Old vs. New: 10 Commandments vs. Prince of Egypt
November 17, 2010
NC: Hello, I’m the Nostalgia Critic. I remember it so you don’t have to. And welcome to another rendition of “Old vs. New.”
(The “Old vs. New” title card is shown, featuring an old man crossing his cane with a little boy’s baseball bat, as O Fortuna plays and lightning strikes)
NC: Seeing how we’re so close to Thanksgiving, I thought it’d be great if we talked about a pair of Thanksgiving movies. (Pauses) You know, ‘cause it’s kind of religious. I think...Moses carved a turkey once. Ah, forget it. It’s The Ten Commandments.
(Footage of The Ten Commandments is shown)
NC (voiceover): In 1956, one of the greatest directors of all time, Cecil B. Demille, made one of the most famous films of all time, The Ten Commandments. Actually, it was a remake of his already popular epic from the 1920s. I guess he just wanted to up the epic-ness. And I know I should probably do an “Old vs. New” on these two films, but seeing how they both had the same director, I think that’s kind of cheating. The ’56 version is, of course, considered a classic, and no major studio would dare try to top it. That is, until Dreamworks came along and tried to tell the same story as an animated musical.
NC: (pauses) Interesting choice.
(Footage of The Prince of Egypt is shown)
NC (voiceover): When you hear “Bible” mixed with “musical” and “Disney-style animation,” you automatically think “disaster,” but The Prince of Egypt was actually a decent remake. It wasn’t telling the exact same story; it had different angles, a different scale, and a different spin on the main characters. And, in my opinion, it’s a very underrated animated film.
NC: But still, which one holds up the best? The original classic or the animated re-imagining? Well, let’s dive right into the land of milk and honey… (An image of a Honeycomb cereal box is shown briefly) …that would be nice, but I’m talking about the movies. This is “Old vs. New: Ten Commandments vs. The Prince of Egypt.”
(The opening sequence features footage from both movies while playing snippets of musical scores from each of them, ending with the title card “The Ten Commandments VS. The Prince of Egypt”)
NC: It’s hard to find someone to play one of the most holy people in all of the Bible, so we’ll just settle for the human from Planet of the Apes and Ice-Man from Top Gun. Solid. Let’s take a look at Best Moses.
Round 1 - Best Moses Edit
NC (voiceover): Like many of the elements in this comparison, these two performances couldn’t be any more different. Charlton Heston's Moses is very much like a prodigy, even before he speaks with God.
Moses (Demille version): (to Seti) Let your own image proclaim my loyalty for a thousand years.
Seti (Demille): Who would take a throne by force that he has earned by deeds?
NC (voiceover): Where Val Kilmer’s Moses is seen much more as the every-man, the person who fell into his leadership rather than seeking it out.
Moses (Animated version): I was the Prince of Egypt, the son of the man who slaughtered their children. You’ve-you’ve chosen the wrong messenger. How can I even speak to these people?
NC (voiceover): Both do very well and convey exactly what they need to convey. So, really, it just depends on which Moses you like better, the every-man or the Superman. For me, personally, I enjoy Heston’s performance a little more. The reason being that he has an unbelievable amount of confidence. When you see Heston as the Prince of Egypt, you immediately want to be like him; strong and powerful, but also kind and wise.
Ramses II (Demille): I warn you, Moses, that the temple of grain belongs to the gods.
Moses (Demille): What the gods can digest will not sour in the belly of a slave.
NC (voiceover): Everything he says has such weight to it. He was destined for greatness, even before he found his true calling. If you were told this guy was gonna be your leader, you'd follow him in a heartbeat. Okay, you’d recommend a good hair salon first, but you would follow him.
Moses (Demille): A city is built of brick, Pharaoh. The strong make many. The starving make few. The dead make none.
NC (voiceover): The animated Moses starts out more like a rambunctious young man, like a college student who crashed his dad’s car.
