The Ten Commandments
Hey, I heard this fantastic story that I’ve just got to share. There was this kid, see, and his mother puts him in a basket so he can float down the Nile River and be saved from an evil Pharaoh. Yeah, it happened ages ago in ancient Egypt! But the baby’s discovered by a princess who decides to keep him and …
Oh, wait. You’ve already been told this tale?
Of course you have. The story of Moses has been told and retold countless times in the last 3,000 years or so. And now, one more incarnation—a modest, computer-animated effort—sets out to capture the imaginations of a new generation by plying them with one of the Bible’s most popular dramas.
The Ten Commandments doesn’t stick precisely to the original Exodus/Numbers script. But it doesn’t forsake it, either. It begins with baby Moses taking a watery journey down the Nile in a basket (besieged by the occasional crocodile) and ends with a dying, white-haired Moses taking his first and last lingering look at the Promised Land. In between comes CGI interpretations of all the tense, action-packed plot points that draws Hollywood and Sunday School teachers alike to this narrative again and again: The burning bush. The plagues. The parting of the Red Sea. The golden calf. And, of course, the miraculous gift of the Ten Commandments themselves.
Moses is a caring, sensitive chap here—arguably a more accessible role model than the Moses told of in the Bible. At first blush that may sound improper, but consider the problematic breadth of Moses’ character: The real Moses disobeyed God (Numbers 20). The real Moses killed an Egyptian in cold blood and ran away from the deed (Exodus 2). The real Moses begged God to pick someone else to lead the Hebrews to freedom (Exodus 3 and 4). The real Moses tried to tell Pharaoh that the Hebrews would just be gone for three days and, presumably, come back (Exodus 5). Truth is, Moses broke a number of the commandments he’d later bring to his people.
In The Ten Commandments, Moses’ killing of the Egyptian overlord is an accident, an act of self-defense: The slave master decides to attack Moses with a knife and, in the ensuing struggle, gets stabbed himself. Moses isn’t whiny about God’s plans for his life—just modest and humble. He’s forthright in telling Ramses his intentions: "Let my people go," he says. And, while the onscreen Moses confesses that he disobeyed God, the incident is not shown.
"One time I failed him," Moses simply says. "And justly I was punished."
Aaron, too, is given a more positive spin. He makes the golden calf because some bad-apple Hebrews threaten his life and the life of his sister, Miriam. He helps Moses reconnect with his family and heritage, and he sees serving and protecting his baby brother as his life’s work. Miriam, meanwhile, protects Moses when he’s a baby and cracks wise with him while they plow through the wilderness. All three siblings showcase a love for God and each other, and their faith is unwavering—never mind that golden calf thing.
God always does His mighty work with imperfect tools, and the Bible never shies away from that. This film does. But, to be fair, so do most Sunday School teachers when they’re facing a crowd of second-graders dying to hear about big waves and burning bushes. To young children, such rough edges can actually be an impediment to grasping the other meanings God wants us to understand.
So, wrapping the film’s positive themes into its spiritual ones leads us to the fact that reverence and spirituality is a big deal in The Ten Commandments. God speaks throughout. Sometimes His people hear Him. Just as often, though, God’s words are meant for the animated Moses alone: He closes his eyes in prayer, then he smiles and nods and tells his displaced flock what to do next.
Some clearly selfish and jealous Hebrews get pretty ticked off about these intimate conversations. Dathan, the troublemaker-in-chief, sneers at what he calls Moses’ "private god" as he goads his comrades into worshipping a new, visible golden calf instead. Dathan and his small band of rabble-rousers, though, get their comeuppance once Moses comes down from Mt. Sinai with two stone tablets. (Veering pretty far off the biblical storyline, the ground splits open and swallows Dathan, his cohorts and the golden calf whole.)
The Egyptians, of course, have their own set of beliefs. When the Egyptian princess sees the baby Moses lying in the basket, she says, "The gods have given me a son." Ramses’ father says he’ll take the Hebrews down a notch or two "just as Ra [the Egyptian sun god] has told me." Ramses also references Ra.
