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Ten Commandments (4K UHD + Blu-ray + Digital), The
The Ten Commandments is touted on the slipcover as "the greatest epic of all time." This may be a retroactive judgement, or director Cecil B. DeMille may have been self-glossing in 1956 when the picture originally came out. Whatever the case, at almost four-hours in length, the cinematic story of Moses is certainly great, and epic, and timeless as well. This new 4k Ultra-HD 3-disc set from Paramount Movies is timeless too, presenting the movie likely better than it has ever looked and with a commentary track plus a couple additional extras.
The story of Moses is well-known for many, but certainly not all. A legendary prophet of Judaism and many other Abrahamic religions, said to have lived somewhere in the neighborhood (taking an average of estimates) of 1400 years BCE, Moses survived the killing of male Israelite children by the Egyptian Pharaoh when his infant form was placed in a basket and floated to (relative) safety on the river Nile. Found floating by Pharaoh's daughter, Moses was raised as a Prince of Egypt, before discovering his roots and eventually ‘finding God' (as it were), freeing the Israelites from bondage, and setting the more licentious ones aright by presenting the Ten Commandments, as delivered to him by God. It's pretty serious stuff for a movie, and deserving of the grand depiction crafted by DeMille and a literal army of actors, movie-makers, special-effects wizards, and extras.
Indeed, The Ten Commandments functions much like Marvel Cinematic Universe movies do today. It was the tent-pole of all tent-poles, a monster of cinematic wizardry, a spectacle to behold, with stars up the wazoo, and things never-before seen onscreen to justify its expense. Of course, back then one couldn't justify such expense and excess on a bunch of superheroes in tights, so biblical and historical epics were the only option.
As a demonstration of the actor's craft, the movie hinges on almost anything but superstar Charlton Heston's performance as Moses, a rather wooden turn that doesn't crank into gear until he gets truly biblical in the final scenes. Earlier line readings come off more as recitations than the impassioned words of a prophet, though obviously as a Prince he'd be less inclined to emote thoroughly. That said, others bring more force, including Yul Brynner as Rameses. Brynner's sense of menace, arrogance, and ultimate surrender to the fates is quite well realized, while Anne Baxter as his mate Nefritiri also crafts her role with grace and pathos. It's important to mention at this point that, though a Biblical story, The Ten Commandments certainly contains a good deal "competition for the woman's heart" theatrics between Baxter, Heston, and Brynner, something that was probably less central to the original story of the prophet, but that certainly makes for ‘modern viewing.'
The Ten Commandments may have been wildly important to people of faith in the 1950s. It appears that it was beyond a labor of love and an incredibly significant undertaking for the director, who specialized in religious epics, and may rightfully have seen this remake as the crowning achievement of his career. But even as a dour treatise and heavyweight viewing experience, it is above all else a spectacle, a worthy and influential advancement of the movie-going experience that now often requires the promise of sights-heretofore-unseen, buildings crumbling and armies of thousands breaking like waves upon one another, in order to get butts in seats for relatively sprightly two-and-a-half hour movies. At the time it was unequaled, with teeming Israelites, vast vistas, words with God and seas parting, scenes that still crackle with thrills and portent. The only disappointment for modern viewers may be the short shrift given to the Plagues of Egypt, truncated to include only bloody water, but hey, what are you gonna do?
At nearly four hours in length, including (mind you) an overture, introduction scene, and intermission with 5-minutes of music, The Ten Commandments is a grand piece of work. A somewhat modernistic emphasis on the many loves of Moses seems a bit overcooked, while the lead performance from Charlton Heston puts plenty of lead into lead (if you get my drift), an aspect that's more than made up for by Yul Brynner's commanding turn, and others, from the unctuousness of Edward G. Robinson, Vincent Price, Anne Baxter, to many, many more. The spectacle on display is still vibrant, exciting, and astounding too. Whether a believer, fan, or just as someone looking to fill in their ‘classics' score card, one can't go wrong enjoying this stunning film, here in 3-disc form, (one for the 4k Ultra HD presentation, and two discs to handle the film on Blu-ray) with an exhaustive, previously released commentary track from DeMille scholar Katherine Orrison. This Paramount release is Highly Recommended.
The Ten Commandments comes off the Mount in a 1.85:1 ratio 4k HDR transfer from Paramount. Colors are stunning, dazzling with a richness and depth that's pretty amazing. The entire gamut appears faithful to Director of Photography Loyal Griggs and DeMille's vision, totally enveloping one's vision. So true is the representation, one could probably name the shades of makeup used. Details are incredibly crisp in this 2160p presentation, enhanced by Dolby Vision, making the film look sharper than ever before. This of course renders some of the compositing used for special effects shots more noticeable, with the clarity in some elements not matching up perfectly, or rather standing out more than they would have on the screen in the ‘50s, but that's what one gets from such an exacting scan, though work was done to ameliorate this. Per Paramount: "As part of the restoration done in 2010, the film was scanned in 6K and those files were the basis for this brand new Dolby Vision version, which shows off the full beauty of the original VistaVision negative […] Paramount spent well over 150 hours doing new color work and clean-up on the scan. The move to Dolby Vision created the opportunity to further improve the look of the film: blacks are enhanced and improvements were made to smooth out special effects mattes to create the most vibrant and pristine image possible." The film elements look great, with amazing contrast on this triple-layer UHD, creating a vastly noticeable upgrade from previous Blu-ray releases.
Audio presentation consists of a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio carried over from the earlier Blu-ray release. The upfront stereo image delivers a sturdy dynamic range and clean, crisp dialog, as well as a robust surround elements. As expected for a recording almost 70-years old, the bulk of the action is front and center, though rear-channel sounds enhance larger crowd scenes. Overall, The Ten Commandments sounds better than expected for its age and source, and also comes with a French Language Mono Audio Dolby Digital Audio track.
Extras include a Slipcover and author Katherine Orrison's previously available, exhaustive and highly educational Commentary Track on both the 4k disc and Blu-ray discs, as well as a brief New York Premier Newsreel (educational in its own right) some Trailers, and a Digital Redemption Code. The point here, then, is the image and audio upgrade, which, if you've read this far, will likely seem worthwhile.
At nearly four hours in length, The Ten Commandments is a grand piece of work. As a Biblical epic, the somewhat modernistic emphasis on the many loves of Moses seems a bit overcooked, and the lead performance from Charlton Heston is mostly leaden, an aspect that's more than made up for by co-star Yul Brynner's commanding turn, and those of others, from the unctuousness of Edward G. Robinson, Vincent Price, Anne Baxter, and many more. The grand-scale spectacle on display is still vibrant, exciting, and astounding. Whether a believer, fan, or just as someone looking to fill in their ‘classics' score card, one can't go wrong enjoying this stunning film, here in 3-disc form, (one for the 4k Ultra HD presentation, and two discs to handle the film on Blu-ray) with a previously issued exhaustive commentary track from DeMille scholar Katherine Orrison, This Paramount release is Highly Recommended for those looking to get an AV upgrade, and especially if this will be the first time you bring this into your collection.
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