As I’m sure many seniors can sympathize with, my life had recently been taken over by work: final touches to my thesis, plans for next year, etc. Thankfully, though, the hard times are over. I turned in my thesis on Monday and got back a bit of the free time (and sanity) my life had been lacking. And now that these requisite self-congratulations have been made, I return to bring you the best of Cornell’s DVD collection. The only problem is that, with all my work, I haven’t found much time for procrastination. Read: watching movies.
In fact, the one of the only movies I’ve seen of late is The Ten Commandments, Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 epic retelling of the biblical exodus story. It’s a movie I end up watching almost every year, and has become a family favorite due to its hilarious excesses. So partly due to convenience, but mostly due to an inexplicable love for this corny classic, it’s this week’s pick.
The movie offers every stereotypical aspect of a modern-day action flick, wrapped up in shiny 1950s G-rated packaging and topped off with some of the funniest “special effects” ever witnessed. (Though its original viewers would have disagreed with this analysis; the movie took home that year’s Academy Award’s prize for Best Visual Effects.)
When I said earlier that the movie was “epic,” I meant it in every sense of the word. Moses (Charlton Heston) is chiseled and at times so tanned he looks sepia-toned. Pharaoh –– played by Yul Brynner, who took some time off of being King of Siam to rule ancient Egypt –– is an angry, eyebrow-raising villain. And the Queen of Egypt Nefertiri (Anne Baxter) shines in elaborate, gilded headdresses.
Even the small characters or extras have a certain gravity to them.
The Ten Commandments is an unapologetic big-budget studio creation. And, in turn, it is unapologetically for entertainment’s sake –– not religion’s. The melodramatic dialogue and action-filled sequences serve to wow audiences, not to yield converts. Those who have Exodus’ passages memorized should not expect an “accurate” representation.
But as Cecil B. DeMille’s reputation might suggest it is a great Hollywood glitz-ing and glamorizing of a rather grim story. The story is a very serious one: a tale of struggle, strife and self-discovery. Here though, it plays out rather more like a series of action and romance scenes, with the booming voice of God sometimes echoing down to keep the story on track.
Why devote an entire day to watching a movie like this? A more appropriate question might well be: why not? The movie is less a movie than a spectacle, only to be appreciated in its gilded entirety.
A more apt way to describe the viewing experience would be to compare it to a theater show. The movie in fact begins with an overture, and only ends over three hours later, with a sweeping shot of the vast desert. (ABC, which aired the film this year, actually managed to extend the duration of the film to over five hours, with commercials.)
The film is a relic; it is overly dramatic, unnecessarily long and completely lacking in nuance or caution. But, by the same token, it seems aware of these facts. Cecil B. DeMille was not one for subtlety, but he sure knew how to entertain people.
The library owns a copy on VHS, which in an odd way might be the best way to watch it. The fuzziness and faded colors probably add something to the old-timey feel. Or, you could opt instead to get the new DVD set through Borrow Direct and feel the full force of restoration, which makes that plague-ridden Nile really pop.