The Ten Commandments: Special Edition (1956)

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Released 4-Aug-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio & Animation
Audio Commentary-Katherine Orrison (Author)
Featurette-Newsreel: Premiere In New York
Featurette-The Chosen People
Featurette-Land Of The Pharaohs
Featurette-The Paramount Lot
Featurette-The Score
Featurette-Mr DeMille
Theatrical Trailer-1956 'Making Of Trailer', 1966, 1989
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1956
Running Time 222:01
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Cecil B. DeMille

Paramount Home Entertainment
Starring Charlton Heston
Yul Brynner
Anne Baxter
Edward G. Robinson
Yvonne De Carlo
Debra Paget
John Derek
Cedric Hardwicke
Nina Foch
Martha Scott
Judith Anderson
Vincent Price
John Carradine
Case ?
RPI $24.95 Music Elmer Bernstein

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.75:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
English Audio Commentary
German Audio Commentary
French Audio Commentary
Spanish Audio Commentary
Italian Audio Commentary
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    One of Hollywood's greatest religious epics, Cecil B DeMille's The Ten Commandments has been given the Special Edition treatment on DVD.

    In the 1950s, the box office was dominated by two genres: the first was Disney animated films, such as Lady And The Tramp (1955), Peter Pan (1953), and Sleeping Beauty (1959), numbers two, three, and six in the 1950's Top Ten grossing films list. The second genre was the religious epic. With the arrival of television in the 1950s, films had to get bigger and bolder (and wider) to drag people out of their homes. As a result, technicolour epic films were born. Spectacles of colour and sound, these widescreen Cinemascope productions featured lavish sets, casts of thousands, big stars, and exotic locations. Top earning 1950s epics include Ben-Hur (1959) and The Robe (1953), numbers four and eight in the 1950's Top Ten grossing films list. But one movie towered above all of them. The Ten Commandments (1956) grossed over US$43 million on release, making it the number one box office film of the 1950s. The Ten Commandments was also to become the Star Wars of its day. It was the biggest SFX film ever made, combining old technology such as matte painting with groundbreaking new visual and sound effects.

    Originally billed as "The Greatest Event in Motion Picture History!", the movie was panned by most critics on its release. But DeMille answered them in his unmistakable style, by declaring: "I win my awards at the box office!"

    Shot on location in Egypt, Mount Sinai, and on the Paramount lot, with a shooting script over 300 pages long with 70 speaking roles, and taking over five years to make, The Ten Commandments was to be the most expensive film ever produced in Hollywood at the time. It was also to become DeMille's last film, and was to prove a gruelling undertaking for the cast and crew. Indeed, one female extra now famously asked during the production: "who do you have to sleep with to get off this picture?"

    The Ten Commandments was originally conceived as a simple remake of DeMille's famous 1923 film version. However, the story for the remake is considerably longer, and is based on Exodus in The Bible, historical records, and three books: Dorothy Clarke Wilson's Prince Of Egypt, Rev. JH Ingraham's Pillar Of Fire, and Rev. AE Southon's On Eagle's Wings. Undoubtedly, the story has a strong 1950s American Civil Rights theme, in its tale of oppression and the struggle for freedom.

    The Ten Commandments tells the famous Jewish legend of Moses. Set in Ancient Egypt, a baby boy is placed in a basket by his mother and floated down the Nile River. The basket is found by the Pharaoh's daughter. A childless widow, she adopts the boy as her son. As with the original story, we then skip about 30 years, and find Moses (Charlton Heston) as a successful Egyptian General, and conqueror of Ethiopia. Moses has been raised as the new Pharaoh's son, much to the dismay of the Pharaoh's 'natural' son, the jealous Rameses II (Yul Brynner). Upon discovering his Hebrew slave roots, Moses leaves the royal palace to live as a slave amongst his people. After killing a man in a fight, Moses is exiled, and lives as a shepherd with a Bedouin tribe. However, his life changes drastically when, aged 80, Moses is called up Mount Sinai by God (voiced by Charlton Heston), in the form of a burning bush. God tells Moses to return to Egypt and liberate his people. To do so, Moses will have to face the ruthless Rameses II, who has since become Pharaoh himself.

