Saturday, April 03, 2010


I'm watching ABC's annual telecast of Cecil B. DeMille's 1956 epic The Ten Commandments as I write this.  (I briefly thought of doing a full-fledged live blog, commenting on the awful time-compressed video, commercial breaks and everything else about the broadcast itself...but that seemed like a lot of work.)

This is a movie that, a little over a decade ago, seemed to have aged terribly.  But some funny things happened since then.  The notoriously awful rear projection and matte work looks uncannily like the bad digital compositing common in almost every movie now.  DeMille's clumsy blocking, essentially a series of stagy tableaux, resembles the equally non-cinematic staging of comic book-crazy contemporary directors like Zack Snyder, who utilize actors as mere props in front of a green screen.

The difference, of course, is that so many of today's filmmakers use their digital tools as ends in themselves, conjuring blatantly artificial CGI landscapes solely to wallow in their own awesomeness.  DeMille utilized spectacle in service of a story.  However campy the dialogue ("Your tongue will dig your grave, Memnet!") and overwrought the performances (compared to most of the cast, Charlton Heston--of all people!--gives the most subtle performance), the director certainly knows how to spin a yarn, even if he lays on the Hollywood piety a bit thick.

It wasn't exactly a good movie when it was made, and it hasn't improved with age.  But it is supremely watchable, and certainly entertaining, and if its one-time liabilities now make it seem oddly contemporary, stylistically, maybe it will show audiences what they're missing in our digital age: A good story, told well.