Being the preeminent biblical tale of Hollywood choice, "The Ten Commandments" gets another facelift, this time in the crowded field of CG-animated cartoons. Amen? Now imagine if the feature had next to nothing in the way of a budget or access to proper voice actors. Things are looking less heavenly now.
The story of Moses (voiced by Christian Slater), his horde of Hebrews, the ire of Rameses, the parting of the Red Sea, and the creation of two stone tablets chock full of God's will (given vocal life by Elliot Gould) has been told time and again, best in the form of the 1956 live-action perennial and the underrated, traditionally animated "Prince of Egypt." This new "Commandments" is actually the first step from Promenade Pictures to animate tales of the bible to baby-sit receptive little kids, removing what adults would recognize as "substance" and "quality" from their product for reasons I couldn't begin to fathom.
Needless to say, this new "Commandments" is the work of the devil himself.
Starting out with the obvious, the animation of this film is appalling. No, that's not harsh enough. It's unprofessional. It's like watching a feature-length pre-vis reel; the characters are stiff and featureless (and the men have cleavage that would make Mamie Van Doren jealous), the backgrounds flat and primary colored, and rest of the film looks about 20% completed. I'm not sure why any company would even want to attempt a CG film without the proper cash to grease the effort, but methinks Promenade assumed they could slide by because, well, it's a bible story for goodness' sake. Those should be above criticism.
I suppose that's true to a certain degree, and "Commandments" is most assuredly harmless entertainment. However, this is a sloppy feature, and that can't be ignored. It goes beyond the putrid animation to the screenplay by Ed Naha, who simplifies the narrative by making the Hebrews into a squealing throng of whiners (some with New York accents!) and pares the story down to the barest of essentials, using narration by Ben "I'll do anything for money" Kingsley to patch the considerable holes in the story. This "Commandments" is all about the action and simplest of conflicts, making one long for the four hours Cecil B. DeMille had to flesh out his version.
The horrible CGI is deceptive, but the "Ten Commandments" DVD offers an acceptable presentation on this anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1 aspect ratio) disc. Perhaps too contrasty at times, the colors leap off the screen as intended, and the image is crisp enough to remind the viewer of the animation's painful limitations.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track is a satisfactory mix, with the boisterous voice work given a sparkling presentation. Action sequences and music takes the sound dimension further, resulting in an enjoyable audio experience.
A music video for Jeremy Camp's "I Am Willing" (3 minutes) is included. As videos go, this one is as basic as they come, with footage of Camp singing in front of a brick wall intercut with film clips.
"The Ten Commandments Challenge" (2 minutes) asks the viewer: how well do you know your commandments? Taking to the street to quiz people on their biblical awareness, the short game reveals the obvious: most fail the interrogation. The game concludes with a handy way to remember God's rules.
"Origins" (3 minutes) is a brief featurette covering the production, interviewing cast and crew on their inspirations and hopes for the project.
"Alfred Molina as 'Ramses'" (3 minutes) sits down with the actor to discuss his performance in the picture. Molina is enthusiastic enough and the featurette contains interesting recording session footage.
"Christian Slater as 'Moses'" (3 minutes) is another actor spotlight, only this time Slater looks a little peeved to be answering questions about his participation in the film.
Finally, a theatrical trailer is included.
Truthfully, children would be better off with any incarnation of "The Ten Commandments" other than this update. It makes "Veggie Tales" look like a Stephen Hawking daydream, and animation purists will surely eject the DVD in minutes after watching Promenade try to pass off Playstation cinema scenes as big screen artistry.
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