DVD Review HTF REVIEW: The Ten Commandments - Special Collector's Edition (Recommended)

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Scott Kimball, Mar 6, 2004.

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  1. Scott Kimball

    Scott Kimball Screenwriter

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    [​IMG]

    The Ten Commandments

    Special Collector's Edition

    Studio: Paramount

    Year: 1956

    Rated: G

    Length: 231 minutes

    Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

    Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1, English Dolby Surround, French Mono

    English Subtitles, Closed Captioned

    Special Features: Commentary by Katherine Orrison, Six-part Documentary, Premiere Newsreel, Trailers

    SRP: $19.99US


    Release Date: March 9, 2004





    The Ten Commandments
    Starring:
    Charleton Heston
    Yul Brynner
    Anne Baxter
    Yvonne De Carlo
    John Derek
    Edward G. Robinson
    Vincent Price
    John Carradine

    Directed by Cecil B. DeMille
    Music by Elmer Bernstein

    Pauline Kael once said of Cecil B. DeMille that he made small-minded pictures on a big scale. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments overcomes the small-minded moniker. To say that it is grand in scale, however, is an understatement. It is one of those classic films that’s more pageant than movie. It is an early-modern epic film. Unlike other, more recent epics like Gladiator, it plays more like a stage play than film. DeMille’s melodramatic silent cinema origins are apparent from the first moments. The set design, the dialog, the characterizations - they are all larger than life. That’s appropriate, I suppose, for the story of Moses.

    The story opens in Egypt. With the pharaoh's threat to kill all firstborn hebrew sons to avoid a prophecy that could bring down the ruler, a hebrew slave sends her son down the Nile in a basket, hoping that whoever would find him would have mercy and, not truly knowing the origin’s of the boy, would raise him.

    It so happens that he is found by the pharaoh’s daughter, who calls the child Moses and raises him as her own.

    We flash forward about thirty years to find that Moses has been accepted as a son of the pharaoh, and has gained his favor over Rameses - the pharaoh's true son. Inevitably, Moses discovers his true identity, and yearns to free his people from slavery.

    For me, it’s the first half of the film that is most interesting - the love triangle between Moses, Nefretiri and Rameses; Rameses jealousy of Moses and his attempts to sabotage his brother in order to gain his father’s favor; the inevitable discovery of Moses’ origin, and the political fallout that follows - followed by his banishment to the desert.

    In the second half of the film, Moses settles down and takes a new wife (though he had an Ethiopian wife earlier, who appears in the film but is not identified as Moses wife). He makes his way up Mount Sinai and talks to God, and is instructed to free the slaves of Egypt.

    With a Staff of God and a hebrew friend, Moses returns to Egypt and causes minor miracles in an attempt to convince the new pharaoh Rameses that he should free the slaves.

    For those who have seen the film, continuing on in the description of the narrative is irrelevant. For those who have not seen the film, I won’t go any further so as not to spoil a wonderful, epic story. Though the film clocks in at 231 minutes including the overture, intermission and exit music, it is a compelling film throughout.

    This epic film was built on an epic budget for the time (1956), and also had an impressive amount of location shooting in Egypt - which was not an easy thing to do at the time. The special effects were quite impressive for the day - and they still don’t disappoint. Yes, you can see occasional matte lines on composite shots that combine as many as three sets into one - but it was definitely an impressive outing at the time. And the technicolor process results in striking color throughout.

    The Look
    The Ten Commandments is anamorphically enhanced and is presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The image is slightly soft in appearance, an effect which is occasionally accentuated by matte effects. The transfer is identical to the 1999 DVD release of the film - serving up occasional dust and scratches. It is remarkably clean for its age, however. The image is bright and high in contrast - thanks in part to the heavy lighting needed for the technicolor process. Black levels are strong and shadow detail is excellent. Colors are wondrously vibrant. There appear to be no sharpening artifacts or compression artifacts. Though not digitally restored, this is a satisfying transfer at a bargain price.

    The Sound
    Three soundtracks are available on the disc: English Dolby Digital 5.1, English Dolby Surround and French Mono. Dialog is firmly rooted in the center channel, while music and effects are adequately served up from the entire soundstage. Frequency response is good, with adequate bass response - though LFE is lacking when compared to more modern fare. The soundtrack seems identical to the 1999 release, with the exception of a change in the default track. This new Special Collector’s Edition defaults to the 5.1 track, while the previous release defaulted to the English Surround track.

    The Package
    I find myself needing to mention packaging yet again - something I usually find with insufficient relevance to mention in a review. Lately, it seems, I make exceptions.

    The two disc set I received was packaged in a “Scanavo 2/One X-tra” case - and it is one I am less than enthused about. In this type of packaging, the case double-width and has only one hinged opening. Both of the discs are attached to independent hubs on the same side of the case, overlapping. This requires a juggling act, since you can’t remove the bottom disc without first removing the top one. Why is it that manufacturer’s think they can improve on a case design, but in so doing, create such a poor interface for the consumer. If there wasn’t a better solution which has existed for years already, I could be more forgiving. My only thought on the reasoning behind this type of case is that the manufacturer indicates that this design is able to be machine packed - saving on packaging costs at the expense of long-term usability.

