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.