The Ten Commandments 50th Anniversary Edition Note: the review of the 1923 version is towards the bottom. Studio: Paramount Home Video Year: 1956 (2006 Release) Rated: G Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 enhanced for 16x9 displays Audio: English DD 5.1/ English 2.0 Surround/ French Mono Subtitles: English Time: 220 minutes Disc Format: 3 DVD-9’s Case Style: Fold out Digipak After watching “The Ten Commandments” I wondered what led to the film being made. I had an image of director Cecil DeMille sitting at his desk in 1921 reading his Bible and finishing the story of Moses only to look up and say, “I’ve got to film that!” Then, in 1951 thinking, “Y’know, I think I should film it again.” While I sincerely doubt that was the case, “The Ten Commandments” is so big, so epic in its production and presentation that one can only wonder when that spark of an idea was ignited. Since “The Ten Commandments” is such a big picture (clocking in at 220 minutes), I could spend several pages detailing the plot of the picture. I had considered doing a cut and paste of the relevant Bible passages or at least providing a link to the same, but I don’t want to cheat anyone. When Pharaoh makes and edict that all male children shall be killed to ward off a prophecy, Yochabel takes the baby Moses, places him in a basket and she sends him down the river Nile to save his life. Pharaoh’s sister finds the baby and she decides to take him as her own. The story jumps ahead to find a grown Moses returning to Egypt after conquering Ethiopia for Pharaoh, much to the dismay of Yul Brenner’s Rameses and the delight of Nefretiri (Anne Baxter). A power struggle ensues between the ambitious Rameses and the crowd pleasing Moses, and the ever randy Nefretiri places herself in the middle of the action. When a slave woman becomes trapped by a massive rock, another slave, Joshua, fights off guards to save her. Moses, seeing the compassion of the man, spares his life and declares the slaves shall have more time off. By this act, Moses is revered by the people and his following begins. Eventually, the true nature of Moses heritage is discovered. When Moses adopted mother finds Yochabel, she goes to confront her so Moses’ secret remains intact. Yochabel turns out to be the slave woman who was rescued a few minutes earlier, and she criticizes Moses for his ascension to royalty. She tells Moses he is a man of the people, he is not meant to rule them. Moses makes the decision to stay with his true family to find the meaning of who he is, and why a Hebrew, or any man, must be a slave. Moses begins working with the slaves to make the bricks. The other slaves quickly notice him for his hard work, and the ladies for his hunkiness (and lack of whip marks). Nefretiri rescues Moses from his toil and she tries to woo him back, but Moses refuses her charms in order to free his people. Moses is brought to Pharaoh for judgment, and due to Rameses fear of Moses’ martyrdom, he sends Moses into the desert. He finds a desert oasis, and with it, a new life, including a wife and child. Moses’ wife points him to a fire in the mountain and he goes off to investigate. He discovers the burning bush and the voice of God, which commands Moses to free God’s people from Pharaoh. Moses returns to Egypt to deliver God’s message to Pharaoh. Rameses quickly denounces Moses and his message, so Moses invokes the power of God to rain plague down upon the Egyptians. The Lord’s Passover commences forcing Ramses to free the Hebrew slaves. Moses takes his freed people to their promised land with Ramses in vengeful pursuit. What follows is the finale of epic cinematic and human proportions. Video: “The Ten Commandments” is presented in an anamorphic 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The picture is exceptionally bright and vibrant and it displays a beautiful range of colors. Each of the scenes shows a pallet of differing colors that will tax the most discriminating displays. Color delineation was excellent and I noticed no smearing. Flesh tones are accurate and they show subtle differences between each of the actors. Foreground detail is very good, showing fine subtleties in the sets and costumes. Unfortunately, in some of the more panoramic scenes, background detail begins to smear. Edge enhancement is visible throughout the picture. Black levels are good and they show detail in the shadows. I noticed only a couple instances of film dirt. About sixteen minutes into disc two there is a sudden influx of print dirt, or at least the remnants of the cleaning process. You are able to see covered over dirt and several spots of picture shimmer. It