The Ten Commandments appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on these Blu-ray Discs. Disc One provides the first 2:15:48 of the movie, so Disc Two includes its final 1:35:49. I found exceedingly little about which to complain during this gorgeous presentation.
Sharpness seemed excellent. Some visual effects occasionally affected definition, but those instances weren’t a concern. Instead, the majority of the movie displayed terrific clarity and delineation.
No issues with jagged edges or moiré effects appeared, and edge haloes were usually absent. I noticed some ghosting around the 1:46 mark when Moses wandered the desert, but that was it.
Print flaws weren’t a factor. This was a clean presentation, and one that seemed to lack intrusive digital noise reduction, as the movie retained a good feeling of grain.
Colors were a highlight of Commandments. The Technicolor production featured a broad and lively palette, and the disc rendered these hues with fine accuracy and vibrancy.
Reds seemed to be especially brilliant and rich, and I also found greens to come across as strong. When we saw Jethro’s daughters dance for visitors, their outfits showed off the solid nature of the hues.
Black levels also looked deep and dense, and shadow detail appeared natural. Low-light scenes provided appropriately dark but not excessively thick images. The Blu-ray Commandments dazzled.
I also felt the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of The Ten Commandments satisfied. Most films of the era provided monaural sound, and even when they included multichannel mixes, the results usually seemed to be fairly uncompelling. However, I thought the soundtrack for Commandments was surprisingly rich and involving.
The soundfield didn’t give us a great deal of variety, but it supported the movie to a good degree. Music offered the most involving aspect of the mix.
Elmer Bernstein’s score showed solid stereo separation, and the surrounds bolstered the music well. Effects were a more limited partner in the affair, though they added some depth to the proceedings. For most of the film, those elements seemed to be essentially monaural in nature, but large crowd sequences opened them up well.
Basically, the bigger the scene, the stronger the environment, and the track became quite active during the movie’s showier pieces. The hailstorm plague was engrossing and active, and the romp through the Red Sea also demonstrated fine dimensionality and breadth to the track.
The rears really came to life well during those sorts of sequences, and I even detected decent split-surround usage. For example, on occasion wind whipped from speaker to speaker. All told, the soundfield showed good life and activity, and it made much of the film livelier than I expected.
Audio quality was also surprisingly fine. At times some speech demonstrated modest edginess, but I felt that most of the dialogue sounded quite good, as Commandments offered speech that was generally warmer and more natural than I expect from the era.
Music lacked tremendous range, but I thought the score came across as fairly well-defined and rich. At times the high end sounded a bit tinny and thin, but for a film of this era, the music was quite clear and vibrant.
Effects also showed mainly positive attributes. They sounded clean and accurate throughout the film, and although they betrayed their age at times, I still found them to appear acceptably realistic and bold.
Some distortion occasionally accompanied these elements - such as when the slaves raised the obelisk - but these occurrences happened infrequently. In the end, I was very happy with the soundtrack of The Ten Commandments.
How did this 2020 Blu-Ray compare with the original 2011 Blu-ray? Both are literally identical, as the 2020 release simply repackages the 2011 discs.
This two-disc release includes only a smattering of the 2006 DVD’s extras, however. Spreading across Discs One and Two, we find an audio commentary from Katherine Orrison, the author of Written in Stone: Making Cecil B. DeMille’s Epic, The Ten Commandments.
Orrison gives us a running, screen-specific track. She doesn’t start to talk until a few minutes into the disc, as she only begins after the overture and DeMille’s introduction. However, once she launches into her chat, she rarely pauses.
Orrison offers one of the best commentaries of this sort I’ve ever heard, and she delves into virtually every aspect of the production. I couldn’t hope to address all the topics she mentions, but she tells us about elements such as casting – including actors considered for the parts – as well as DeMille’s style with the actors, their costumes, and other changes like the need for tinted contact lenses.
Orrison chats about props, sets, locations, and the script. She gets into biographical notes for DeMille and other participants, and she lets us know many factors related to the story’s historical aspects.
Lots of fun trivia bits – including goofs and continuity issues – appear as well as anecdotes from the set. Orrison demonstrates a consistently high level of energy, and she shows great enthusiasm for the film, which she clearly reveres. Although I don’t feel the same way about Commandments, that didn’t prevent me from enjoying this terrific commentary.
Next we get a newsreel called “The Ten Commandments Premiere in New York”. This two-minute, 24-second clip works like most of its ilk, as we watch notables arrive at the screening. It proves to be mildly interesting.
Lastly, the trailers area presents three pieces, all from different eras. Most interesting was the original 1956 “Making Of” ad. At 10 minutes, one second, this was probably the longest trailer I ever witnessed, and it was one of the oddest as well.
Much of the clip shows DeMille. First he expands upon the introduction that starts Commandments, and he also talks about the flick as we see shots from it.
The other two trailers are more pedestrian. One comes from a 1966 reissue, and at 55 seconds in length, it offers much less information.