But both pharaohs are more interested in self-worship than any Egyptian pantheon. "Pharaoh is the god of Egypt," Ramses tells Moses upon their less-than-cordial reunion. "There is no other."
Because of his conceit, Ramses is not moved by the plagues God rains down. Even as Moses threatens him with the 10th and final plague—the one which will bring death to Egypt’s firstborns—Ramses tells his son, "This man is nothing. His god is nothing. His people are nothing."
Of course, because of the story’s context, none of Ramses’ ramblings are deemed either appropriate or profitable. The King of kings is the Lord of all here. And no one watching will likely interpret it any differently.
Dathan cavorts with some buxom, scantily clad women during the festival of the golden calf. Computer-conjured midriffs are shown in this scene, and in scenes with Pharaoh’s daughter and Moses’ wife, Zipporah.
Moses’ life was, in truth, filled with violence and bloodshed. The Ten Commandments relays some of those moments, but refrains from presenting them with any sort of visual impact. Images of gore are almost always left to the imagination of the viewer.
Moses’ struggle with the Egyptian overlord comes across as more a wrestling bout than a death match. And the "camera" does not show the knife hit home. (Moses is seen dropping the bloody blade afterwards.) On the advice of his brother, Moses tries to flee, and through Moses’ eyes we see his frantic video game-style flight through narrow Egyptian streets. His escape comes to a sudden end when he’s thwacked by a pole and the screen fades to white.
The first plagues are played for almost comic affect: Ramses’ son giggles nervously when a frog hops on his shoulder; Ramses dismisses the power of God as he slaps a fly on his neck. There’s nothing funny about the final plague, but its full horrific impact goes largely unseen. Wispy spirits do their work behind closed doors. Only the city’s anguished cries hint at the destruction.
An Egyptian soldier is shown taking a young Hebrew baby away from his mother—a child we know is destined to be drowned in the Nile River. When the Red Sea comes crashing down on the chariots pursuing Moses’ Hebrew flock, we see the bodies of horses and men floating upwards. Dathan’s end, though cartoonish, is loud and intense.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
When Moses spikes the Nile with blood, Ramses retorts, "I don't need to drink water when I have wine." Dathan is shown sipping from what looks to be a wine goblet. And a couple of Hebrews get drunk while worshipping the golden calf.
Other Negative Elements
The Ten Commandments is not strictly a straight telling of a biblical epic. It’s just as much—or more—an animated homage to the 1956 classic The Ten Commandments, starring Charlton Heston at his manly, bearded best.
Much of Dathan’s character is borrowed from the Cecil B. DeMille film, for instance. And Moses’ red robe looks a lot like the kind of get-up Heston favored. Even some of the dialogue is roundly reminiscent:
"Here is your scepter. You are now a prince of the desert," Ramses sneers. "Be the prince of the scorpions, the locusts and the buzzards."
That sounds quite a bit like what Yul Brynner’s Ramses tells Heston’s Moses:
"Here is your king’s scepter, and here is your kingdom, with the scorpion, the cobra, and the lizard for subjects."
In the Bible, of course, Moses wasn’t kicked out of Egypt. He ran away. And that brings up an important point we should all try to keep in mind when it comes to reading books about and watching movies about things that happened in the Bible: Sometimes it can be hard to remember what really happened in the Bible when well-meaning adaptations take freehand dramatic license either to bulk up conversations left out in Scripture, or to make the tale more palatable—usually for children.
And make no mistake: This is a film for children. The computer animation looks primitive. The dialogue sounds simplistic. The characters are rendered in 3-D, but the characterizations are flat and two-dimensional—sort of like those old Sunday-morning flannelgraphs my generation grew up with.
Still, the heart’s all here. The Ten Commandments, which is the first of a planned 12 movies in Promenade Pictures’ "Epic Stories of the Bible" series, conveys God’s might and love with reverence and sincerity. And it leaves the soul—and the point—of the story intact. In stark contrast to many of the films playing in cavernous screening rooms—and later, living rooms—nearby, this is a movie designed to lead children to God, not away from Him.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Voices of Christian Slater as Moses; Alfred Molina as Ramses; Elliott Gould as God; Ben Kingsley as Narrator
Bill Boyce ( ), John Stronach ( )