Moses and the miracle of 4K: ‘The Ten Commandments,’ ultra-high definition movie review
Cecil B DeMille’s arguably greatest if not most epic cinematic achievement, and last of his impressive career, returns to home theaters in stunning ultra-high definition glory to chronicle the story of Moses and his freeing of the Hebrew people from the oppressive bondage in Egypt in The Ten Commandments (Rated: G, 1.85:1 aspect ratio, 231 minutes, $25.99).
So important was the director’s vision (i.e. hubris) that he actually introduces the movie to audiences, reminding them that they are in for a 3-hour, 39-minute look at the five books of Moses that poses the question: “Are men free souls under God?”
The 1956 biblical melodrama starred the mighty Charlton Heston as Moses, Yul Brynner as Pharaoh Rameses II, Anne Baxter as Queen Nefretiri, Edward G. Robinson as Hebrew overseer Dathan, Yvonne De Carlo as Moses wife Sephora, Vincent Price as master builder Baka, and John Derek as the stonecutter Joshua.
Of course, the classic is full of memorable scenes such as the prickly rivalry between Moses and his adopted brother Rameses II. The plagues released upon Egypt (the smoldering hail was impressive); Moses parting the Red Sea, and God carving out the Ten Commandments with fiery tendrils.
The sheer amount of extras on screen, legendary cast, and cutting-edge special effects of the day make “The Ten Commandments” an epic never to be repeated and a timeless classic that will continue to entertain generations of families to come.
“So let it be written, so let it be done,” as Rameses II says.
4K in action:
This 2160p release takes full advantage of the film’s VistaVision origins (a format where 35mm film was fed into the camera horizontally in order to capture a wider image range) as well as a 2010 restoration that used a 6K scan of the original negatives with more than 150 hours of digital cleanup.
Suffice it to report, viewers get, by far, the best-looking presentation seen on home theater screens.
Throughout, one will find an unwavering devotion to clarity with only the slightest hint of film grain and saturation of color that almost looks like modern-day animation rather than live-action.
It takes a minute before the first stunning shot of a red-tinged sunrise fills the screen, with hues that never overwhelm the details of hundreds of Hebrew slaves dragging a multi-story statue of the pharaoh across the desert.
Viewers will also marvel at the depth of the field showing a sea of slaves making bricks
Moses crossing the desert and wilderness of Shur, the panoramic views of the Mount Sinai mountain range and an overhead shot of the exodus as Hebrews walk past a row of Sphinxes.
A full array of high dynamic range tweaks along with the enhanced clarity showcases Pharaoh Sethi I walking among colorfully dressed Ethiopians bearing a variety of riches, from ebony to woodwork and gold statuary, in his massive stone receiving room.
Or, one can easily inspect baby Moses in a straw crib clarified to count every cross-stitch of straw; Rameses sheen from his golden armor and headdress with patches of metallic blue; Prince Moses’ ornate silver chest plate; the hairs on Joshua’s muddied arm; and Queen Nefretiri’s silver gown with matching cape and headdress.
The only slight miscue with the obsessive clarity is that it sharply has black outlines around the actors in front of the blue-screen matte. Special effects take away some of the magic of the special effects shots created with old-fashioned techniques that could not possibly withstand the digital scrutiny of today’s effects.
However, the burning bush scene looks immaculate with the glowing reds of the burning bush bathing Moses and the area, never washing out the image and never mixed and not absurd. Equally dazzling is Moses watching the creation of the Ten Commandments and the destroyer mist coming down from the sky to kill Egypt’s firstborn.
Despite the immaculate 4K image quality, viewers do not get a definitive home theater release of the classic film.
Although, one might consider the included and previously released optional commentary track on the 4K disc with film historian Katherine Orrison, author of “Written in Stone: Making Cecil B. DeMille’s Epic, The Ten Commandments,” more than enough.
Her nonstop explanation of the production, its cast, and its minutiae makes it one of the best tracks ever released especially when considering that she is offering commentary over an almost four-hour film.
She has a wealth of information covering everything from pointing out the mistake of seeing a safety pin on baby Moses’ diaper to noting Judith Anderson (Memnet) wore brown contact lens making vision difficult, to the three years needed to research Egyptian history and even mentioning the brief appearance of Touch Connors, who later became Mike Connors and star of the TV show “Mannix.”
Of course, she also goes into great detail about the costuming, locations, set design, special effects, matte paintings, musical score and the film’s accuracy to its source material.
Viewers also get on the Blu-ray disc a three-minute newsreel clip of the movie’s premiere in New York City.
Sorely missing is a third Blu-ray disc from the 2011 gift set offering a 75-minute documentary of the film and the 1923 version of the movie with commentary by, of course, Miss Orrison.
• This story originally appeared in The Washington Times.