    The Scanavo package is also available in a single-wide version, but the double-wide accommodates a larger insert booklet. It’s too bad Paramount has not seen fit to include an insert to take advantage of all this space.

    Finally, it may be coincidence, but of the nearly 50 discs I have received from Paramount, this is the first package of this type I have received - and it’s the first time I’ve had “floaters.” Both discs had become released from their hubs and were scratched during shipping. Thankfully, I was able to buff the scuff marks off the discs.

    I like the cover art - but there isn’t much else positive about the packaging.

    As for the discs themselves: Disc One contains the film up to the intermission. Disc Two contains the Second Act of the film, and the special features.

    Special Features

    Commentary by Katherine Orrison,
    author of Written in Stone - Making Cecil B. DeMille’s Epic, The Ten Commandments.

    This commentary is worth the price of the disc alone. While I have only had time to sample about an hour of the commentary track, Orrison is a bottomless well of information about the film, DeMille, and the historical context of Moses and of the film itself. She tells us when the film deviates from or adheres to historical record. She also tells us of the authenticity of the sets and props. She fills us in on the details of the effects shots and processes of the time, of casting choices, anecdotes both big and small.

    For some 220 minutes, Ms. Orrison hardly ever stops for breath.

    Quite simply, this is now one of my favorite DVD commentaries. Excellent!

    6 Part Documentary: Moses, The Chosen People, The Land of the Pharaohs, The Paramount Lot, The Score, and Mr. DeMille.
    All six parts of the documentary add up to a bit less than 40 minutes, but we get to see Charleton Heston and a few surviving cast members of The Ten Commandments, as well as Ceclia DeMille Presley and Elmer Bernstein, look back on and discuss this landmark film. While this short documentary is mildly interesting, the real meat of the making of The Ten Commandments is in the commentary. No production date is given for the documentary, but the interviews are contemporary.

    Newsreel of the film’s New York Premiere.

    The 1956 “Making Of” trailer

    The 1966 trailer

    The 1989 trailer


    Final Thoughts

    The Ten Commandments is a motion picture landmark. While it seems somewhat stolid today, there can be little argument about the film’s greatness, and its place in motion picture history.

    Paramount has packaged the same transfer of the film as the previous DVD release into this Special Collector’s Edition, which includes an excellent commentary by Katherine Orrison. The source print, while showing some signs of its age, delivers a beautiful transfer with colors that are candy for the eyes. Packaging in the Scanavo cases leaves much to be desired, but I’ve been hearing that some discs are showing up in Amaray cases. At any rate, with a suggested retail price of $19.99, this special edition of The Ten Commandments is a bargain.

    Recommended.
     
  2. oscar_merkx

    oscar_merkx Lead Actor

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    Thanks for a fantastic review and I had nearly forgotten about this one until I spotted the review

    [​IMG]
     
  3. Dave Scarpa

    Dave Scarpa Producer

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    I would think that because the previous edition was 2 disks and Bare Bones it might sport higher bitrate than this 2disk release. But then again encodingtech has improved. I don't remember the other release being soft....
     
  4. Steve Schaffer

    Steve Schaffer Producer

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    this shipped from Laser's Edge last Wednesday, and having read many other places of the "floaters" I'm really worried about scratches.

    Scott, what method did you use to buff out the scratches?
     
  5. Patrick McCart

    Patrick McCart Lead Actor

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    I'll probably pick this up... although, I really wish Paramount could have gone the extra mile and made it a 3-disc edition by including the 1923 silent version of the film, also directed by DeMille.
     
  6. Jeff_HR

    Jeff_HR Producer

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    Give me a fat double Alpha keepcase anyday & get rid of this kind of horse manure packaging! Good review. I'll be rebuying for the extras. [​IMG]
     
  7. Scott Kimball

    Scott Kimball Screenwriter

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    I agree 100%. I hope that Paramount reads all the negative reviews on this packaging, and avoids this format in the future. It is not user friendly, or disc friendly.

    -Scott
     
  8. Steve Schaffer

    Steve Schaffer Producer

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    My copy arrived in the mail yesterday, the packaging was identical to that of The Abyss 2 disc set--a fat double case with 2 openings, and the discs were not floating!

    Maybe Paramount made a quick change at the last minute or maybe they're supplying different packaging for mail order outlets.

    I only watched the first half last night with the commentary on, and this is among the very best commentaries I've ever heard. Not only do we get tons of information on how the movie was made but also a lot of historical and biblical background on the story of Moses itself. This commentary alone was more than worth the double dip.
     
  9. Bill Williams

    Bill Williams Screenwriter

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    Whose lamebrain idea was it to package such an epic into such a crappy case to begin with? That just makes no sense whatsoever. Give me a standard Alpha double case any day! And no booklet at all? Shame on you, Paramount! They could have at least designed the booklet in the style of the two stone tablets Moses carries down, to give it that added look (sans the granite, of course).

