Saturday, 14 October 2006

The Ten Commandments (DVD) (2006)

Val Kilmer is Moses again

The success of Prince of Egypt should prepare audiences for the eventuality of spinoffs like musicals, musicals on ice, live action dramas, and an animated series. What brings a ray of hope to our future is a spinoff starring Val Kilmer, who provided the superb voice acting for Moses in the 1998 animation, and this hope is brought to us in the form of a stage musical called The Ten Commandments. What you will be watching on this DVD is a filmed version of a stage performance at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood.

It’s a huge undertaking and a very courageous move – the story of Exodus is suited for a film extravaganza that only a Cecille DeMille or a Dreamworks can provide. Can the special effects-heavy premise of Exodus be easily and convincingly portrayed on stage? Then, can a stage performance really be framed and filmed by a video camera and not lose its physical dynamism?

It could boil down to the execution of set pieces, like the pyramids. the 10 plagues. the Golden Calf, the parting of the Red Sea, and the burning bush episodes. There is something sorely lacking when not all 10 plagues are featured, and that those that appear in this musical are shown on a screen projector at the back of the stage. And then you are seriously underwhelmed by the most comical animated frogs to jump out of the Nile. Would you be awed by the parting of the Red Sea, if it looked like two blocks of acrylic? Would you be awed if the burning bush were more of a bronze potted plant with tiny flames spouting from specially-designed recesses at the tip of its artificial leaves? All this may have looked splendid on stage, for all I know, but on screen, it feels like a long series of misses – the singular success being when I uttered aloud, “Now how did the Israelites manage to smelt all that gold and build that enormous calf statue in the desert?” That is the sense of awe I’m talking about, the one that this musical film fails to generate most of the time.

Perhaps then, the key to The Ten Commandments: The Musical lies in the choreography and the music? The huge cast do exude an undeniable sense of energy and conviction in their powerful performance, so much that Val Kilmer, a movie actor, seemed overwhelmed by the size of the ensemble nimbly dancing and singing before him. Then again, with a huge paunch and good 15-20 years over his co-star Kevin Earley, he must have been so uncomfortable with playing frat brother to the regent Ramses in the beginning of the show that he never quite recovered from the trauma.

There is no dialogue as the entire story is told entirely through song. The music, you must be warned, is strictly contemporary rock opera. It’s the type of music you’d expect to find at a service in a local megachurch – you’ll either love it or hate it with a passion. I can’t recall any hummable tunes right now, just half a day after watching the DVD.

The Ten Commandments has to be the first to have a DVD release in the same year as its first stage production – usually it takes 5 to 10 seasons before a popular musical like Les Miserable or Phantom of the Opera ever gets filmed. The Ten Commandments does not deliver what is expected of a stage musical, although it may appeal to those amongst us who just have to watch any biblical story as a rock musical. For better music, rent Prince of Egypt. For more majestic sets, rent either Prince of Egypt or the Cecille DeMille Ten Commandments.

First published at incinemas on 14 October 2006

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