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Ten Commandments Digibook
Before we get to the movies and the extras, I want to point out that the three Blu-ray discs that come with this package are the exact same ones that were part of the giant Limited Edition Gift Set. Everything, down to the exact transfers and extras in the discs, is the same. This package just doesn't include any of the shiny stuff that came with the gift set, but does offer a spiffy booklet with various essays and information about the films. So if you'd like an alternate take on the films, the transfers, and the extras, you can read Adam Tyner's review here.
The Ten Commandments (1956): The 1950s was the decade of over-indulgent historical epics that cost more than the budget of every studio film made in the 1930s. Cecil B. Demille's giant retelling of the exodus story is one of the central pictures of this era, complete with the go-to Hollywood epic star Charlton Heston as the bearded one with the tablets. Moses' story into releasing his Jewish tribe from the clutches of Egyptian bondage (A word repeated so many times, you can build a drinking game around it) is structured via gorgeous Technicolor cinematography and the most dazzling sound stages the golden era Hollywood could muster. Even though its' groundbreaking-for-their-time optical effects look dated now, adding to the film's charm in my opinion, it's still a vital piece of Hollywood history and a rousing, if not slowly paced at times, biblical epic.
The Ten Commandments (1923): DeMille's silent trial run for the true vision he'd put together three decades later presents impressive grandeur and detail for its time and budget. The locations, extras, and special effects come together to form a dazzling vision of Exodus that could be formulated for the time. The problem is that DeMille didn't have enough resources to build an entire feature out of the story, so the last two-thirds of the film is spent on an overwrought morality tale/melodrama that depicts a then-modern Cain and Abel tale. I'd shut it off at around the 50-minute mark.
1956: This is the same transfer that's been available on Blu-ray through various packaging. The 1080p transfer is borderline hypnotic with its brilliant use of bright colors and astounding depth. This is one old-school Hollywood Technicolor look you need on-hand for a demo.
1923: Usually, the transfers of "extra" films in box sets are handled in a "you get what you get" fashion. That's not the case here. The 1923 version is fully scrubbed and restored into a clear and crisp 1080p transfer.
1956: The DTS-HD 5.1 track captures the film's epic score with spectacular depth and clarity. The dialogue is clean, and the remix offers a surprising amount of surround presence for a film of this period.
1923: The DTS-HD 2.0 track offers a solid musical accompaniment for the film. Nothing too special, but it gets the job done.
Audio Commentary: The Ten Commandments and DeMille expert Katherine Orrison offers an insightful lesson on the film's production and the historical detail it tries to capture. It's certainly a delight for fans of the film.
Newsreel: A brief newsreel report of the premiere at the time, complete with the stereotypical nasally narration.
Making Miracles: A feature length documentary on the making of the 1956 version, full of interviews with experts and historians about the production and the details of the Exodus story itself. This is so good; it could have been released as a feature by itself.
Hand-tinted Footage: The Red Sea parting sequence from the 1923 version with a color tint.
Two-color Tenchicolor: Footage from the 1923 version with the then-revolutionary two-color process.
We also get Trailers and a Photo Gallery.
If you already got the more robust gift set, don't bother with this one. But if you're looking for a complete Ten Commandments experience that won't break the bank, this is a great option.
Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com