Oh Moses, Moses! Oh, movies from a different era! Produced in the grand epic time of the 1950s, THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, the biblical epic starring the legendary Charlton Heston as our hero Moses and the telling of the Holy Scriptures from his uprising, his biblical learning all the way to parting the red sea to free his people, is the type of movie that an entire studio would devote to for its production, and the results absolutely showed.
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS brings you all the way back to a completely different era of movies; Cecil B. DeMille’s direction is so grand and chock-full of the presentational style of staging and performance, presenting your lines in a loud, clear manner and presenting its story developments in big, broad strokes. It was so big, in fact, DeMille himself steps out of in-film curtains at the start of the picture just to tell you how big of a story that you are about to see for four hours. These times are gone, but not forgotten, in a very classy motion picture that is a favourite on religious holidays.
About the 4k release:
In 2010, a full restoration was performed on THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. Scanned from its original Vistavision elements. This 4k transfer has been derived from that restoration and some additional work has been done to bring this presentation up to 2021 standards.
I’m a techie, moonlighted as a film projectionist back in the day of film as well as a real lover of old large film experiences, and VistaVision is a criminally underrated film format. Arriving on the heels of Cinerama and Cinemascope in the early 50s, this is a 35mm format but instead of the usual four-perf 35mm film frame, the frame is horizontal and twice the size, fed into the camera horizontally. The result when projected in theatres was a VERY high-resolution image that allowed for stronger colors. While not many movies were made this way (Alfred Hitchcock used this process in a few of his 50s movies including VERTIGO and NORTH BY NORTHWEST), Vistavision eventually made its way into special effects filmmaking and is still done until this day.
I mention all of this as THE TEN COMMANDMENTS is one of the best examples of the format, and it’s lovingly preserved in this 2160p, HDR enabled transfer that really preserves the process well. The biggest star of the visual image are the deep Technicolor hues which reach near dye-transfer levels at times. This is as close as you are going to get to seeing a top-level film projection from the era, and it’s a real bonus to this Ultra HD format to preserve important film titles like this. As this is also a movie from 1956 with primitive use of special effects, you will also see join lines between matte effects MUCH more clearly than in previous releases, but that’s also part of the charm (to me, anyway).
The soundtrack has not been remastered for the Ultra 4k format (ie. Dolby Atmos or DTS X) however a very good DTS 5.1 master audio track is presented here. Most of the surrounds are limited to the music portions (composed by Elmer Bernstein!) and with a lot of movies of the time there is little to no activity outside of the center channel for dialogue scenes. Perfectly suited for the material, and obviously nothing to demo your material to others, but the DTS track gets the job done.
Like with the recently released Blu Ray, the key feature is a commentary track from Katerine Orrison who is the author of the book MAKING IN STONE: MAKING CECIL B. DEMILLE’S EPIC. The amount of information in her commentary is like having a documentary play during the movie instead of its own feature and is required listening for any film fan.
Along with the 2-disc Blu Ray which also features a few additional trailers and original newsreel footage of the premiere, there is also a Digital Copy included that redeems in Apple TV with the same 4k/HDR transfer but contains no special features. I was a bit curious why the earlier 1923 release was not put in as a bonus feature or even on another disc as well.
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS is a must for classic movie buffs and is a fine presentation of a film title from a bygone era. To me, a lot of the movie is overlong with very dated visual effects, but there’s also a lot to admire here, especially Heston’s legendary performance. It’s also reasonably priced around $20-25 in most stores and online, so it’s a highly recommended purchase for 4k aficionados.
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS is now available on 4k Ultra HD Blu Ray from Paramount. My thanks to Paramount Home Video for sending along a copy for review!