Moses (Animated): (to Pharaoh Seti) Father, the fault is mine. I goaded Rameses on, and so I am responsible.
NC (voiceover): This isn’t bad, though, as it shows by the end just how far he’s come in leadership. I guess, in a way, you could argue that this makes him more human, and again, there’s nothing wrong with that, as Moses was human.
NC: Or was he?
(A Photoshopped image of Demille’s Moses with his head on an alien’s body and holding the Ten Commandments stone tablets is shown while the X-Files theme music is heard in the background)
NC (voiceover): But Heston, I found, was just more interesting because you feel like there was a greatness in him from the start. And when you see it realized, it’s all the more influential, though, granted, his speech can at times be a little stilted, and—dare I say it—preachy?
(Various clips of Moses (Demille) talking are shown)
Moses (Demille): Blessed art thou, O Lord our God./We bring you the word of God./And you shall know that God is God.
Seti (Demille): What kingdom has sent you?
Moses (Demille) The kingdom of the Most High.
NC (voiceover): (as Moses (Demille)) Bee-yotch.
NC (voiceover): (Normal) Both do very well, but I think Heston gets the point in this round. Even though Kilmer’s is more human and sympathetic, Heston sort of represents the will and strength that all good people can possess, and that’s pretty hard to pull off.
NC: Plus, he’s the only Moses where you actually know his last name.
Lilia (Demille): Oh, Moses, Moses.
Yoshebel (Demille): Moses, Moses!
Ramses II (Demille): Moses, Moses.
Nefretiri (Demille): Moses, Moses.
NC: Yeah! I bet you didn’t know Moses' last name was also Moses, did you? It’s just like that other movie, um…
Luigi (from The Super Mario Bros. Movie): Mario Mario and Luigi Mario.
NC: (points to the camera threateningly) Don’t start with me! Point goes to Ten Commandments.
Moses (Animated): I didn’t mean to cause you more pain.
Round 1 Winner: “Ten Commandments”
NC: But what about the villain? Ramses is one of the greatest villains of all time. But...did you know that him and Moses were… (Camera close-up on his face) brothers? (A dramatic music sting is heard before we see the caption “Yes.” below him) Oh, you did know that. Sorry, I…I didn’t know. This is the “Best Ramses.”
Round 2 - Best Ramses Edit
NC (voiceover): Again, these two are very different performances. Yul Brynner plays Ramses as very cold-hearted, caring nothing for his brother or anyone else except his legacy.
Ramses II (Demille): (banishes Moses into the desert) Here is your kingdom. The scorpion, the cobra and the lizard for subjects. Free them if you will. Leave the Hebrews to me.
Henry Roth (from 50 First Dates): What an asshole!
NC (voiceover): While Ralph Fiennes plays Rameses as a product of his environment, a tortured soul who still loves his brother but is also under the psychological grip of his overbearing father.
Pharaoh Seti (Animated): One weak link can break the chain of a mighty dynasty!
Rameses (Animated): I will not be the weak link!
NC (voiceover): Because of this, the Rameses in Prince of Egypt comes across as more tragic. You know why he’s making his decisions and how much it destroys him inside to declare war on his own brother.
Rameses (Animated): (to Moses) Why can’t things be the way they were before?
NC (voiceover): Look at this scene, for example. This is one of the best bits of animation I’ve ever seen. It’s just as Moses tells Rameses that he hasn’t returned to be his brother, but rather, he’s returned to be his enemy. The whole gambit of emotions is ran here.
Moses (Animated): I can no longer hide in the desert while they suffer...at your hands.
NC (voiceover): (speaks as Rameses’ reaction is shown with the following facial expressions) Sadness, anger, regret, frustration, and vengeance, all in just 40 seconds. That’s pretty impressive. The Ramses in Ten Commandments is good, too, but in a different way. He’s likeable because of how despicable he is. He’s cunning, he’s manipulative, and he doesn’t care who knows it. Just look at how he talks to the woman who will one day be his wife.
