The Ten Commandments
Another year, another Moses movie. Cecil B. DeMille made two movies called The Ten Commandments—one in 1923, during the silent era, and the other in 1956, starring Charlton Heston and a whole lot of deliciously campy dialogue—so it only makes sense that others would continue to tell this story, even to the point of recycling the title. In the past few years alone, we have seen a TV mini-series called The Ten Commandments as well as The Ten Commandments: The Musical—a straight-to-DVD adaptation of a stage production starring Val Kilmer, who once provided the voice of Moses for the big-budget cartoon The Prince of Egypt.
Now comes the low-budget cartoon—and this film, too, features at least one actor who has parted the Red Sea before. This computer-animated version of The Ten Commandments, which opens in theaters this week, is the first in a projected 12-part series of epic Bible stories, and the warm, smooth voice that narrates the movie is provided by Ben Kingsley, who once starred in the 1996 mini-series Moses.
The new film is pretty clearly intended for young children and their families. For example, one of the Israelites, tired of trudging through the desert, actually moans, "Are we there yet?" as though he were a child buckled into the back seat of a station wagon. Joshua, meanwhile, is little more than a kid in his early teens, itching for a chance to go up Mount Sinai. And as the Hebrews march down the dry path that crosses the Red Sea, a child sticks his head through the wall of water to get a good look at the dolphins, fish, and sea turtles swimming by. I don't recall seeing that happen in a Moses movie before, but it's precisely the sort of thing my friends and I used to have fun imagining when we discussed this story in Sunday school.
The script, by Ed Naha (Honey I Shrunk the Kids), also tones down a few bits that might not have felt appropriate for a "family" movie, even though the stories do come from the Bible. When Moses (voiced by Christian Slater), an Egyptian prince unaware of his Hebrew parentage, sees an Egyptian taskmaster beating a Hebrew slave, he does not kill the taskmaster in cold blood, as the Bible tells it; instead, Moses kills the taskmaster accidentally, in self-defense, after the taskmaster attacks him.
In a huge coincidence, this accidental killing is immediately followed by the arrival of Moses' brother Aaron (Christopher Gaze), who shows up from out of nowhere and spells out the entire story of Moses' origins, and then tells Moses to flee for his life. It's an awfully contrived moment, but the equivalent scene in The Prince of Egypt—in which Moses realizes he is a Hebrew because he recognizes a lullaby that his mother had sung to him when he was only a few months old—wasn't particularly believable either. In fairness to the filmmakers, the Bible is not exactly clear on when or how Moses learned of his Hebrew heritage, and neither of these cartoons has the time to create a long but satisfying subplot like the one DeMille used.