Widely regarded as the greatest of the biblical epics, Cecil B. DeMille’s masterpiece comes home to UHD
The Ten Commandments is new on 4K UHD Blu-ray this week from Paramount Pictures.
Even 65 years after its release, The Ten Commandments remains one of the biggest jewels in the crown of Paramount Pictures; a towering accomplishment of big budget filmmaking in the age of epics.
Director Cecil B. DeMille’s account of the story of Moses, a partial remake of his own 1923 silent picture of the same title, features an all-star cast, old-school epic storytelling, impressive special effects, and themes of freedom and faith that still resonate.
More than mere entertainment, the film was exhaustively and painstakingly researched, and DeMille and his team of storytellers took great care with the script to remain faithful to the Biblical account of the Pentateuch, while also acknowledging that many aspects of Moses and his peers’ personal histories were simply not recorded in the Bible — and filling in those blanks thoughtfully with a combination of creative writing and referencing extrabiblical narrratives. Characters are given names, motivations, and even romances where the biblical account is silent.
So concerned was DeMille with these liberties that he opens his film by literally stepping out in person to introduce it, and to acknowledge that portions of the tale were necessarily fictionalized to flesh out the story in a way that would play out meaningfully on the screen. This introduction, along with the film’s long-format trailer (which appears as a special feature within this package), helped me realize something I hadn’t really considered in prior viewings of this film: This wasn’t merely a big blockbuster event movie, but the work of a director who very much wanted to honor the material with both reverence and great affection.
The story is that of Moses (Charlton Heston), a prince of Egypt who learns the secret of his own origin — that he is a Hebrew, a scion not of the Pharaoh’s royal bloodline, but of the race of slaves that Egypt commands to build their mighty cities. The ensuing identity crisis pits him at odds with his brother Rameses (Yul Brynner), and after an encounter with God in the desert, Moses is burdened with great purpose: to step into the role that he was created for, and deliver his people out of bondage and lead them to a land promised by God.
So goes the broad strokes version, but The Ten Commandments fills out the human drama of the tale by imagining the in-betweens. A fiery rivalry ignites between Moses and Rameses as they compete in all things, including the affection of Nefretiri (Anne Baxter), who figures prominently as a personification of the warring ideas. We see also the youthful zeal of Joshua, whom Bible readers know will one day succeed Moses as leader.
The legendary Vincent Price appears as a cruel Egyptian taskmaster and Edward G. Robinson features as Dathan, expanded from his brief biblical mention into a conniving toady and one of the film’s chief villains. (Despite my affection for the film, between viewings I tend to forget that these two actors are in it, and it’s delightful when I’m reminded).
Perhaps most famously, the film is known for several show-stopping special effects sequences illustrating the Burning Bush, the Ten Plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, and the creation of the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai.
A towering achievement in every respect, The Ten Commandments still commands our attention.
The Ten Commandments in 4K represents not only the best the film has ever looked on home video, but its best packaging as well. Over the years The Ten Commandments has had a lot of truly terrible cover art, but for this release they incorporated the gorgeous 1989 poster design and included a metallic foil slipcover. It’s a thing of beauty.
The restoration credits confirm that this gorgeous new 4K UHD release is struck from the same beautiful 2010 6K restoration as the prior Blu-ray editions.
Beyond the audiovisual upgrade of the 4K format, one notable benefit of the UHD disc is that the entire film is fitted to a single disc and need not be swapped at the intermission, as has typically been the case stretching back to the days of VHS.
Special Features (4K and Blu-ray)
Both the 4K and Blu-ray presentations of the film include feature commentary by author and historian Katherine Orrison.
Special Features (Blu-ray Disc 2)
Vintage Paramount Newsreel — NYC Premiere (2:24)
Gregory Abbot narrates footage from the red carpet as cast members, director Cecil B. DeMille, and other notable personages drop in to attend the film’s world premiere.
Theatrical Trailers (12:40)
Trailers from 1956 (10:01) and the 1966 (0:55) and 1989 (1:43) Re-releases. The indulgent original 10-minute 1956 version is of particular note; in modern terms we might think of its presentation less as a trailer and more of an EPK. It features a lengthy introduction by Cecil B. DeMille, who speaks about Moses and the inspiration for the film, produces an enormous gilded Bible and reads from the Book of Exodus, and narrates footage from the film, introducing all the characters.
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All 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the Blu-ray discs (not 4K) with no editing applied, but may have compression or resizing inherent to file formats and Medium’s image system. All package photography was taken by the reviewer.