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Thursday, August 5, 2021

The Ten Commandments (1956) (4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Review)


The Film
The Video (Overall)
HDR Effect
The Audio
The Supplements


The biblical story of Moses (Charlton Heston) leading the Hebrews out of bondage in Egypt and eventually receiving the law of God in the form of the Ten Commandments on two stone tablets after wandering forty-years in the dessert is told in this epic Cecil B. DeMille, a remake of his own 1923 film. The 4K Ultra HD disc is taken from the same gorgeous 2010 restoration as previously released on Blu-ray, here showing even more detail and sheen.

The Ten Commandments (1956) 4K Ultra HD (Paramount)1956’s The Ten Commandments was Cecil B. DeMille’s second time bringing the story to the big screen. Both films could be considered epics, but it is certainly the the latter version that outdoes the 1923 version, both owing to the advancements in technology by the time of its filming, and its cast.

The film is a nearly-four-hour Technicolor spectacle filmed both on the soundstage in Hollywood and on location in Egypt to tell the Biblical story of Moses (Charlton Heston) who is rescued from a river as a baby and raised by the Pharoah’s sister as a Prince of Egypt, only to grow to adulthood and lead his Hebrew people out of bondage after being used as the hand of God against his Egyptian brother, the Pharaoh Rameses (Yule Brynner). Moses will eventually lead the Hebrews through the desert for forty-years before receiving the laws of God on two tablets, The Ten Commandments.

DeMille’s film is a visually stunning affair that used the very best visual effects of the time, thousands of extras, and the A-list Hollywood actors like Edward G. Robinson as Dathan, the Egyptian sympathetic Hebrew and of course Brynner who is magnificent and stentorian in his role as Rameses.

The Video

The Ten Commandments comes to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray in a 1.78:1 HEVC 2160p (4K UHD) encodement with Dolby Vision. The transfer is taken from the 2010 6K restoration that has been previously released on Blu-ray, most recently in the US in 2020 in a three-disc DigiBook release alongside DeMille’s 1923 version of the film as well. This 4K edition looks spectacular. It hasn’t been pumped up to look particularly bright or much more colorful and unnatural, but the differences between the Blu-ray and 4K are subtle. The Dolby Vision adds just a bit more sheen to the armor and gold and ‘pop’ to some of the specular highlights in flames. Standout scenes are at chapter 19, around the 01:36:56 mark where Heston is chained in a cave and Brenner and Anne Baxter come to talk to him. You can see the beautiful blues and reds and the amazing contrast between the dark, inky shadows and the pop of light. Another standout is the burning bush scene at chapter 29, 02:10:21. On the Blu-ray the flame looks much more yellowish, but on the 4K disc there are hints of orange and red and slightly deeper contrast between the shadows and light. Last, but certainly not least, are chapters 44-45 starting at the 03:32:03 mark where we see the tablet and golden calf scenes. While these scenes really ‘pop’ on the 4K with gorgeous specular highlights and amazing Technicolor, you will be surprised to find that they are also only marginally different than the Blu-ray that delivers nearly as equal visual results. The 4K does have bit more overall detail which seems to result in revealing more of the obvious blue screen effects or even breaks in some of the painted backgrounds used in some scenes.

The Audio

The 4K Ultra HD of The Ten Commandments arrives with the same English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio mix from the 6K restoration Blu-ray release of 2020, which is very competent and the closest we have to the original 70mm 6-track of the 1989 re-release. It sounds big, atmospheric, and dynamic. The moments the flames it the tablets or when the Red Sea parts are just two aural highlights.

The Supplements

If you’re looking for a ton of extras this isn’t the release you’re looking for. You want the previous DigiBook release from last year that also had the 1923 version of the film among other extras. This 4K release comes with the same previous 2010 6K restoration Blu-rays and fantastic audio commentary by Katherine Orrison that I highly recommend everyone listen to for the incredible number of details and trivia about the film’s production and the cast and crew she brings.

  • Digital Movie Code included
  • 2 Blu-rays with feature film and special features
  • Commentary by Katherine Orrison, author of Written in Stone: Making Cecil B. DeMille’s Epic, The Ten Commandments
  • (Blu-ray 2) Newsreel: The Ten Commandments – Premiere in New York (1080p; 00:02:24)
  • (Blu-ray 2) Trailers:
    • 1956 “Making of” Trailer
    • 1966 Trailer
    • 1989 Trailer

The Final Assessment

Stunning, epic, gorgeous, classic in every way. This film makes the rounds every year around Easter and with good reason. I’m not really a religious epic film buff, but in terms of technical and visual storytelling, you rarely find better than this and the 4K, while only a slight upgrade over the already superb, restored Blu-ray, is a magnificent way to watch it. Highly recommended.

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The Ten Commandments (1956) is out on 4K Ultra HD Combo March 30, 2021 from Paramount

  • Rating Certificate: G
  • Studios & Distributors: Motion Picture Associates | Paramount Pictures | Paramount Home Entertainment
  • Director: Cecil B. DeMille
  • Written By: Dorothy Clarke Wilson et. al.
  • Run Time: 231 Mins.
  • Street Date: 30 March 2021
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Video Format: HEVC 2160p (4K UHD)
  • HDR Format: Dolby Vision (compatible w/HDR10)
  • Primary Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1
  • Secondary Audio: German DD Mono | French DD Mono | Spanish DD 2.0 Mono (Blu-ray) | Portuguese DD 2.0 Mono (Blu-ray)

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