Nefretiri (Demille): I could never love you.
Ramses II (Demille): Does that matter? You will be my wife. You will come to me whenever I call you. I will enjoy that very much.
NC (voiceover): What a dickhole. There’s great passion and rage that’s brought out of this performance, but still, I gotta say Ralph Fiennes’ version is better. He’s simply more complex and sympathetic, but he can also be just as menacing as well.
Rameses (Animated): There shall be a great cry in all of Egypt, such as never has been or ever will be again!
NC (voiceover): It’s a juicy performance right out of Shakespeare, and he’s portrayed just perfectly. They pull you into the drama by pulling us into his drama, having to choose between family and legacy. Just about everything you could possibly want in a character is in this performance, and I think that’s more than point-worthy.
NC: Point goes to Prince of Egypt.
Ramses II (Demille): Does that matter?
Round 2 Winner: “Prince of Egypt”
NC: Now comes the real hard part: the supporting cast. Both these films had a gigantic cast of celebrities, and all of them were absolutely wonderful. But which one was better? Let’s take a look.
Round 3 - Best Supporting Cast Edit
NC (voiceover): Talk about star-struck. Both these movies had a bajillion celebrities in their lineup. Ten Commandments had Edward G. Robinson, Vincent Price, Anne Baxter, John Carradine, and that’s just to name a few. Prince of Egypt had Patrick Stewart, Jeff Goldblum, Sandra Bullock, Michelle Pfeiffer, again, that’s just to name a few. So which cast was better? Well, again, they’re very different. Prince of Egypt has fewer cast members, but they’re given much more development. Miriam and Aaron, for example, are fleshed out much more as Moses’ real brother and sister, and Moses’ wife Tzipporah is given a lot more screen-time as well, having them meet before he actually leaves his crown. Since Ten Commandments is longer, there are a lot to look at even more characters, like in this version, Moses has a son. We never even saw a son in Prince of Egypt! Unless he were somewhere in the back. (A shot of the entire Hebrew crowd at the Red Sea from up above in Prince of Egypt is shown, and NC’s caption “Moses’ Son” with a down arrow points to a random spot in the crowd) The slimy servant of Ramses isn’t in Prince of Egypt either, unless you count Steve Martin and Martin Short as the high priests. Ramses’ wife, who’s one of the most interesting characters in the movie, is left out of Prince of Egypt, too. What’s the better payoff, then? Is it good to have fewer characters and more development, or the other way around? Well, for the most part, Ten Commandments comes off as stronger, because even though they have more characters, they have great actors to portray them. Because of this, their relatively short scenes still get across how sympathetic or unsympathetic they are. The Egyptian that Moses murders is much more satisfying when you see that it’s Vincent Price playing him. You instantly see scumbag, and he doesn’t even have to do that much. That’s just the power of Vincent Price.
Baka (Price, Demille version): You make no outcry, Joshua, but you will. You will cry for the mercy of death.
The Inventor (from Edward Scissorhands): From all humiliation and discomfort. (chuckles)
NC (voiceover): The same can be said for Edward G. Robinson. Look how cocky he is in revealing the secret of Moses’ past. Even with a sword up to his throat, he has nothing to fear.
Dathan (Robinson, Demille version): The deliverer is Moses. He’s Hebrew, the son of slaves.
Ramses II (Demille): I will pay your price.
