I’ve finally gotten around to watching the second part of The Ten Commandments with Yule Brenner and Charleton Heston. It’s only been 2.5 years, which is fairly par for the course as far as my movie-watching habits go. If you need a refresher (why would you?), you can find my review of Part I here.

The first part of the movie covers Moses’s early life in Egypt, his flight to Midian, meeting Zipporah, and closes with Moses returning from his first encounter with God. The second part sees his return to Egypt, the plagues, Israel’s escape from Egypt, the parting of the sea, the issuing of the decalogue, and ends with Moses heading off to die.

10Commandments1When Moses first returns to Egypt (uneventfully, there’s no Exodus 4:24-26), he confronts Rameses while the latter is accepting tributes. Notably, one of the tributes is offered by a certain Priam of Troy who is, inexplicably, dressed like a blue Roman soldier. The dating for this to be the Priam of Troy is possible depending on your historian of choice.

Moses has Aaron pull his staff-into-snake trick (the literal passing of the baton as incomprehensible on screen as it was in text). When Rameses’s son flinches, there’s a bit of nasty foreshadowing when his mother, Nefretiri, tells him not to worry because “nothing of his [Moses’s] will harm you.” The scene ends, as in the text, with Pharaoh punishing the Hebrews by making them make bricks without straw – though in the movie version he allows them to collect gleanings. Unless I’m mistaken, this is an addition.

Now, we never really see the Israelites making these bricks. When we see them working in Part I, they are pulling blocks of stone around, presumably because someone thought it was more dramatic. In context, it’s rather funny to see them griping about not being allowed to make their stone blocks with straw, though.

Nefretiri plays a fairly common femme fatale/Lady Macbeth character. She tries to tempt Moses,  is rebuffed, then lashes out by holding the Israelites hostage. In the text, we are told that God hardens Pharaoh’s heart so that he has more opportunities to show off how mighty he is. Here, it is Nefretiri who convinces Rameses to keep the Hebrews captive (ostensibly to get back at Moses, though Rameses later accuses her of doing it to keep Moses around).

10CommandmentsThe plagues are largely skipped over. Given the costs involved in showing them, it’s quite understandable. We do see a few glimpses, though, such as the hail storm from Exodus 9:24. Interestingly, while most translations have it as a hail storm with lightning, others have it as “hail and fire.” In the movie, they had this as regular hail that, for some reason, ignites on the backdrop while failing to set Rameses – who is standing in it – on fire.

Strangely, Rameses denies the miraculous nature of the plagues, coming up with a naturalistic explanation – despite the fact that he watched, just a few minutes prior, the water in his jug turn to blood. The scene felt like a rather heavy-handed attack on the movement in biblical scholarship to find natural explanations for miracles.

The film-makers seem to have been understandably troubled by the slaughter of the first born from Exodus 12. Rather than God just doing it because he can, the film-makers chose to have Rameses order the slaughter of the first-born Israelites first (echoing the killing that brought Moses into the royal household in the first place), making the supernatural plague a retaliation. That being said, Moses is the jerk who, when Rameses relents, starts rattling off all the people and stuff he’s going to take with him when he leaves as Nefretiri is onscreen holding her dead child.

They also add a strange detail – Nefretiri comes to Moses’s home and sends away Zipporah and her son. Perhaps this was included to prevent the audience from seeing her as a full baddie. The film-makers also seem to really like Bithiah – the princess who finds the baby Moses. On the night of the plague, she defects to the Israelite side and, during their eventual escape, brings an old man onto her palanquin.

In the movie version, the Israelites are released when Rameses thinks that it might save his son. They do not lie and escape under false pretences. They do still steal from the Egyptians, though, only in the movie, it seems to be a foreshadowing of the Golden Calf story, showing the greed/vice that the movie will tie explicitly to that episode. It is not commanded by God, as it was in Exodus.

Joshua features far more prominently than he does in the text at this point. Not only is he seen to be organizing the escaping Israelites, he is also given a love interest – Lilia, who is married (or perhaps simply cohabitating) with Dathan. Dathan, too, sees his role expanded from a minor baddie in Numbers 16 to a traitor/overseer, maybe-rapist, and the principal instigator of the Golden Calf incident.

10Commandments2Speaking of which, Korah is there as well, though only as a brief name-drop. When Moses throws the tablets down in anger upon finding the people worshipping an idol and getting up to all sorts of nasty business (everything from partying to attempted human sacrifice), the ground under the idolaters opens up, as it does in Numbers 16. This is quite different from the Golden Calf story in the text, where Moses has the faithful cut the idolaters down with swords. This wouldn’t, I suspect, have fit with the image they were trying to present.

At least Aaron is seen to be centrally involved in the making of the Calf.

Interestingly, Moses curses the idolaters by telling them that “for this you shall drink bitter waters.” This seems to be a reference to Numbers 5, but that was a test, not a curse, and was used on women suspected of adultery. I think it likely that a script-writer just wanted a “biblical-sounding curse” and that’s what someone came up with.

On the whole, I found Part II much slower and duller than the first. Then again, much of it could simply be because I’ve never been a fan of action sequences. I tend to listen to movies rather than watch them; I need to keep my hands busy, so I do other things and only look up occasionally. For me, a long action sequence is nothing but a bunch of fast-paced music and, depending on the movie, the sound of explosions. I did try to actively watch The Ten Commandments – easy enough while my paintbrush was replaced with a pen for taking notes – but the long periods without dialogue toward the end of the movie had me fidgeting all over the place.

Even so, it was an interesting movie. It’s very clearly dated by its special effects and acting style, but it was interesting to see what they did with source material that doesn’t lend itself easily to film adaptation. I found it particularly interesting to re-watch the movie after Noah has come out. I haven’t actually seen Noah yet, but I’ve heard complaints from many quarters about how unfaithful it is to the source material, whereas the only complaints I’ve heard about The Ten Commandments have to do with hammy acting. This is something I particularly noticed with The History Channel’s The Bible, since that has been getting a lot of play in churches, despite clearly inventing a lot of details that contradict the text. One might be excused for assuming that the reaction to embellishment is guided more by whether they mesh with the viewer’s preconceived ideas than simply their presence.