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Transfer Quality


    While the transfer is grainy, overall it is surprisingly good considering the age of the source material.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.75:1, 16x9 enhanced.

    The image lacks definition, and it is usually quite soft. The shadow detail is acceptable, but the picture often seems to have a very high contrast.

    The colour is representative of 1950s Technicolor films, but some of the skin tones looked a little too brown.

    There were no problems with MPEG or film-to-video artefacts. Film artefacts appear throughout, and while most are small, some are quite large. However, considering the age of the source material, I was very impressed.

    Subtitles are offered in 23 languages, and the English ones were simplified, but accurate.

    This epic film is spread across two dual-layered discs. Disc One opens with an Overture and a Prologue before the story starts. It ends at the film's original Intermission. Disc One holds 130:12 minutes of the film, and the layer change is at 64:40. Disc Two holds 91:49 minutes of the film. It opens with the Entr'acte and runs to the conclusion of the film. There is Exit music at the end. On Disc Two the layer change is at 54:30.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    Originally released in Magnetic Stereo, the film's audio has been remixed into English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s) for this DVD. There are also a number of other audio tracks to choose from: German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s), French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s), Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s), and Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s). There is an English Audio Commentary presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s). During the Overture and Entre’acte, the sound is quite flat and thin, but generally this film's audio has been beautifully remastered.

    The dialogue quality was fine. The audio sync was usually spot on, but occasionally it was slightly out, such as at 38:17 (Disc One).

    The score is credited to Elmer Bernstein. It is a sweeping orchestral score that really underlines the drama on screen. DeMille shows off his silent era filmmaking roots by insisting that each of the main characters have a distinctive theme as a musical cue.

    The surround presence and activity is obviously limited due to the source material. That said, the Dolby Digital 5.1 manages to be quite immersive at times with its use of ambience, such as the birds chirping at 13:32 (Disc One). The score is also piped through the rears, such as at 46:13 (Disc Two). I wasn't expecting any subwoofer action, but I was pleasantly surprised. The LFE track is used effectively to support the effects, such as the ominous rumble of the giant stone being dragged at 30:31 (Disc One), or the Ten Commandments' stone tablets being smashed at 83:18 (Disc One).

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    There are a number of interesting extras befitting a film of this importance. Unless stated otherwise, they are all presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, with Dolby Digital Stereo audio.


    An animated menu with audio.

Audio Commentary

    This is a screen-specific commentary by Katherine Orrison, author of Written In Stone: Making Cecil B DeMille's Epic, The Ten Commandments. Orrison spent seven years researching and writing her book about a film she sounds almost obsessive about. Her commentary is informative and detailed, but often a little dry and academic.


    Original Newsreel of the film's Premiere In New York

Featurette-Making Of

    This six-part documentary can be viewed as its separate segments: Moses, The Chosen People, Land Of The Pharaohs, The Paramount Lot, The Score and Mr DeMille, or all together. The featurette runs for about 40 minutes, and contains recent interviews with some key cast and crew, including the likes of Charlton Heston and Elmer Bernstein.

Theatrical Trailers

    There are three trailers: The 1956 'Making Of Trailer' (which runs for about 10 minutes), and the 1966 and 1989 re-release theatrical trailers.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Ten Commandments has been released twice on DVD in Region 1, in both Standard and Special Editions. In terms of content, our Special Editions are the same, but I would prefer the R4 for our superior PAL transfer.


    As a child, I grew up watching Cecil B DeMille's The Ten Commandments whenever it was on television. Now, watching it for the first time as an adult, I can see its many flaws and its poor pacing. Overly long, with a story that fizzles out at the end (Moses and his people wander aimlessly through the desert for 40 years, before Moses dies aged 120), the film appears quite dated. That said, it remains a very important film in terms of Hollywood history, and an epic film classic that everyone should see at least once.

    The video quality is surprisingly good, considering the age of the film.

    The audio quality is also surprisingly good.

    The extras are excellent.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Brandon Robert Vogt (warning: bio hazard)
Wednesday, July 21, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-535, using S-Video output
DisplayGrundig Elegance 82-2101 (82cm, 16x9). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationSony STR DE-545
SpeakersSony SS-V315 x5; Sony SA-WMS315 subwoofer

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Comments (Add)
Where are the comparisons with the orig. R4 release etc. -