We begin with Ramses II (Joel Edgerton) and his adopted brother, Moses (Christian Bale) saying bye-bye to their ailing Pharaoh dad (John Turturro) as they go off to war. Moses, a vicious warrior in battle, saves Ramses’ life and fulfills a prophecy that “one will save the other and become a leader”. This troubles Ramses, as he thought he was gonna be the leader. Anyway, while surveying the slave city of Pithom, Moses meets Nun (Ben Kingsley), who informs him of his true lineage: he’s really Moishe, born a Hebrew slave and taken away as a baby by sister Miriam (Tara Fitzgerald) to Pharaoh’s palace and raised as a prince. What?? Moses is dumbfounded, yet not altogether surprised as he always felt different.
Returning back to the palace, Ramses is made Pharaoh after dad kicked the bucket and, news traveling fast, Moses is outed as really a Hebrew slave and consequently banished to the desert. Traveling in the wasteland he lands in Midian and finds a Bedouin sheepherder tribe run by Jethro (Kevork Malikvan) and his many daughters. One in particular, Zipporah (Maria Valverde), catches Moses’ eye and they wed quickly. Fast-forward nine years and Moses hears of the Hebrew God residing in the mountain. One rainy afternoon he meets 10-year-old Malak (Issac Andrews), God’s personal messenger who tells Moses to go back to Pharaoh and get the Hebrew slaves out of there!
Moses returns and tells Ramses what God wants, but Ramses is less than cordial about it. Moses then goes all guerrilla on his brother and the Egyptians by training an elite terrorist group to wreak havoc on their storehouses, but that missions fails. Malak tells Moses to sit back because God is gonna take over and send ten really nasty, horrible plagues to show Moses how it’s done. Well, it works and Ramses tells all the slaves and Moses to GET OUT!!
After 400 years, they’s free… BUT! Pharaoh is pissed big time and goes after Moses and the 400,000 slaves wanting to slaughter everyone. Fortunately, the Red Sea waters come a’crashing down on Ramses and all his army, wiping them out. With Moses back home in Midian with his wife and child (and a whole other extended ‘family’), Malak has him carve out the Ten Commandments stone tablets and then lead his massive hoard of people to the Promised Land in several quick time jumps/scenes. You’ll have to read the Bible to find out what happens next, ’cause the movie just ends with no epilogue or end cards to tell you.
Grand in scope and epic in CGI effects, director Ridley Scott worked off a screenplay by Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Jeffrey Caine, and Steven Zaillian. Not exactly what you’d call a classic re-telling of the Biblical story, but more of a layman’s version; Scott gives the plagues a reason why they happened, as if it was a natural thing that occurred. Y’see, he’s an atheist, so these plague-things and Red Sea partings have to make scientific sense to him. Whatever.
Bale is excellent and immerses himself in the role, making Moses a complicated soldier, then a fragile anti-hero who falls apart and questions his own spiritual beliefs (even though he constantly argues with a messenger from God). Edgerton plays his Pharaoh as a spoiled brat well, but without much teeth or ruthlessness. At 2hrs and 30min, it’s a very long movie that meanders from scene to scene waiting to find some footing. A character study into the lives of the two brothers, rather than the Biblical aspect (as in DeMille’s The Ten Commandments), sets this film apart and, in the end, is it’s undoing. The script is it’s weakness as the story should have spent more time on it’s, oh, shall we say, heavenly aspirations?
There’s a line in “Blazing Saddles” where the Waco Kid says, “I must have killed more men than Cecil B. DeMille”. He wasn’t too far from the truth; given DeMIlle’s tyrannical reputation on the set for “getting the shot” and risking injury to his actors. Whether it was his tenure as a silent movie director or his ultra lavish “Cleopatra” or “The Greatest Show on Earth” films, excess on film was his trademark. Too much was not enough for one of Hollywood’s greatest directors that ever lived and “Ten Commandments” was the last film he ever directed, and WOW! Did he ever go out with a bang!
This almost by-the-book Biblical retelling of Moses (Charlton Heston), the Hebrew baby saved from the Pharaoh’s slaughter of newborn slaves, is rescued by Bithia (Nona Foch), the Pharaoh’s own daughter and brought up as her own son in the house of Kings. As Prince Moses, he has an uneasy sibling rivalry with his half-brother, Ramses (Yul Brynner) over their dad’s (King Sethi–played by the great Sir Cedric Hardwicke) affection. Why? The Jewish slaves love Moses because he is kind and loving to them, giving them a day off from slavery, more food to eat, less whipping, etc.
But when King Sethi finds out his “son” Moses is actually Jewish AND the prophesied “deliverer” of the slaves, he has him banished into the desert. This would kill anybody else, but Moses is rescued by Sephora (Yvonne DeCarlo), a sheepherder. Moses marries Sephora and lives quietly as a sheepherder until he learns of God and His home in the mountain of Sinai. Undaunted, Moses goes and talks to God himself (voiced by Heston, BTW), and is giving instructions to back and get his people out of Egypt and bring them to “the promised land”.
Which Moses does. But not without a whole lotta trouble, I can tell you that! His step-brother, Ramses, is now Pharaoh and doesn’t wanna give them up without a fight. But after plague after nasty plague, Pharaoh capitulates. Moses leads them out through the parted Red Sea (nice SPFX) and to the mountainside where God delivers them the stone Ten Commandments. Seems that the people, after seeing the many plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, and all the amazing sights, STILL don’t believe that God exists and start to worship a golden cow! Are these people nuts or what?
Finally, because these are a “stiff-necked people”, God forces them to wander forty years in the desert to get rid off the rebellious generation, while we see an elderly Moses appointing his brother Joshua (John Derek) to succeed him as leader, says a final good bye to Sephora, and goes forth into the desert and his destiny.
This movie has it all. DeMille’s awesome direction and a super ginormous big-budget for its time, a huge cast of named stars (look for Vincent Price and Edward G. Robinson!), and a dazzling three-strip Technicolor process that made the colors just POP on screen. A dynamite screenplay by Aeneas Mackenzie, Jesse L. Lasky Jr, Jack Gariss, and Fredric M. Frank that yes, took some liberties with the Bible (NO stupid angelic stone creatures!), but still made it entertaining, exciting, and reverent. Solid acting from the entire cast, even in the supporting actors.
And then you got Charlton Heston at his prime. Between this and his “Ben-Hur” role, he was a born superstar and carries this picture so effortlessly that he makes it look easy. Try and remake this picture all you want, but honestly, it pales in comparison to the original grandeur and style of this 1956 masterpiece that was pure Hollywood. This is the movie you buy for your collection.