For a guy with so many plague-bringings, sea-splittings, and commandment-receivings to his name, Moses hasn't really had the big screen representation you might think he deserves. One could surmise that Cecil B. DeMille's Charlton Heston classic The Ten Commandments sort of laid claim to all Moses glory. Since, only a small number of Moses films have come to be, including the animated The Prince of Egypt and, if you want to count it, Mel Brooks' comedy History of the World Part I. In fact, the most memorable example might very well be a TV incarnation. Perhaps all other would-be attempters feared the risk of living in the shadow of ABC's Passover staple. But Moses will be reattempted by one man who I think we're all sure can handle the story appropriately: Steven Spielberg. Negotiations have attached the legendary auteur to the developing Gods and Kings, a chronicle of Moses' life and story, for some time. At this point, the deal is nearly finalized. We should be expecting a Spielberg Moses movie in the works in the near future.
Reportedly, the film will take a grittier, less "glamorous" perspective of the story than The Ten Commandments did. Deadline compares the new vision to the likes of Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan, or the classic warrior movie Braveheart.
It will certainly be interesting to see Spielberg handle such a spiritual story with this level of realism. The story of Moses leading the Jews out of the tyranny of Egypt and into the Promised Land is one of the Tanakh's most significant tales. Obviously, the notion of "reimagining" Moses in a warrior light will come along with some controversy. Whereas some will find it easy to conform to this vision, others will undoubtedly take issue with Spielberg's design of the project. But stepping away from the religious significance of the story and thinking purely as a lover of film, there is almost no doubt that Spielberg will handle Gods and Kings will terrific flavor.
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.
Director David Wain rounds up some of his buddies from the 1990s comedy troupe The State to poke fun at the do’s and don’ts of the Ten Commandments. No need to fall on your knees and pray for forgiveness if you’ve forgotten whose house you should not covet. Wain breaks down the Ten Commandments in episodic fashion and confers the task of introducing each outlandish morality tale upon his Wet Hot American Summer star Paul Rudd. The silliness is firmly established when Wain examines the consequences of worshipping a false idol. In this case it’s Adam Brody who enjoys fame and fortune after he accidentally jumps from a plane sans parachute. Not that he can reap the benefits of sudden stardom—he’s stuck in the ground and can’t be moved. But Brody’s predictament isn’t necessarily the oddest. A 35-year-old virgin (Gretchen Mol) goes weak at the knees when she’s hit on by none other than Jesus Christ (Justin Theroux). Liev Schreiber engages in a game of oneupmanship with his neighbor when both start snapping their town’s supply of CAT scan machines. Life imitates art when Winona Ryder learns the hard way that stealing causes her nothing but pain and shame. Rudd gets in on the fun as the lucky devil juggles married life with Famke Janssen with his booty calls with Jessica Alba. But Wain inflicts the most humiliation on his co-writer Ken Marino whose arrogant surgeon learns the hard way playing pranks on patients will only led to life in prison and a nightly “ass-raping.” As you can tell Wain’s not really into making subtle statements about the set of rules we observe—intentionally or otherwise—in our everyday lives. By finally making good use of her sticky fingers Winona Ryder reveals she’s ready to laugh at her past transgressions. Not that she goes off on a shoplifting spree. No she purloins a ventriloquist’s puppet in the name of love. Nothing in The Ten beats the hilarious though unsettling sight of a game Ryder getting all freaky with her wooden object of affection. She hasn’t let her hair down like this before so good for her. But she’s got some competition from Gretchen Mol whose screams of “Jesus” during hot and sweaty sex are let out with intense religious fervor. The award for Harried Husband of the Year goes to Paul Rudd Knocked Up’s henpecked spouse. But he plays the role of an estranged hubby with such biting wit that he makes marital disharmony a joy to behold. Still it’s hard to see why Famke Janssen and Jessica Alba—both wasted by the way—would fight over this dweeb. A hysterically deadpan Liev Schreiber spoofs his oh-so-serious forensics expert from this past season’s CSI Oliver Platt does a killer Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonation and Rob Corddry gives brutal prison sex a kind face. The Ten isn’t exactly the full-fledged State reunion fans are waiting for especially as Thomas Lennon and Michael Ian Black barely make their presence felt. But Kerri Kenny is relentlessly cheerful as a sitcom-ish