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The Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments on DVD

Cecil B. DeMille crafted what’s arguably the ultimate in cinematic pageantry with this tale of the life of Moses.

The spectacular movie, a staple on TV each spring, stars Charlton Heston in the role of the deliverer of the Hebrews from bondage in Egypt. There isn’t a lot of need to get into the storyline here, since we believe that everyone and his dog has seen this movie at least once by now. Suffice it to say that this sprawling “cast of thousands” epic is not only a moving religious tale but a story of the best – and the worst – of what makes us human beings.

The cast is outstanding. Heston’s screen presence is magnificent and he makes a terrific Moses, the Prince of Egypt who throws it all away so he can do what’s right. Yul Brynner is equally magnetic as Rameses, the evil and jealous son of Sethi who’ll stop at nothing to cement his hold on the throne. Then there’s Sethi himself, played exquisitely by Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Nefretiri (Anne Baxter), and all the great supporting actors including such names as Edward G. Robinson, Debra Paget, John Derek, Vincent Price, Yvonne de Carlo. They bring star power, indeed – but more important they bring skill, talent and credibility to their roles.

The sets and the special effects are also top notch, though the effects are limited by 1950’s technology. But the parting of the Red Sea and some of the shots of Egypt at the height of its glory are real toys for the eyes. And this DVD is the best way so far to see them.

That’s because Paramount’s DVD is presented in anamorphic widescreen, 16x9 TV compatible, and this means that those who’ve only seen the film on TV are in for a treat because they can now see the shots as they were crafted, with no panning and scanning. So you see more wonder, more epic, more scale. This was made even more welcome by our experience with ABC TV's broadcast of the film a few days before the DVD arrived: even on their HDTV feed they ran the Pan&Scan version! Shame on ABC!

Alas, the film really deserves a good restoration and remastering because while this is probably the best version of the Ten Commandments to date, it doesn’t appear to be as good as it could be. The colors are bright and rich, and close-ups generally look very good, but overall there’s a aged look and some smeariness/runniness to the colors that would probably be taken care of with a good restoration.

And of all the films that get restored these days, one would think this one would be high on the list. We hope they take care of this and re-release the DVD with a new, glorious set of clothes that befit its glorious look and its position in movie history.

Audio’s pretty good. It’s supposedly presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and though we didn’t notice a lot of surround, the overall audio quality is very good. The musical score stretches across the front three channels beautifully, sweeping us up with the epic scale of the production. The dialogue is located (as it should be) at the center channel, but the quality isn’t as good as the music’s.

This is a two disc set that stretches the 220 minute movie over the two discs, broken at intermission. We’re glad they chose the proper place for the changeover, where it makes logical sense. Such is not always the case with multi-disc DVD’s.

Extras include a very interesting, though somewhat repetitive at times, running commentary by Katherine Orrison, who wrote “Written in Stone – Making Cecil B. DeMille’s Epic, The Ten Commandments.” She has some fascinating bits of knowledge and knows where all the mattes begin and end. There’s also a six part documentary on the film, a newsreel of its premier in New York, and some trailers. It's a good mix of stuff.

This is one of those films that should be in the library of all who love movies at their biggest and best. While it isn’t as good as William Wyler’s Ben-Hur, it’s more spectacular and is still a wonderful movie in its own right.

The Ten Commandments, from Paramount Home Entertainment
220 min. anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1, 16x9 TV compatible), Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
Starring Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner, Anne Baxter, Edward G. Robinson, Yvonne De Carlo, Debra Paget,
Written by Aeneas MacKenzie, Jesse L. Lasky Jr., Jack Gariss, Fredrick M. Frank
Produced and Directed by Cecil B. Demille


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