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Latest Version of The Ten Commandments Comes Up Short

  • Annabelle Robertson Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2008 2 Feb
  • COMMENTS
Latest Version of <i>The Ten Commandments</i> Comes Up Short

DVD Release Date:  February 5, 2008
Rating:  PG (for some mild peril)
Genre:  Drama/Animation/Politics/Religion
Run Time:  88 min.
Director:  John Stronach
Voices by:  Ben Kingsley, Christian Slater, Alfred Molina, Elliot Gould, Christopher Gaze

Like its surprisingly similar cousin, The Prince of Egypt, this CGI version of The Ten Commandments begins with a toned-down slaughter of the Hebrew baby boys in Egypt, followed by Moses in the reed basket.  Flash forward a few years, and Prince Moses (Christian Slater) is at odds with his cousin, Ramses (Alfred Molina), as well as his not-so-kindly Uncle Pharaoh. 

When Moses accidentally kills a slave driver, his brother Aaron (Christopher Gaze) happens to witness the incident and tells Moses the truth about his birth.  He then provides an escape donkey.  Moses heads to the desert, where he marries and has sons.  After God (Elliot Gould) speaks to Moses through the burning bush, he runs into Aaron and together, they go to Egypt to confront Ramses, the ruling pharaoh. 

He’s meek, this Moses, so it’s no wonder that his adoptive cousin doesn’t listen, even as plague after plague rains down upon the Egyptians.  Ramses holds firm until his firstborn son dies, on the night that is now known as Passover.  Accompanied by his brother and sister, Miriam, Moses finally leads the Hebrews out of Egypt.  In the desert, the Israelites (as they are now called) grumble and complain until God provides water.  They grumble until he provides food.  They complain until they get meat, in the form of quail.  Then they dance around and worship a golden calf, while Moses is with the Lord.  When he comes back and discovers their sacrilege, he throws down the tablets of the Ten Commandments and pronounces doom on those who do not repent.  His prophecy comes true when the earth opens up and swallows them amidst flames of fire.

Many years later, the Israelites arrive at edge of the Promised Land.  Moses explains that he and his generation will not be allowed to see it, because of their rebellion, and charges Joshua with leading them across the River Jordan.  He goes onto the mountain to die as the people go forth.

The Bible has always been a source of inspiration and although many films have been made about Moses, many more are sure to come.  Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 version will always be the classic by which others are judged.  Animated versions are likely to be compared to DreamWork’s 1998 film, The Prince of Egypt.  Unfortunately, despite an all-star cast, this version comes up decidedly short.

The narrative contains little originality.  An opening scene, where Moses and Ramses tussle, is strikingly similar to one in The Prince of Egypt. Screenwriter Ed Naha (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids) also copied another creative invention from that film.  Instead of drowning with his army (which the biblical narrative implies), Ramses stands on the banks and watches, horrified.  Even more disappointing than the writing, however, is the quality of the animation.  With perfectly smooth faces, hair that doesn’t move and bodies that walk like robots, it’s simplistic, at best. 

Ben Kingsley’s narration, though solid, is somewhat superfluous, since Naha has failed to include many details about the story.  Despite his reputation for comedy, Gould does a decent job as God.  Slater, however, doesn’t bring much personality to Moses.  Surely this prophet, though humble, had more chutzpah than this?

The characters are mostly one-dimensional.  Despite Molina’s excellent inflections, for example, Ramses is evil incarnate. Moses doesn’t kill in anger; he’s just defending himself.  Aaron is innocent of the golden calf (he was threatened into making it by an Israelite ringleader).  And, needless to say, the Israelites are portrayed as spoiled brats for wanting water and food during their desert trek.

The irony is that, despite the filmmakers’ best intentions to stick to the Scriptures, they’ve created a cast that bears little resemblance to those found in the Bible.  The stories it describes are of real people—not stereotypical heroes and villains.  The Bible is about people who love God, but who get angry (sometimes very angry) at him.  People who sin, though they desperately long to do what is right. 

The lack of explanation—and potential for misunderstanding—extends to other scenes as well.  We are never told, for example, why Moses isn’t allowed to go into the Promised Land.  His disobedience isn’t even mentioned, making it even more confusing for viewers.  Is God whimsical?  Revengeful?  Angry?

This Ten Commandments is likely to end up in the Sunday School classrooms of young children, who see things in black and white, and who aren’t particularly demanding when it comes to viewing quality.  Let’s hope Promenade Pictures’ next film is better.

DVD EXTRAS:

  • Exclusive Behind-the-Scenes Footage
  • Jeremy Camp Music Video, “I Am Willing”
  • The Ten Commandments Challenge
  • Alfred Molina as Ramses
  • Christian Slater as Moses

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  In one scene, some Hebrews act drunk as they dance around the golden calf (although this seems highly unlikely, given the lack of wine in the desert).
  • Language/Profanity:  None.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity:  None.
  • Violence:  Soldiers kill Hebrew boys (offscreen); slaves are cruelly beaten and whipped; a man stabs another; a man kills another in self-defense; ten plagues (blood, flies, locusts, etc.) hit Egypt, making life very uncomfortable and possibly causing sickness/death/starvation (implied); an angel of the Lord kills all firstborn (and discussion of same, along with Passover requirements to protect the Hebrews); an army charges after men, women and children on foot, seemingly ready to kill; army of men and horses drown when the Red Sea closes on them; thunder and lightening flash on Mt. Sinai; men threaten and menace Aaron, if he does not build them a golden calf; people disappear into fire and crevices, at the hand of the Lord.