is strange this one place suddenly looks so bad in an overall excellent looking picture. This appears to be the same transfer as the previous release, although this one looks just a bit more “digital” to me. Audio: I watched this disc with the 5.1 track engaged. In older films, I usually like to watch them with the original mono or stereo tracks as they are closer to the original theatrical presentation. However, I deviated from this practice as I was interested to see what a 5.1 track would do to this epic production. In only a few scenes do the rear channels open up to add ambience to the scene (wind and voice effects when Moses treks through the desert and the hail storm, for example). The scene where the seas are parted to allow the Hebrews to pass on to the promised land also utilize the surrounds and LFE to fairly good effect. Parts of the scores also spread out to the surrounds. Overall, there is not much need for a 5.1 track. LFE effects were sparse at best. The audio is very clear and free of any noise or hiss. Bonus Material: The commentary and documentary are ported over from the 2004 DVD. Feature Commentary by Katherine Orrison, Author of “Written in Stone: Making Cecil B. DeMille’s Epic, The Ten Commandments: I skimmed parts of each chapter. Orrison gives quite a bit of detail about the production, the actors and the sets. A good commentary one would expect from the author of such a book on this picture. 6 Part Documentary: This is broken up into the following chapters, “Moses” (7:27), “The Chosen People”(5:00), “Land of the Pharaohs”(9:00), “The Paramount Lot”(6:50), “The Score” (4:00), “Mr. DeMille” (6:25). There are numerous cast and crew recollections, as well as behind the scenes pictures and on the set photos. These documentaries cover casting, the on location sets in Egypt and the US, and more. Newsreel: “The Ten Commandments” Premier in New York: Archival footage of the NYC opening Trailers: 1956 “Making of” Trailer, 1966 Trailer, 1989 Trailer: The “Making of” trailer has DeMille talking about the Hebrew text, Moses, Heston, inspirations for the picture, and the production. The other trailers are very basic. All of them are anamorphic. Addendum 3/23/06: A thread popped up on HTF discussing potential missing music from TTC. For you completists out there, I suggest you look here: http://www.hometheaterforum.com/htfo...hreadid=253882 The Ten Commandments – 1923 Version Studio: Paramount Home Video Year: 1923 (2006 Release) Rated: Not Rated Aspect Ratio: Full screen Audio: English stereo Subtitles: Francais Time: 136 minutes What sets this new set apart from previous releases is the inclusion of DeMille’s 1923 version of the silent film version of “The Ten Commandments”. The 1923 version takes the biblical story and compresses it in the beginning of the picture. The story then moves to 1923 and the Exodus story is used as an allegory for modern characters. I did not watch this version in its entirety, but instead I skipped through the chapters to evaluate picture and sound quality. Video and Audio: The 4x3 black and white image is excellent. Paramount has taken great care in restoring the picture as it is free from almost any dirt. It shows exceptional detail for its age and condition, although you will notice several instances of shimmering. Much like Warner’s release of the original “King Kong” last year, these types of problems are unavoidable with pictures this old. Grey scale is accurate, blacks are deep and whites are smooth and clean. The audio track is in stereo and it is great presentation of the organ music that accompanies the film. The music is clean, fresh and clear, and I often noticed the LFE kicking in to enhance the lower notes. Bonus Material: This version and its bonus material are all on disc three of the set. Feature Commentary by Katherine Orrison, Author of “Written in Stone: Making Cecil B. DeMille’s Epic, The Ten Commandments: As with the other commentary, I skimmed parts of each chapter. Orrison gives quite a bit of detail about the production, the actors and the sets. Hand-tinted Footage of the Exodus and Parting of the Red Sea Sequence: This is an interesting demonstration of an attempt to colorize the picture. It is actually not badly done, but as with most colorization processes, it is unnecessary. Conclusions: Although this is basically a re-release of a previous disc, Paramount has enhanced it a bit by providing us with a piece of cinematic history in the form of the 1923 silent version. They also give us a nice window box packaging. “The Ten Commandments” shows us a bygone Hollywood at its finest, when epic productions truly delivered.