The Ten Commandments or Put Through Demille Again
The Ten Commandments is to movies like those paintings of dogs playing cards is to art - I mean, how do those dogs do it? And that is what we all ask whenever we see this movie: how did they do it?
Watching TTC at the Grauman Chinese Theater, on a big screen and with a few hundred other people, the special effects are really special, especially since this was all done 60+ years ago without any CGI. Yes, as one critic said 60+ years ago in his review of this movie, we are put through DeMille again, but oh what a DeMille!
Craig Barron, a visual effects Oscar winner and Ben Burtt, a sound effects Oscar winner, introduced the movie at the TCM 2018 Festival. They brought along some video to explain how DeMille and his team did it - from Pillars of Fire to the parting of the Red Sea. They emphasized that most of the special effects were done in layers, that is, there was more than one element of special effects involved in each special effects scene. For example, the parting of the Red Sea involved a triple matte plus three dimensional sets and special sounds. Even less gaudy effects were multidimensional. When Moses and his wife to be are at the base of Mount Sinai, the Mount is a matte scene but to add depth to it, the smoke surrounding the peak was real, made by special smoke machines.
Just as the special effects have taken prominence in this review, so too in the movie. None of the characters is especially intriguing: Charlton Heston (Moses) is just your ordinary born-Jewish-but-left-in-a-basket-in-the-Nile River- to-be-found-by-Pharaoh's daughter-and-made-into-a-prince-of-Egypt. Yul Brynner (Rameses) is the put-out-actual-son-of Pharaoh-who-hates-his-pseudo-half-brother. Anne Baxter (Nefertiti) is the woman -in-the -middle.
I expect that it is difficult to act in a movie that is almost 4 hours long and you are expected to bring to life a story that is more than 3,000 years old. All those special effects making it vital that the actual human beings on the set perform their parts as well as can be expected while on the clock so to speak - these effects are intricately timed. Every. Word. Spoken. In. This. Movie. Is. Spoken. LIke. There. Is. A. Period. After. Each. Word. Really. Only Brynner is able to stitch together a character from these shopworn cliche-spouting metronomes passing for people.
As the plagues of god pile up, we are told that the Hebrew exodus from Egypt was the first birth of Freedom in the world. It seems Freedom needed a lot of help to get started and still needs help to get it over the twin humps of Facebook and Amazon - we know what you watch, what you think, what you talk to other people about, who your friends are, what you read and listen to, where you shop and what you buy, where you live, eat and sleep. Where's your messiah now?