Jewish and Christian children start hearing tales of Moses at an early age. As they get older, they might be quizzed over naming the Ten Commandments. Get them in the right order and there might be extra credit. And every Easter or Passover they might be sat down to watch this film, but I hope their parents brought extra jelly beans or matzoh, cause thee hours is can really make these kids feel like they’ve been in bondage for four hundred years.
The story on film doesn’t deviate much from Exodus. Because the Pharaoh has ordered all the male babies to be slain, Moses’ mother puts him in a basket and sets him floating down the Nile in hope that he will be saved. He is found by Pharaoh’s sister, who hides the fact that he is Hebrew and proclaims that he is her child. Skip forward to Moses (Charlton Heston) in adulthood, a proud Prince of Egypt who’s just returned from Ethiopia. Ramses (Yul Brynner) and Moses kinda share the same girlfriend and Moses is in charge of building a city.
Anyway, it takes about an hour or so to get past the exposition and to where Moses learns that he’s actually Hebrew and is sent to the desert. He miraculously survives, meets a family, becomes accepted by them and learns about the God of Abraham. Years later, while tending his flock, Moses finds The Burning Bush where God tells him that he is the deliverer and must go back to Egypt. Then you pop in disc two and wake your kids up for the more exciting half of the movie.
Honestly, all the most memorable parts of this film are in the second half: staff to snake, the plagues, parting of the Red Sea, golden calf party and angry Moses smashing the commandments, creating some crazy Hell’s crevice. These scenes are your jelly bean popping/matzoh munching memory makers.
Of all the awards this film was nominated for, it only won for best special effects. For 1956, these effects are pretty amazing. The burning bush looks like it’s radiating like a sun within and out the bush. The transition from staff to snake is pretty flawless. And the clouds in the background always play a huge role, especially that sinister green ominous smokey hand in the sky coming down to take the first born. The effects were so key to this film, that Cecil B. DeMille didn’t want to tell anyone his trick to parting the Red Sea. Simply put, it’s two masses of water poured together into a basin, but the film is in reverse. Today most of us can see that pretty easily, but it takes some real ingenuity to first figure that out.
I may rag on this film for being way too long and only being interesting in the second half, but it is done so well that I have to recommend it. The story is in tact, it is visually engaging and the soundtrack is marvelous. If you’re Jewish or not, the story of Passover is brought to life so well in a convicting and frightening way. If you have surround-sound, crank it up and scare your kids with people randomly screaming in terror and agony. Maybe this will bring a little more appreciation to their religion.
“Arise all Israel, behold the dawn of freedom!”