The Ten Commandments
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Legendary silent film director Cecil B. DeMille didn't much alter the way he made movies after sound came in, and this 1956 biblical drama is proof of that. While graced with such 1950s niceties as VistaVision and Technicolor, The Ten Commandments
Legendary silent film director Cecil B. DeMille didn't much alter the way he made movies after sound came in, and this 1956 biblical drama is proof of that. While graced with such 1950s niceties as VistaVision and Technicolor, The Ten Commandments (DeMille had already filmed an earlier version in 1923) has an anachronistic, impassioned style that finds lead actors Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner expressively posing while hundreds of extras writhe either in the presence of God's power or from orgiastic heat. DeMille, as always, plays both sides of the fence as far as sin goes, surrounding Heston's Moses with worshipful music and heavenly special effects while also making the sexy action around the cult of the Golden Calf look like fun. You have to see The Ten Commandments to understand its peculiar resonance as an old-new movie, complete with several still-impressive effects such as the parting of the Red Sea. --Tom Keogh
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I have to add here that I've not been too impressed with Blu-ray or HD TV. It's nice, but I have to admit that I'm no longer that driven with chasing after the latest, newest technology. I just like to sit down and watch a good movie every once in a while and not have to spend a small fortune trying to keep up with all of that. I wasn't expecting too much with this purchase. I was just hoping for a good copy of a great movie to add to our collection.
Having said all that, I have to say this, "WOW!!!" We were totally overwhelmed with the color, the clarity, the sound! It was like watching a brand new movie and I couldn't take my eyes off the screen. The colors really popped and the clarity was brilliant. I don't know anything about the technology of making a movie over into Blu-ray format, but this is one movie that was actually made better by the change. We were really glad that we paid the extra for this format.
There is one little note that I have to add. (Spoiler alert). I don't know why, but they weren't able to bring that sickly green glow into that "death mist" and it lost a bit of it's scariness just looking like fog moving on the ground. Too bad about that as it's one of those defining moments in the movie that something "supernatural" is occurring. Gotta love this movie though!
I'm not going to spend too much time here critiquing the movie. It's a perennial classic that most have seen at least parts of. Released in 1956 and directed by Cecil B. DeMille, it is also not a 'cinema verite' gorefest like many modern "swords and sandals" epics. It is peopled by characters who speak exclusively in dramatic flourishes, regardless of how illiterate or poor their characters are supposed to be. It takes liberties with some elements of the bible story (Moses' stutter and his Ethiopian wife are strangely absent, for instance). But for my money none of these are knocks on it - it is a classic through and through, and despite starting off a bit slowly, it picks up dramatic steam quickly and becomes quite a mesmerizing experience. The actors make their characters easy to care about, the visuals are sumptuous and engaging, the music is stirring, the story is solid. As a film, it's an easy recommendation for anyone who enjoys historical or biblical epics, or just connoisseurs of classic movies.
I purchased this (the 2-disc edition) based on its glowing pre-release reviews on major online review sites. So my expectations were high, to say the least. I was expecting nothing less than a Grand Slam HD experience.
So what did I get? I'm happy to say: A Grand Slam HD experience.
You'll know you're in for a treat when the Overture begins. The backdrop looks just like leather - the sheen and texture are so finely presented that it's easily visible, even from a relatively far viewing distance. Things just keep getting better from there. Colors are out-of-this-world gorgeous. Fine detail is excellent, especially on the intricate Egyptian costumes and cloth textures. Black levels are strong, deep, and consistent throughout. There is a nearly three-dimensional quality to the image, especially in darker scenes, probably because of this combination of color, high contrast, and detail. At its best, it easily bests every other Blu-Ray transfer I've seen from a period film (examples I own include North By Northwest, Gone With the Wind, Wizard Of Oz, Bridge on the River Kwai, and the execrable Spartacus video transfer. TTC beats them all quite handily).
This transfer should quiet any critics who think classic films can't look good in HD (Those still laboring under this misapprehension should google some DVD/Blu-Ray comparison shots of this film). The fact that the VistaVision film was scanned at 6k resolution should indicate to anyone that there is more than enough information present to make a 1080p transfer "worth it." This 1080p presentation seems essentially perfect. Film grain is light and consistent. No undue edge enhancement or DNR seems evident. I can't even fathom this looking better than it does.
Now, all that said, you should know that some of the original optical effects show their seams pretty easily in HD. Blue-screen process shots in the background are painfully evident. But this is what the film looked like when it was shown in theaters. I for one prefer an accurate record of the original effects to any digital monkeying around that a George Lucas type might perpetrate.
The sound is a DTS-MA 5.1 channel mix that does the job very well. Dialogue is clear and distinct. The music score sounds lovely. Surround channels only get a slight workout, mostly on storms, special effects, and so on.
The only extras on the 2 disc edition are a commentary and some vintage trailers and publicity reels. The trailers, all in HD, are neat in and of themselves, especially the long form trailer in which DeMille discusses the research and themes involved in the movie. But I have to say, this commentary (by Katherine Orrison, who literally wrote the book on this movie - Written in Stone: Making Cecil B. DeMille's Epic The Ten Commandments) is quite engaging and interesting. Orrison provides a wealth of information about the production of the film, and is almost never silent throughout the entire run time.
Simply put, if you are a fan of epic films, this is a must own. You'll get dozens of viewings out of it. It is unfailingly absorbing. If you are a fan of classic movies, they don't get much more classic. Buy this and "Gone With The Wind," and get ready for a 7-hour marathon. But beyond both of these reasons - if you are a fan of great HD, this can't be beat. It is a towering achievement in digital mastering, and hopefully it will shame other studios into treating their own classic properties with the same respect.