    I, for one, am glad I held out for this version on DVD. The previous release was nothing more than a direct port of the 35th Anniversary Edition previously released on VHS. (And Paramount decided to milk it by re-releasing it as the 40th Anniversary Edition - same features, same packaging, just changing the 35 to 40! And we give George Luca$ hell because of his multiple SW releases... mercy...)
     
  10. aaron campbell

    aaron campbell Second Unit

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    Just picked this up today. A Special Collector's Edition with no booklet[​IMG] Get it together Paramount!
     
  11. Craig Robertson

    Craig Robertson Supporting Actor

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    the first one i picked up at BB today rattled pretty bad, obvious floater. i shook the second carfully to make sure no floating discs.
     
  12. Tony Scello

    Tony Scello Second Unit

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    Picked this up yesterday in a trusty, reliable fat double Alpha case (white, two openings) although I did notice that other retailers only had the newer case with one opening. Paramount could have thrown in an insert sheet/booklet but the reasonable pricing on this set more than makes up for it in my opinion.
     
  13. Jeff_HR

    Jeff_HR Producer

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    I watched this last night. The commentary was very good & the documentary wasn't bad either. I put the DVDs in a fat double Alpha keepcase as soon as I got home & threw away the crappy packaging. I had to try several of them to find one without a floater.
     
  14. Chris Stainton

    Chris Stainton Second Unit

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    My local Circuit City had the same thick Alpha case Tony describes above. What a deal for only $12.99.
     
  15. Tim Glover

    Tim Glover Lead Actor

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    Sam's has is for $11.43. [​IMG]
     
  16. Randy A Salas

    Randy A Salas Screenwriter

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    Oh, please! Paramount does have it together. How can anyone quibble after reading the prices people are citing? If no booklet and crappy packaging are the tradeoff for two great discs for a pittance, I'll take the two great discs for a pittance any day.

    Speaking of crappy packaging, my discs were marked up pretty badly and I dreaded getting halfway through the nearly four-hour movie only to have playback problems. Paramount's PR firm kindly sent another copy. True to form, both discs were loose in the replacement, too.

    I'd be interested to know if anyone who got the crappy-packaged version by mail didn't have loose discs. What a truly awful format. I don't understand why the case would have that huge width--and thus all that empty space--when the whole point is to save space by overlapping the discs.
     
  17. Steve Schaffer

    Steve Schaffer Producer

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    Randy,

    as mine was from Laser's edge and came in the double Alpha I think maybe the crappy packaging is only in B&M stores.

    It would probably complicate shipping a lot if this were stocked by 'net outlets in a double-width case.
     
  18. David Von Pein

    David Von Pein Producer

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    I agree. Good question.

    It seems that the DVD Packaging industry is no different than any other product .... meaning (generally) that if it's touted as "new & improved", you can bet it'll be much worse than the original. Just like Coca-Cola, breakfast cereals, and many other foods and products.

    What happened to the old adages like "Leave well enough alone" or "If the DVD case has a good hub and is user-friendly and looks nice, don't fix it!"?? [​IMG] [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    I've yet to encounter one of these horrid "Scanavo" overlapping cases. I received my Ten Commandments in a 2-disc thick Alpha, another type I don't care for very much. And I didn't care for the white case that was used for Commandments. For some reason, I just don't feel that white is appropriate for this release. For "Ice Age", yes...it looks great with that cover art. Commandments should be in a gray or black case, IMO. Silly, I guess, but that's the way I feel.

    I've cut down the cover art a tad, and it fits just nice in a single-width Amaray. Much better. [​IMG]

    The "Scanavo" people seem to like the idea that all discs can be seen at once. (Don't see why this is such a priority, especially considering you really still can't see all of each disc...just a portion of the bottom one.)

    From www.scanavo.com site .....
    >> "2/One Overlap Xtra thick model is based on a unique patented overlap system, which enables one case to hold two discs - both visible at the same time."

    >> "Avoid extra costs for insert trays, inventory space and extra handling."

    >> "Extra booklet space, we recommend up to 8mm."
    (So what happens?? ... We get NO booklet w/10 Commandments.) [​IMG]

    >> "Featuring the DVD friendly rosette/hub and the patented overlap system." -- Well, at least they probably won't have to be concerned with a myriad of companies wanting to steal this patent! And as far as the Rosie O'Donnell hub (or rosette, or some such thing [​IMG]), it appears based on the number of floaters experienced in this thread that it's far from "DVD Friendly". More like "DVD Buffer Friendly". [​IMG] [​IMG]

    Just look at this monster! Anybody ever get one of these "Complaints Waiting To Happen" type of case? .......

    [​IMG]

    Good luck getting a Collector's 8-Page booklet in that one. [​IMG]
     
  19. David Von Pein

    David Von Pein Producer

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    I see that Nexpak is making some new cases too. All of which I'd prefer over those Scanavo horrors.

    Anybody seen this one yet? ......

    Descriptive blurb: "Specialty paperboard construction for maximizing graphical impact on all case panels and outer boxes."
    [​IMG]
     
  20. Jeff_HR

    Jeff_HR Producer

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    It should have been released in a sandy colored keepcase to match the art. I love 2-disc thick Alphas & other wide keepcases. Every other type of multi-disc packaging is useless IMHO. [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
     

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