The Ten Commandments
Not Ready for Primetime

The Ten Commandments is like an animated, big-screen Sunday school lesson reminiscent of old-school flannel-graphs. The problem is that big screens are very unforgiving with animation flaws—so this film’s flaws measure about 20’ by 60’, and there are plenty of them.

But the good news is that this is an accurate biblical extraction of the story of Moses and the children of Israel from the book of Exodus. The story is a good one and bears retelling. After all, the Israelites have told the story to their children for millennia. Personally, I heard the story every year throughout my childhood.

Moses kneels to pray in The Ten Commandments

A faithful retelling of the story, the film could nonetheless have benefited from some humor. Instead, it is large, garish, and overdone, falling down badly in the animation department. Had this film been an actual flannel-graph, the voice work of Christian Slater, Ben Kingsley, Alfred Molina, and Elliot Gould would have been enough to carry us through. However, as soon as the “people” start moving and talking, the artwork is so distracting that I found it hard to sit through the whole film. (I did, though, mostly for the music by Reg Powell.)

Let me explain: The cartoonish characters are drawn well; but there’s too much detail for relatively static cartoons. Each character has bright white and straight teeth. The animators go to great trouble to approximate the shape of the mouths when characters form vow-wells and con-so-nants. Each time these characters walk, they appear to be struggling against some 150 mile-per-hour wind storm. Don’t even ask about animals and running armies.

At least the makers of South Park admit they can’t make their characters walk. Throughout the screening I was fighting that creepy feeling you get when you are trying to run in a dream and can’t get your body to move despite your best efforts.

I don’t understand the motivation behind producing this as a theatrical release. I believe it is grossly optimistic to release it on the big screen. The producers spent some big money to attract the voice talent, and the storytelling in that regard is very good. Special mention should be made of Mr. Gould’s characterization of a loving God. But the film itself does not support the fine work of these seasoned actors. Still, they must be paid—and a successful theatrical run might be the only option to make that happen.

But The Ten Commandments would be better reserved for Saturday morning cartoon time. Perhaps some churches and synagogues will stock it in their children’s libraries; I cannot see any other viable interest for this cheesy, garish film. I attended a free screening for press and the public. Twenty of us started the movie; sixteen of us finished it.

The Ten Commandments is rated PG for “mild peril.” Yes, this film is targeting small children, but they manage to squeeze in the part where Moses kills an Egyptian.

Courtesy of a national publicist, Mike attended a promotional screening of The Ten Commandments.