The Ultimate Edition of The Ten Commandments
A Limited Edition set with DVD and Blu-ray, 1956 and 1923 versions and more
"The Ten Commandments" (Paramount)
Charlton Heston is Moses. Who else the but the granite-jawed beefcake could go from prince to slave to savior without losing that steely intensity? Cecil B. DeMille’s epic has it all: orgies, monumental sets, a cast of thousands, and the still astounding parting of the Red Sea, with nary a digital effect in sight. With the subtlety of a plague, DeMille’s second version of the Old Testament story (his first was in 1923) shows once again that cagey showmanship can overcome a stodgy screenplay as the grim, heroic Moses leads a cast of thousands to the Promised Land, which in this case is big box office. The cast includes Yul Brynner as the Egyptian king his brother turned nemesis (a tale of sibling rivalry even bigger than Cain and Abel), a hissing Anne Baxter as the scheming queen, an oily Edward G. Robinson as a conniving turncoat, baby-faced John Derek, a silky smooth Vincent Prince, eternal exotic movie maiden Debra Paget, and many more. The last film by Cecil B. DeMille, who had a heart attack during the arduous production [see MSN exclusive clip below] was also his most successful. He personally introduced the film and narrated it with passages from the Old Testament.
The film was released in a 50th Anniversary edition in 2006. For its 55th Anniversary, Paramount rereleases the film in two-disc DVD and presents the Blu-ray debut in a two-disc edition, both with the 2006 commentary by author/historian Katherine Orrison. She pegs the film perfectly in her commentary when she calls the old fashioned, sometimes wooden, but always lavish production “a pageant” and packs the production history into her talk.
But those pale, all least in terms of size, scope and showmanship, next to the "Limited Edition Gift Set," a massive six-disc box set that includes the above-mentioned DVD and Blu-ray editions, plus two bonus discs of supplements, including a Blu-ray edition of the original 1923 silent version of the film (previously available in the "50th Anniversary" DVD set). This first take spends a mere 45 minutes of the film's 135-minute running time) in ancient Egypt with Moses the Law Giver before jumping to the present for a tale of two brothers, one moral and stalwart (Richard Dix), the other a cynical jazz-age kid (Rod La Rocque) who vows to break all the commandments and, by the end, succeeds better than he could have imagined. This is DeMille in the midst of his transition from the lively, witty director of sex farces and sexy romantic comedies with jazz-age sensibilities to the humorless director of white elephant epics, where he's simultaneously become both more lurid and more pious, reveling in the sins of his characters and then punishing their excess to provide a lesson for us all. But he also provides the spectacle that made his reputation, from the sex and decadence to a stunning parting of the Red Sea and a pyrotechnic display of God's will as he hands Moses the commandments. See Parallax View for more on the 1923 version.
The new edition also features the new 75-minute documentary "The Ten Commandments: Making Miracles," 20 minutes hand-tinted footage of the Exodus and Parting of the Red Sea Sequence from the 1923 version (from DeMille's personal print), 8 minutes of two-color Technicolor footage from the 1923 version, newsreel footage, stills and trailers, plus postcards of original costume sketches, production notes from Cecil B. DeMille, correspondence from Charlton Heston, a reproduction of the premiere booklet and a new hardcover collectible booklet.
And the showmanship doesn't end there. The set comes in a substantial box with a lenticular image of the parting of the Red Sea on the cover, and it opens up he middle, by parting the Red Sea. Yes, it's what's called concept packaging and it continues inside: the discs are held in a plastic case in the image of the stone tablets. A funky idea but a frustrating design, as the case splits lengthwise into two halves, held together by magnets, with one half featuring hinged trays. Awkward to say the least, but a conversation piece to be sure.