Lastly, we get a trailer from the 1989 reissue. This one-minute, 43-second snippet mainly touts the wonders of big-screen viewings, and it also promotes the newly-remastered six-track audio.
As noted, the first two discs of this 2020 Deluxe Edition reproduce the standard Blu-ray release from 2011. That era also produced an expensive Limited Edition package, and many of those components show up on this set’s third platter.
Disc Three starts with Making Miracles, a one-hour, 13-minute, 14-second documentary. It includes notes from Orrison, Charlton Heston’s son Fraser C. Heston, Cecile B. DeMille’s granddaughter Cecilia DeMille Presley, Brigham Young University Arts & Communications Archives curator James D’Arc, costume archivist Randall Thropp, jewelry archivist Jaci Rohr, composer Elmer Bernstein and his son Peter Bernstein, film historian Scott Eyman, Paramount VP Andrea Kalas, Paramount EVP Christopher Carey, set visitor Aron Kincaid, and actors Lisa Mitchell, Charlton Heston, and Eugene Mazzola.
“Miracles” looks at the movie’s path to the screen and pre-production, casting and performances, set and costume design, locations, music and effects. We also get lots of anecdotes from the shoot and info about the movie’s release/legacy and its restoration.
Don’t expect an especially linear, coherent documentary from “Miracles”, as it tends to be loose in structure. That said, it still gives us a good look at the film, so the program merits a look.
We also find a Photo Gallery for the 1956 film. It breaks into nine areas: “Storyboards & Concept Art” (16 stills), “Costumes” (41), “Production” (92), “Moses” (8), “Press Kit” (19), “The Stars” (18), “Set Visitors” (8), “Premiere” (12) and “Around the World” (22).
That’s a lot of stills, and we find a treasure trove of materials. Captions would help at times, but this nonetheless becomes a great collection of images.
Disc Three’s biggest attraction, we find the full 1923 Version of The Ten Commandments. Also directed by Cecil B. DeMille, this silent rendition lasts two hours, 16 minutes, 12 seconds and presents a very different take on the film. This one starts with Egypt in the midst of the plagues and progresses through the exodus and the arrival of the Commandments.
Those elements fill the movie’s first 50 minutes and then it takes a very strange twist, as we come to “modern day” and meet the McTavish family. The mother (Edythe Chapman) is a real Bible-thumper, and her nice son John (Richard Dix) follows her. However, son Dan (Rod La Rocque) doesn’t believe in God.
Into their home comes a homeless girl named Mary (Leatrice Joy). Both brothers fall for her, but she marries the sinful, ambitious Dan. The movie follows their triumphs and travails as we learn that God and the Commandments trump everything else.
The Biblical parts of the movie are interesting to see, but the McTavish sections are a real drag. They make this a tedious piece of moralizing with nothing special to it. Those bits could appear in many other stories, and they dilute the potential impact of the Biblical parts, especially since those offer much greater room for power and drama.
I think it’s cool that the 1923 version appears here, as it obviously boasts historical value. Unfortunately, it’s a bad movie.
At least the Blu-ray presents it fairly well, as the film looks much better than one might expect. The image tends toward softness, but I suspect it represents the source as well as it can, and it comes free from source defects.
The added stereo score sounds quite good too. This is a fine presentation of a nearly 100-year-old film.
If desired, we can watch the 1923 Commandments with another audio commentary from Orrison. She provides a running, screen-specific chat.
Orrison tells us biographical information about the cast and crew as well as production notes, comparisons with the 1956 version, and information about the era in which this one was made. Orrison tries particularly hard to put us in that period’s mindset since she believes you need to view a 1923 movie with 1923 eyes.
Unfortunately, I think Orrison simply tells us what she likes about the flick too much of the time, especially during its third act. For the last portion, she does little more than gush about props and narrate the tale.
Still, much of the time she remains chatty and engaging. This commentary doesn’t compare with the one she recorded for the 1956 version, but it does have many good moments.
Disc Three also includes Hand-Tinted Footage of Exodus and Parting the Red Sea. This 21-minute, five-second piece shows those segments with various forms of coloring. I can’t claim the hues add anything to the presentation, but they offer an alternate way to view parts of the film.
The disc comes with Two-Color Technicolor Segment. It spans eight minutes, 43 seconds and shows primitive Technicolor footage created for the film. The material’s in bad shape but it’s still valuable to see as a historic curiosity.
We finish with a Photo Gallery specific to the 1923 film. This brings 32 frames that offer pictures and historical elements. It’s a brief but intriguing collection.
This digibook package also provides a booklet. It offers photos and some basic text notes. While not a great piece, it adds a little value.
After more than 60 years, The Ten Commandments remains the best-known cinematic representation of the life of Moses, but the film doesn’t held up terribly well over the years. From hammy acting to cheesy sets to silly dialogue, Commandments suffers from the overblown pomposity that commonly affected epics. The Blu-ray boasts excellent visuals, very good audio and useful bonus materials. Though the movie doesn’t work for me, this Blu-ray presents it well.
To rate this film, visit the original review of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS