The Ten Commandments
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Ten Commandments, The (1956) (DVD)
Based on the Holy Scriptures, with additional dialogue by several other hands, The Ten Commandments was the last film directed by Ce cil B. DeMi lle. The story relates the life of Moses, from the time he was discovere d in the bullrushes as an infant by the pharoah's daughter, to his long , hard struggle to free the Hebrews from their slavery at the hands of t he Egyptians. Moses (Charlton Heston) starts out "in solid" as Pharoah's adopted son (and a whiz at designing pyramids, dispensing such construc tion-site advice as "Blood makes poor mortar"), but when he discovers h is true Hebrew heritage, he attempts to make life easier for his people. Banished by hi s jealous half-brother Rameses (Yul Brynner), Moses retu rns fully bearded to Pharoah's court, warning that he's had a message fr om G od and that the Egyptians had better free the Hebrews post-haste if they know what's good for them. Only after the Deadly Plagues ha ve dec imated Egypt does Rameses give in. As the Hebrews reach the Red Sea, the y discover that Rameses has gone back on his word and plans to have them all killed. But Moses rescues his people with a little Divine legerdema in by parting the Seas. Later, Moses is ag ain confronted by God on Mt. Sinai, who delivers unto him the Ten Commandments. Meanwhile, the Hebrew s, led by the duplicitous Datha n (Edward G. Robinson), are forgetting t heir religion and behaving like libertines. "Where's your Moses now?" br ays Dathan in the ma nner of a Lower East Side gangster. He soon finds o ut. A remake of his 1923 silent film, DeMille's The Ten Commandments may not be t he most subtle and sophisticated entertainment ever concocted, but it tells its story with a clarity and vitality that few Biblical sc holars have ever been able to duplicate. It is very likely the most even tful 219 minutes ever recorded to film—and who's to say th at Nefertiri (Anne Baxter) didn't make speeches like, "Oh, Moses, Moses, you splendid , stubborn, adorable fool"?]]>
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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.
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Now I can enjoy it anywhere in my house. Blu ray rec room. DVD with portable!