mom who fails to convince her two black sons that their real dad is the Governator. And an oily Ken Marino quickly loses his smirk once behind bars though he takes his punishment like a real man. David Wain can sleep well at night knowing that The Ten won’t cost him his place in Heaven. While there’s no denying that the Bible-inspired buffoonery on display is irreverent at best Wain and cohort Marino do not take a sledgehammer to the stone tablets. Instead they seem more interested in how the Ten Commandments play a role in our lives regardless of our religious beliefs. That said whatever point they try to make is lost amid the sexual shenanigans. Not that it takes a theologian to deduce that murder is bad stealing is wrong and buying up the town’s supply of CAT scan machines is asking for trouble. By the very nature of its structure The Ten can’t help but unfold as a series of interconnected sketches that sadly lack a punchline. But it’s so goofy and hilariously borderline offense that it’s hard not to be caught up in all the silliness. Indeed Wain’s preoccupation with sex provokes more nervous laughs than groans of disgust. And The Ten offers some side-splitting parodies of family sitcoms prison dramas crime procedure shows and preachy faith-based dramas. There’s even a warning against skipping church on Sundays—and letting it all hang out literally with your buddies—that would turn Homer Simpson into Ned Flanders. Wain orchestrates all this madness in the anything-goes manic style of Airplane! or Scary Movie. The Ten is by no means a minor miracle of the comedy kind but if you accept it for what it is rather than what it tries to be than it’s certainly worth skipping evening services to see.
It's a week of superstars returning to the Top Ten! Dennis Franz is back, after a lengthy custody battle with Sela Ward over the 10 p.m. Tuesday timeslot. Many people apparently still love Raymond, even though he was starting to think, maybe ... you know, there might be someone else. And it's good to know that a classic clash of wills between Charlton "let my people go" Heston and Yul "let's see them make bricks without straw" Brynner can still pack 'em in front of the TV, year after year.
Here now, for your edification and amusement are the Top Ten shows of the past week in TV, according to the fine people at Nielsen Media Research (each rating point represents a little more than a million viewers).
1. "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" (Tuesday, ABC - 18.7) ABC executives, concerned about losing some of their regular Sunday audience, actually had a plan to digitally insert Regis into the "The Ten Commandments." When Ramses says to Moses, "I will not let your people go," Regis was supposed to jump out from behind the Pharaoh's throne and forcefully demand, "Is that your final answer?" Thankfully, Regis thought this was in poor taste and refused.
2. "ER" (Thursday, NBC - 18.2) Last week they knocked off No. 1. But this week's plot, "Dr. Greene must provide 'intimate' care for his crotchety and humiliated father," just wasn't quite sexy enough to pull off another upset.
3. "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" (Thursday, ABC - 17.7) This is where the "Daddio" audience is rushing off to just as "Frasier" is coming on.
4. "Friends" (Thursday, NBC - 12.8) And this is where the "Daddio" audience actually comes from.
5. "Dharma & Greg" (Tuesday, ABC - 12.1) Again, you have no problem sticking around after Regis for this show, but when "Sports Night" was on at 9:30, you always had to floss your teeth! And now look what happened! "Talk to Me" finished in the Top 20 in their old spot! You know, we're starting to think that maybe you don't even like "Sports Night."
6. "60 Minutes" (Sunday, CBS - 11.0) In an exclusive interview, Dan Rather was finally able to ask Juan Miguel Gonzales (father of famous Miami Dolphins fan and budding non-Communist Elian) the two questions that have been burning a hole in the minds of Americans everywhere. Namely, "how dare you be from Cuba?" and "what possible justification can you offer to Americans everywhere for wanting to raise your own son?"
7. "Daddio" (Thursday, NBC - 10.9) How is it that guys such as Daddio, or Bob Newhart for that matter, always have really hot wives? Is it because Daddio is going to play Curly in the Three Stooges movie next week? Is that what brings in the babes?
8. "The Ten Commandments" (Sunday, ABC - 10.8) And the Lord said unto Philbin, "Let my time slot go!" And he did, and it was good.
9. "NYPD Blue" (Tuesday, ABC - 10.7)
10. "Everybody Love's Raymond" (Monday, CBS - 10.0) Well, of course they do, honey. And you just keep on saying that, over and over again until the bad voices stop. And in other ratings news ...
ABC's "Once and Again" did an 8.8 on Monday night, continuing its dominance over all other shows with "... and Again" in their titles. "Now and Again" on CBS finished second with a 5.5 and MSNBC's "Time and Again" was a distant third.