A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that there are potentially nightmare-inducing elements for small children, such as the Ten Plagues (which do not spare children and innocents). While essential parts are faithful to the biblical narrative, much of the late parts of Exodus and Deuteronomy are excised, and much is Hollywood scriptwriters filling in the blanks with romantic-triangle melodrama. Part of the appeal of "biblical epics" was that they could get away with depicting some pretty intense (for the time) violence and sensuality, as long as it was in the context of sin and inevitably punished by heaven. This wasn't the worst offender by far -- in fact scenes of debauchery come off as more silly than sexy -- but that's something to keep in mind.
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What's the story?
In this epic from Cecil B. DeMille, a Hebrew baby, the prophesied savior of the enslaved Jewish people, is secretly adopted into the mighty royal household of Egypt. Growing up noble, humane, and chivalrous, young prince Moses (Charlton Heston) is the aging pharaoh's favorite and chosen successor. Moses competes with his haughty half-brother Ramses (Yul Brynner) for a sultry Egyptian princess. But when Moses discovers his origins, he willingly becomes a slave like all the other Hebrews, and is ultimately sent into exile. Contacted personally by God, Moses returns to Egypt and frees his people, the Israelites. At first, Moses acts as political activist and slave-liberator who disdains the Hebrew God as distant and uncaring about His peoples' bondage. But once he meets God, the more spiritual messages emerge, climaxing in stupendous special effects with the parting of the Red Sea and the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai.
Is it any good?
If you can get past the melodrama and the length of the movie, it's worth experiencing this elaborate retelling of a great story. A long-running theatrical hit and traditional network TV airing every year at Passover/Easter, THE TEN COMMANDMENTS is so burned into viewer consciousness it's practically impossible to separate its images from the Bible and Torah narratives. Remember that, however inspired by the divine it might be, this was a Hollywood movie, a high point in a number of "Bible epics" filmed at a time when the movie industry was fearful of competition from television. The aim for epic-specialist director Cecil B. DeMille, thus, became BIG films for theaters, so BIG and IMPORTANT that TV couldn't rival it. God's lawgiver was judged to be sufficiently big.
Drawbacks for the home viewers: First that you should watch The Ten Commandments on a widescreen setup to get the full visual impact of the vast sets, color, f/x, and pageantry DeMille oversaw. In the "full-screen" version the image is constrained, the dramatics sometimes stagey and stiff. Keep in mind that while the basic narrative sticks to the Bible, Hollywood scriptwriters filled in the blanks with romantic-triangle melodrama, material from at least three novels about Moses, and a silent-era version of The Ten Commandments also directed by DeMille.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the film's religious message, and its portrayal of Moses as a liberator of slaves and a champion of freedom and justice for the downtrodden. While not contrary to the Old Testament, do you think this is a mainstream "Americanization" of the Bible's themes, especially in Cold War-era Hollywood? You can use the movie as a way to get kids to read the Bible or the Torah to see if and how The Ten Commandments deviates.
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