Unwatchable #19: “The Ten Commandments”

Your fearless – and quite possibly senseless – movie janitor is watching every movie on the IMDb Bottom 100 list. Join us now for another installment of Unwatchable.

Rest assured, this is not the time-honored Cecil B. DeMille version of The Ten Commandments you grew up watching on ABC every Easter. No, this is 2007’s computer-animated take on the Biblical tale, designed to make the story of Moses accessible for younger viewers. And if there’s one thing guaranteed to get the kids interested, it’s Elliott Gould as the voice of God.

Hard as it may be to believe, that’s not even the most preposterous piece of casting in this mega-flop from Promenade Pictures. (Released on over 800 screens, The Ten Commandments never cracked the million-dollar mark at the U.S. box office.) Who could possibly step into the sandals of the iconic Charlton Heston? Who could summon the gravitas, match the stentorian delivery, or even hope to approach the Biblical pomposity of the man who would take an entire planet of apes down with him? You may have a name in mind, but I’m guessing that name is not Christian Slater. This is what happens when your mandate is not “find the right person for the role,” but rather, “get a name, any name, regardless of how unconvincing his demand to ‘Let my people go’ may be.”

Slater’s pipsqueak pipes are a problem, but the movie’s flaws run much deeper than that. Moses may be able to part the Red Sea, but crossing the Uncanny Valley proves a much harder task. The CG animation on display here is certainly crisp and colorful, but there’s an unfinished quality to the visuals, as if the animators ran out of memory and rendering time. The backgrounds are impressive in scale, but weirdly untextured. All of the characters have the creepy, dead eyes associated with videogames (and late-period Robert Zemeckis films), and their bouncy movements make the children of Israel look like the Mario Bros.

I’m not sure the goal of making the story more accessible to young viewers is served by giving Moses a donkey friend, just like Shrek has. (Well, not just like Shrek; at least the donkey doesn’t talk.) Screenwriter Ed Naha hits all the highlights: the floating basket, the burning bush, the various plagues, the Red Sea parting, the titular commandments, the golden calf, and the promised land. There’s not much time for context, however, and kids who don’t attend Sunday school on a regular basis are probably going to be at a loss to understand all the ins and outs of life under Pharaoh (and undoubtedly a bit frightened by the uplifting Old Testament stuff about slaying all the first born children and such).

Adults can choose whether to be amused or offended at the fact that Ramses’ Hebrew spy sounds like Buddy Hackett, but the best intentional (I think) laugh comes when, during the 40 years wandering in the desert, one guy whines, “Are we there yet?” Actually, that’s not quite true. I got an even bigger laugh when I checked the IMDb and found that the same creative team is behind Noah’s Ark: The New Beginning, set for release this year. In addition to Michael Keaton as Noah, the cast includes Jason Lee, Jason Mewes, Rob Schneider, Howie Mandel, Eliza Dushku, and Elliott Gould reprising his somnambulant turn as the voice of God. Sounds much more promising than Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, doesn’t it?

Previously on Unwatchable:

20. From Justin to Kelly
21. Keloglan vs. the Black Prince
22. Ghoulies IV
23. Manos: The Hands of Fate
24. Police Academy 7: Mission to Moscow

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