The Ten Commandments is replete with optical effects shots that don't hold up very well; demarcation lines between "live" shots and inserted effects/backgrounds are plainly visible -- particularly considering the boost in resolution afforded to the image by the 1080p resolution -- but they're also an integral part of the film and have been lovingly left intact. All said, this is a breathtaking transfer. If Paramount's 1080p transfer doesn't bring a tear to the eye of die hard film enthusiasts craving to see epic classics loving restored and presented to this level of excellence, then nothing will.
The Ten Commandments Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Ten Commandments is never going to sound like some modern-day Action extravaganza. Paramount's DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack, however, serves the movie remarkably well, handling the picture's critical elements superbly and never forcing the issue or delivering anything resembling phony or amped-up effects just for the sake of making the 5.1 track more active. The film begins with a brief musical overture that's wonderfully smooth and spacious, playing primarily across the front three speakers but enjoying a hint of back-channel support. Neither this selection nor anything else in the film can or does match the immaculate and lifelike clarity of the best modern soundtracks, but this lossless presentation does breathe a new life into the picture's score, presenting it with an accuracy that it probably hasn't enjoyed since it was in theaters. The opening title music sports the same qualities, but it is aided by a subtly effective low end accompaniment that gives it a bit more weight than is evident in the overture music. The Ten Commandments is primarily built on character interaction and dialogue; the spoken word is given the prominence and clarity it requires through faultless center channel execution. Surrounds are used sparsely, but effectively, not only in support of music but a few more prominent sound effects, such as a heavy gusting wind that challenges the resolve of a recently left-for-dead-in-the-desert Moses or the thud of hail pounding the Egyptian dwellings during one of the plagues. While it's not the most engaging track out there, this is, like the accompanying video presentation, nothing short of a splendid revelation; longtime fans of The Ten Commandments are sure to enjoy the boost in overall clarity and detail afforded to the picture's soundtrack thanks to Paramount's wonderful lossless presentation.
The Ten Commandments Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
This special gift set of The Ten Commandments -- limited to 100,000 units -- features three Blu-ray discs and three DVD discs of nearly identical content (disc three lacks everything but the 1923 film and the 1956 film's photo gallery). The box is of the lenticular variety and covered by a see-through outer shell that features both a likeness of Moses and the film's title. The box itself is designed around a three-dimensional representation of a parting Red Sea. The box brilliantly splits open from the middle to literally "part" the sea; buyers will have to lay the box flat to remove content, but the effect is quite good and well-conceived. Inside the box is a replica of the Ten Commandments stones; these plastic stones actually break open to house the six discs, and they fit back together with the use of a few small built-in magnets. Unfortunately, the third Blu-ray disc and the three DVDs are incredibly difficult to remove; they're liable to scratch or break on the way out. The box also houses a few more goodies, including a hardback edition of Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments An Epic Journey; an illustrated softcover book that features story-themed artwork, essays, abridged scripture, and cast and crew profiles; an envelope containing several replica items including a Western Union Telegram to Cecil B. DemMille from Adolph Zuckor, an audience reaction card, a letter to Cecil. B. DeMille from Charlton Heston, Charlton Heston's schedule, and a menu from the Cafe Continental with a surprise on the back; an envelope featuring several full-color costume sketches cards; and a vintage The Ten Commandments press release. Photos of the included materials may be seen by selecting the "screenshots" tab above and scrolling down past the 1080p film captures.
The three Blu-ray discs all feature extra content, among them an audio commentary track, a vintage newsreel, a wonderful making-of documentary, and the 1923 version of The Ten Commandments directed by Cecil B. DeMille.
The Ten Commandments Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The Ten Commandments is a truly epic picture in every sense of the term. Not only is it an example of grand "Hollywood Golden Age" filmmaking at its finest, but it's built around a timeless story of faith, strength, and freedom taken straight from the Bible and translated into a masterful work of art that's as visually dazzling as it is thematically profound and emotionally satisfying. Unbeatable set design and costuming accentuated by fantastic performances make Cecil B. DeMille's final picture one of the finest films ever made. Paramount's special edition Blu-ray release of The Ten Commandments is flat-out exceptional. The movie looks and sounds fantastic given the age of the source and the limits of the special effects shots. Better still, this set offers a tremendous amount of value added material both on-disc and in the wonderfully attractive, thoughtful, and unique packaging. The Ten Commandments earns my highest recommendation.
The Ten Commandments: Other Editions
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The Ten Commandments Blu-ray, News and Updates
• The Silver Screen (New Site Column): The Ten Commandments - March 11, 2011
Blu-ray.com is happy to introduce Robert Siegel as a columnist and regular contributor. Robert will host his column "The Silver Screen" on the site and will write about classic cinema on Blu-ray, using his unique collection of movie memorabilia and studio material ...
• The Ten Commandments Blu-ray Detailed - January 11, 2011
Paramount Home Entertainment has revealed the full release details for Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments, which, as reported yesterday, will come out on Blu-ray on March 29 in two editions: a two-disc Blu-ray edition and a six-disc, limited-edition Blu-ray/DVD ...
• Late March Blu-ray Catalog Wave from Paramount, Including The Ten... - January 10, 2011
Paramount Home Entertainment has announced three catalog titles for Blu-ray release on March 29: Charlotte's Web, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie and The Ten Commandments. Cecil B. DeMille's 1956 biblical epic, in particular, will benefit from an all-new restoration ...
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