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by Sara Foss

Thinking It Through

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Ten Amazing Things About “The Ten Commandments”

By Sara Foss
Thursday, April 17, 2014

At the beginning on Lent, I suddenly got the urge to watch the 1956 film “The Ten Commandments.” I’d never seen it before, and it suddenly seemed like I should. I didn’t necessarily think I would enjoy it — a nearly four-hour Bible epic? — but I felt motivated to cross it off one of my film lists and move on with life.

The best way to see an epic, special-effects laden film is on the big screen, and so I was very excited to learn that Proctors was showing “The Ten Commandments.” Last Sunday I headed over to the theater to experience director Cecil B. DeMille’s treatment of the story of Moses for myself.

And I loved “The Ten Commandments.” This is an amazing film, on multiple levels. Much like “Titanic” or “Gone With the Wind,” It’s the sort of film that only Hollywood can do — an over-the-top, shamelessly entertaining spectacle that runs the emotional gamut. That it just happens to tell a classic religious story is just icing on the cake.

Anyway, here are 10 things I thought were absolutely amazing about “The Ten Commandments”:

10. The colors — Having just watched “Noah,” I was amazed at how colorful “The Ten Commandments” is. “Noah” is gray and post-apocalyptic — my mother compared it to the Kevin Costner film “Waterworld.” But “The Ten Commandments” is vibrant — full of bright primary colors. Even the desert scenes are colorful, mainly because of the attention DeMille gives to details — to the way the sky looks at night, or Mount Sinai’s fiery silhouette.

9. The stupidity of the humans — If one thing about the story of Moses (and most Bible stories in general) has stuck with me, it’s the stupidity of the humans. No matter what God tells them to do, they always disobey or screw it up in some way. Seemingly within moments of Moses departing for Mount Sinai, the stupid humans bust out the golden calf and transform their humble encampment into a bacchanalia.

8. The cast — I could go on and on about this amazing cast. First of all: Who knew the men and women in the Bible were so attractive? Last week I got to see Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly play Noah and his wife; in “The Ten Commandments,” I got to watch screen legends such as Charlton Heston, Anne Baxter, Yul Brynner and Edward G. Robinson. Robinson isn’t the most attractive guy, but he more than makes up for it with his charismatic screen presence. In any case, watching Heston, as Moses, transform from a clean-shaven, physically fit prince into a haunted, bearded prophet is great fun.

7. The melodrama — At times, “The Ten Commandments” feels like a juicy soap opera. Will Nefretiri end up with Rameses or Moses? Will Moses realize he’s meant to be with Sephora? Will Joshua rescue his true love, Lilia, from the treacherous Dathan? I could go on. In any case, if you’re looking for romantic intrigue, you can do worse than “The Ten Commandments.”

6. The animals — “Noah” has a lot of animals, but they were all computer-generated. The animals in “The Ten Commandments,” on the other hand, are 100 percent real. No fake camels or donkeys in this film.

5. Vincent Price as the slave master Baka — Why am I singling out Vincent Price? Because any film with price is worth watching, and as soon as I heard his voice I recognized him and thought, “Wow, I didn’t know Vincent Price was in this!” Two days earlier, I watched him play an almost-mad scientist in the low-budget William Castle horror film “The Tingler.” He’s the rare actor who can enliven a cheap B movie and also elevate one of the most lavish films ever made.

4. The special effects — The first half of “The Ten Commandments” is impressive, but not quite as impressive as the second half, because there are more special effects. Moses’ staff turns into a snake, God appears as burning bush, the Angel of Death — depicted as an ominous greenish-black cloud — descends and kills the Egyptians’ first-born sons. Yes, God is pretty violent and wrathful in the Old Testament, which results in the sort of plot twists you might find in a horror movie.

3. The locations — “The Ten Commandments” was filmed on location, in Egypt Mount Sinai and the Sinai Peninsula. Again, no computer generated effects here!

2. Cecil B. DeMille — “The Ten Commandments” opens with DeMille himself, speaking to the audience. The director suffered a heart attack while on location in Egypt, but managed to recover and complete the film. The movie is a big Hollywood spectacle, but is also bears the undeniably personal stamp a man who cared deeply about religion and was fascinated by religious stories.

1. The parting of the Red Sea — This scene alone is worth sitting through 220 minutes of the life of Moses. It is really impressive — one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen in a movie theater. The sight of those massive waves crashing down upon the Pharoah’s army is a stunning piece of cinema, and something I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

Got a comment? Email me at sfoss@dailygazette.net.

 
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