The Ten Commandments
Rated PG, 88 min. Directed by Bill Boyce, John Stronach. Voices by Ben Kingsley, Christian Slater, Alfred Molina, Elliott Gould, Kathleen Barr, Matt Hill.
Hollywood legend has it that Cecil B. DeMille himself provided the voice for the Almighty in the director’s extravagant 1956 biblical epic The Ten Commandments, a guilty pleasure that mixed Old Testament ferocity with titillating Fifties-era hedonism. It was a good fit for the imperious filmmaker who struck fear in many an actor, all irony aside. In contrast, the new animated version of the story of Moses, also entitled The Ten Commandments, features Elliott Gould as the voice of God. While Gould is a fine comic actor, he is not exactly the person you think of when conceptualizing the authoritative and all-knowing utterances of Jehovah. This family-oriented adaptation of the Book of Exodus is the inaugural film in a franchise of 12 feature films based on Bible stories, using a crude form of three-dimensional computer animation. One can only hope that the future entries in the series are better executed than this first one. The animation is – for lack of a better description – downright creepy. The characters’ faces are oddly angular, as if rendered from a Cubist painting conceived by Thomas Hart Benton, and their stop-action movement has a quality to it that reminds you of that guy in the 1985 Dire Straits video for the song “Money for Nothing.” (And don’t get me started on the Tom of Finland musculature of nearly every one of the film’s male characters. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think they used anabolic steroids in ancient Egypt.) The use of a primitive animation technique here may have been a cost-cutting measure rather than an aesthetic choice, but it is a big distraction in the movie, one you can’t ignore. Though purists may bristle at its often too contemporary tone – for example, sister Miriam greets her long-exiled sibling with a greeting of “Baby Brother!” – there’s something earnest and forthright about the movie, despite its misguided execution. Parents who want to familiarize their children with this biblical story, however, would be better off showing them DeMille’s unforgettable version, which was crude in its own way. If you were a kid who watched one of its annual airings on network television over the years, the climactic parting of the Red Sea is something forever burned into your memory.
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