Have you ever wondered why the Hollywood Foreign Press Association named its lifetime achievement award “The Cecile B. DeMille” award? It’s because Mr. DeMille born in 1881 just as the motion picture itself was being developed was responsible for a lifetime’s worth of cinematic achievements including 1927’s The King of Kings 1934’s Cleopatra and 1952’s The Greatest Show on Earth. He also helmed two versions of The Ten Commandments; one silent from 1923 the other a colossal studio epic from 1956. The latter took home an Academy Award for its cutting edge visual effects that helped the filmmaker turn water into blood and part the Red Sea.
It’s the aesthetic triumphs not just in the form of state-of-the-art special effects but also including the tremendous production design and detailed costumes that are perhaps the most memorable elements of DeMille’s magnum opus and that’s why I’ve long waited for Paramount Home Video to release a high definition transfer of The Ten Commandments. Today you can bring this grandiose golden-age blockbuster home with a new Blu-ray release that bursts with vibrant colors and sharp sound quality; a marriage of old-world storytelling and 21st century technology.
To help celebrate this cinematic marvel and the larger-than-life era of Hollywood from which it hails Paramount has included a few pieces of nostalgic bonus content that fans young and old will find interesting if not incredibly immersive. The best feature is the theatrical trailer bank which includes not just the 1966 re-release and 1989 spots but a 1956 making-of trailer (that feels more like a newsreel short) with DeMille himself talking about the history of the story of Moses and his own production. For completionists and film historians it really doesn’t get much better than this; one of the best director’s of all time introducing one of the very best films ever made as he reviews passages from various sources and discusses the characters and the actors who play them. Though I’d like to have seen more interview footage with the famed auteur I’ll treasure this brief introduction to his classic movie for ages to come.
A feature length commentary from Katherine Orrison author of “Written in Stone: Making Cecil B. DeMille’s Epic The Ten Commandments” is available on both discs (the film is split as it has been in most versions released to consumers) but I certainly didn’t have the time to listen to it all. To be honest it was hard for me to take my eyes off of the majestic motion picture itself so finely produced and performed it’s as gripping today as it was when I first saw it as an impressionable youngster. The reds and blues of Ramses cloaks the obsidian statues in the Pharaoh’s hall the deep burgundy shade of Moses’ robe and the magnificent silver glow of Nefretiri’s gowns attract the eye like a moth to the flame bringing you deeper into the Egyptian setting than you’ve ever been. And the most awe-inspiring moments of the movie when the vaporous Angel of Death makes its way through the city claiming the Egyptians first-born sons before Moses splits the Red Sea in one of cinema’s most iconic sequences are heightened thanks to the perfect picture and 5.1 sound.
Rounding out the special features is newsreel footage of the New York Premiere of the film which is brief but fun to look at especially for those who were alive to see it broadcast and those of us who wish we were. All in all the bonus materials are lighter than I’d hoped but I’m not holding a grudge; this film was made in a time when no one could’ve imagined there’d ever be a market for content about the making of a movie. Paramount has included all the extras it could without compromising the promise of a true high-definition Ten Commandments experience and the company has delivered. On these discs is a sweeping generation-defining monument of moviemaking that anyone who calls themselves a “film-buff” should own. It’s a part of our collective cultural history as well as an unforgettable piece of entertainment.