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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Retro-Metro-Sexual Moses – ABC’s 10 Commandments

Bravo to ABC for airing a Bible story in prime time. In the sea of secular doo doo networks foist on the viewing public each and every night, this was a welcomed treat. And an ‘ok Moses’ is better than no Moses at all

Story-wise, the new ABC version was pretty much ok. ABC's take of Moses being conflicted with what God's will was pitted against man's frailites and spiritual struggles was a bit lost since I could not take this version of Moses too seriously. This Moses just blended into the desert scenery like everything else in the film.

There were some obvious licenses taken with characters like Moses’ step brother, and the sexual assault on a slave – completely not needed. The new version hits all the main parts of Bible, the burning bush, pillar of fire, etc. What I found in the new version’s story was the violence. DeMille’s take on the wrath of God was far more subtle than ABC’s version. DeMille guided the viewer around the plagues. ABC’s version put you right in the middle of them – open sores and all. I’m sure the ratings folks had a tough time with this film.

Production-wise, the new version is a great made for television movie. To compare it to the 70MM Big Screen ’56 production is not fair. I remember the first time I saw the 10 Commandments on television as a child. The first thing that moved me was color. DeMille’s film is one of the most visually appealing and strikingly vibrant films of that era or any – the colors of the blood-ridden Nile, the robes of Moses and the contrast to the imperial white of Brenner, the fires of the urns in the palaces, the parting of the Red Sea – amazing. The special effects in the new version were ok for television, except for the five second nuclear mushroom cloud imposed on the screen when Moses was parting the Red Sea. The new version was shot in a real dessert which meant that everything was brown – all brown – all the time…depressing.

Even if you agree that comparing a made for television movie can’t be done with a 70MM movie, an area where comparisons are appropriate is acting. I could not identify with any actor/actress in the new version. The fella who played Moses looked like a cross between Russell Crowe and Aragorn from the Lord of the Rings. His speech was stilted and the licenses taken with dialogue were noticeable as for the obvious reference to the Holocaust when Moses implores the Israelites to ‘Never Forget.’ The only good acting sequence came when Moses told his brother and several other slaves about his conversations with God. The rhythm and pacing of the dialogue was unique to the rest of the film where, when words were not used, the senses should have been gripped by the other parts of the production – music, light, sound, costumes, scenery. The rest of the cast was forgettable. ABC’s Pharaoh was certainly no Yul Brenner. The pitting of wills DeMille portrayed was excellent. ABC’s version was a yawn.

Again, bravo for ABC to take on this project. One thing this film made me do was re-read Exodus. Not too many films can make you do that.

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