Flashback: Over one hundred years of Moses movies!

It’s Passover this week, so it seemed like an opportune time to dust off and re-post the various articles I have written on movies about Moses and the Exodus.

The grand-daddy of them all would have to be ‘Lights! Camera! Plagues!,’ which first appeared in the February 1999 issue of Bible Review and, to my amazement, has since popped up on the required or recommended reading lists for various university courses. The article, which was written to coincide with the release of The Prince of Egypt (1998), was originally quite a bit longer than what ended up in the magazine, so now, for the first time ever, I have posted an extended version of it here.

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Review: The Ten Commandments (dir. Bill Boyce & John Stronach, 2007)

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. The computer-animated version of The Ten Commandments, which opens in theatres 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.

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Review: Three movies called The Ten Commandments (1923, 1956, 2006)

From its annual television broadcasts to its frequent repackaging for home video, The Ten Commandments is not only one of the biggest hit movies of all time, it is also one of the most enduring. But what many people don’t know is that this famous movie, like a number of other 1950s Bible epics, was actually a remake of a 1920s silent film.

A new DVD aims to fill that gap. Marking the remake’s 50th anniversary, both films have been combined in a three-disc package. The first two discs are identical to a “special edition” of the 1956 version that was released two years ago; but the third disc marks the first time that the 1923 version has ever been released on DVD.

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Review: The Ten Commandments (dir. Cecil B. DeMille, 1956)

With industry analysts predicting a box-office take of over $300 million, The Passion of The Christ is easily the biggest religious blockbuster in decades. But for sheer popularity, staying power and cultural clout, it would be hard to top the biblical epics of the 1950s.

One film towers above them all. According to Box Office Mojo, Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments — which is now available as a “special collector’s edition” DVD — grossed the equivalent of $790 million in its day, and thus remains one of the five most successful films of all time.

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“Let My Actors Go”

Movie sets often feature archaeological remains, but how often do they become archaeological sites in their own right? Parts of Cecil B. DeMille’s first version of The Ten Commandments were filmed on a massive set built in the sand dunes near Guadalupe, California. To prevent competitors from shooting their own films on the site and beating him to the box office, DeMille buried the set under the sand once he was done, and there it lay undisturbed for 60 years.

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Lights, Camera, Plagues! / Moses in the Movies

Moses is revered by three major world religions as a hero of the faith, a prophet, and a lawgiver. He is also a thriving part of popular culture. When the National Rifle Association recently elected Charlton Heston, who is best known for his portrayal of Moses in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments, as its new president, the NRA’s vice president said that it was “a way of saying, ‘Hey, Moses is on our side.’” And when Jeffrey Katzenberg, cofounder of the DreamWorks studio, wanted to show that his animation team could compete with Disney, he produced The Prince of Egypt, the first major film about Moses in more than 40 years.

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