' Cinema Romantico: The Ten Commandments (In Less Than Two Hours)

Monday, April 05, 2010

The Ten Commandments (In Less Than Two Hours)

With collegiate basketball's Final 4 coinciding this year with Easter Eve it meant most of the basketball would be running concurrently with ABC's annual showing of Cecil B. DeMille's 1956 Biblical epic "The Ten Commandents" starring Charlton Heston as the one, the only Moses. Thus, being such a studious film scholar, I decided it would be an invigorating experiment to view "The Ten Commandments" during halftime of the first Final 4 game, during the thirty minute window between the end of the first game and the start of the second game, halftime of the second game, and whatever remained afterwards and write a review. Really, who wants to sit through all of "The Ten Commandments"? (I have, as a matter of fact, and enjoy it, perhaps more than should be allowable.) ABC had scheduled a four hour and forty-four minute chunk of time for the telecast. It seemed excessive.


Lo and behold the experiment got off to a rousing start when the Butler/Michigan State game hit halftime at 6:03, meaning that "The Ten Commandments" was just finishing up its opening credits as I flipped over. Perfect! This way I would truly be able to ascertain if a viewer could glean all the pertinent info to this 220 minute motion picture in less than 120 minutes.

It opens with a voiceover taken directly from the Book Of Genesis and all I could think about was how much noted screenwriting guru Robert McKee abhors voiceover. But what if the voiceover is based on Scripture? Would he still denounce it, and if he did would God strike him down with a bolt of lightning? I almost want to pay the $4500 (or whatever it costs) to attend one of his workshops to ask him this question.

Once this finished baby Moses is put in the infamous basket and sent off down the Nile where Bithiah (Nina Foch) - she and her cohorts resembling Old Testament Orange County Housewives - locates his basket and tasks herself with becoming this baby's mother, this baby whom she will name....Moses. It doesn't take us long, however, to move on to Adult Moses (Charlton Heston) who has just returned from battle and announces to the Pharaoh Seti (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) that he has made allies with the Ethiopians who then perform a brief Ethiopian song & dance number. And at the end of this sequence we receive our very first mention of the possibility of the existence of....(drums & trumpets)...."the deliverer." But at this point it was 6:23 and the Butler/Michigan State game was revving back up.

At 7:34, in the wake of the most exciting conclusion to Butler toppling the Spartans, I hurried back to "The Ten Commandments" to find Queen Nefertiri (Anne Baxter) being primped by her subordinates.


A word here about the majority of shots in "The Ten Commandents": it's like watching a play. Really, it is. Each one of them is meticulously staged with characters lined up and remaining in particular poses (like standing with one foot up on something and one hand on the hip) for the duration of the shot, which can sometimes be awfully lengthy. In fact, the next day, on Easter Sunday, I indulged in my traditional viewing of "Cookie's Fortune" and watching the re-written version of "Salome" that Glenn Close's villainess puts on for the town's Easter Play isn't much different from "The Ten Commandments". It's bascially a $13 million community theater production.

Anyway, while Nefertiri is being primped someone sets fire to the chariot house! Oh no! Why, it's Joshua (John Derek)! For this little misdeed Joshua is set to be whipped to death by Baka (Vincent Price - yes, Vincent Price) only to watch in wonderement as Moses swoops in to save Joshua and not only save Joshua but kill Baka in the process. The following exchange is critical:

Joshua: "Why does a Prince of Egypt kill the Pharoah's Master Builder to save a Hebrew?"
Moses (extremely Heston-esque): "I am Hebrew."


It is via this exchange that Joshua reaches the realization that, yes, Moses is The Deliverer! See?! You DON'T need to watch this whole movie! This proves it! I watch a scene foreshadowing the fact someone is going to be "the deliverer", check out for an hour and ten minutes and return at almost the exact instant the identity of "the deliverer" is revealed! What in the name of the Son of God was DeMille doing during all that time?

Now Moses, draped in cinematic chains, meets the Pharoah face to face (and in this meticulous shot notice the woman standing on the right edge of the frame with a disinterested look the whole time - did someone shoot her with a tranquilizer?) who names Rameses (Yul Brynner) as his successor and Rameses - in the classic movie villain mistake - refrains from executing Moses and banishes him to the desert. And then it was time for West Virginia/Duke to tip off in the Final 4.


At the ensuing halftime, approximately 9:02 PM, I return to "The Ten Commandments" to find that Moses has grown that mountainous beard and gained possession of his staff, the staff which he promptly uses to make the Nile run red with blood. Yeah, Rameses, how do you like him now?! Still not that much, apparently, and so Moses makes hail fall from a clear sky. Yet Rameses still remains unimpressed and still refuses to free the slaves. So, again, we had previously learned Moses is the deliverer and has been banished to the desert, check out for a whole half of basketball and return to find Moses trying to win the freedom of the slaves and failing. What did we miss? Moses in the desert? No big deal, if you think about it. He's the deliverer and now he's failing to deliver - the point in the 2nd act when all hope seems lost - and that's all we really need story-wise. This is awesome! 9:22 PM and it's back to basketball!

With Duke routing the Mountaineers of West Virginia and only a couple minutes left in a game that is essentially over I flip back to "The Ten Commandments" at 10:10 PM and - sure enough! - find Rameses and his soldiers having backed Moses and his people up against the Red Sea. You know what's coming, baby! The Red Sea parts, Moses and his people make it across and the water collapses on the pursuing army.

So again, we check out for a little under an hour and return just in time to see the big setpiece, the one thing who anyone who watches this film actually wants to see, and all in less than two hours!

Therefore I think Cinema Romantico has definitively answered today that "The Ten Commandments" did not need to run 220 minutes. A severely condensed "Ten Commandments" will do you and the kids in Sunday School just fine. And yes, I'm aware that in the film there is still the part where Moses has to hike up Mount Sinai to retrieve the tablets bearing, you know, The Ten Commandments themselves but by this point in the evening I'd already consumed five Two Brothers Resistance IPA's and so my mind was wandering and I didn't have the patience and I watched Lady Gaga perform "Bad Romance" on DVR instead. After all....

The Ten Commandments..."Bad Romance". Tomato...tomahto.

4 comments:

Wretched Genius said...

Lady Gaga is trying to seduce your feeble mind! Do not fall victim to her evil ways.

Also, wow. As a species, I'm pretty sure we don't deserve to last much longer.

Nicholas Prigge said...

Wow. Is that what's going on? Have I unwittingly fallen into a cult?

Oh well...like George and The Sunshine Carpet Cleaners, frankly, I think I'm okay with being brainwashed. I like this cult. It's fun. I don't even have to live in some remote backwoods compound. I just buy all her albums and pay exorbitant ticket prices.

Jacob said...

"she and her cohorts resembling Old Testament Orange County Housewives"

This is the best line I've heard in some time. I'm still giggling at it.

Nicholas Prigge said...

Why thank you. That really is what they look like.