NC (voiceover): And like I said, they’re not all given small roles. Ramses’ wife is very complex, choosing between the man she loves and the man she marries, only to find her life destroyed by Moses and left with the emptiness of her vengeful husband. Look at this scene. He’s (Ramses) about to cut her to ribbons after failing to get Moses until…
Nefretiri (Demille): Before you strike, show me his blood on your sword. (Ramses slowly lowers his sword and then drops it to the floor)
NC (voiceover): Bastard can’t even do it. Maybe he’s ashamed of his failure, maybe he just figures it’s crueler to leave her alive, but he knows that killing her will bring him nothing. Only a bitch so simple and yet so complex can cause such a reaction. And I think that’s what makes Ten Commandments stand out more: the harshness. They portray a world that’s advanced but also savage, where great monuments are made, but death is common and seen all the time; a world that needs a savior like Moses to intervene. We get some of that harshness in Prince of Egypt with Steve Martin and Martin Short, but they seem out of place. It’s a little too gimmicky and, for lack of a better word, cartoony.
(Cut to a clip of Moses hiding after accidentally knocking a jug of water over the edge and spilling onto Hotep and Huy from up above; Rameses stands next to him)
Huy (Animated): Awww, man!
Hotep (Animated): You’re in trouble, young man!
Huy (Animated): Rameses, get down here!
Hotep (Animated): My new thing!
NC (voiceover): The Prince of Egypt cast is still sympathetic, but this cast (Ten Commandments) is just so fascinating in how cutthroat they are. They get across a lot with very little, and even though I still love the cast in Prince of Egypt, the cast in Ten Commandments is just darker and more interesting.
NC: Point goes to The Ten Commandments.
Miriam (Animated): You shame yourself.
Round 3 Winner: “The Ten Commandments”
NC: And now, the big one. The one that I thought I’d never be able to judge: God. I am going to judge God. Balls to the wall, people! This is the Best God.
Round 4 - Best God Edit
NC (voiceover): So…yeah, I’ll admit, it’s a little weird comparing Gods. I suppose like before, it just sort of depends on your interpretation. Are you a God-fearing fan, or a…not-God-fearing fan? As far as the story goes, the Ten Commandments God is probably the one most people would think about when hearing it. I mean, this is the God who sent flaming hail, constant darkness and killed all the firstborns. In short, this was a badass God, so they provided Him with a deep, badass voice.
God (Demille): Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
NC (voiceover): (as Demille’s God) Do this in my name or you will get a cap in your ass! Seriously, you’re like a bug, I could just be like “Pfft!” and you’re gone. Don’t mess it up. I am Badass God! (normal) In Prince of Egypt, we get more of the warm, loving God that many people have favored over the past several years.
God (Animated): Take the staff in your hand, Moses. With it, you shall do my wonders.
NC (voiceover): In my opinion, the Prince of Egypt God is a little more clever and well thought out. Just look at the burning bush; it looks like something not of this world, but also something that can be soothing and comforting. The one in The Ten Commandments looks more like a cartoon than…well, the actual cartoon. It also makes the clever choice of having the voice of Moses be the voice of God. You can read a lot into that and come up with some fun conclusions as to why.
Moses (Animated): Who are you?
God (Animated): I am…that I am.
(A picture of Popeye with a speech bubble saying “I yam what I yam!” appears over the burning bush)
Popeye: (audio, singing) I’m Popeye the sailor man!
NC (voiceover): The one in Ten Commandments again is the deep, traditional booming voice that, while impressive, doesn’t sound that loving.
God (Demille): Honor thy father and thy mother.
NC (voiceover): Like I said, as the story of…smoting goes, this God is probably closer to what most people think of. But the soft, kind God is a much more interesting contrast, and you still feel the size and divinity when He appears. I know it comes down to personal preference, but this God simply seems more like the God of love and peace than this one (Ten Commandments) does.
NC: Point goes to The Prince of Egypt.
God (Demille): Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
Round 4 Winner: "The Prince of Egypt"
NC: It’s all tied up, and we come down to the most important element: the story. This is Story for the win.
Round 5 - Best Story Edit
NC (voiceover): Now, logically, you would think that because Ten Commandments is longer, it has more time to tell a better complex story, but let’s really look at this. Ten Commandments is a complex story with a lot of drama going on, but there's several things they overlooked. For example, it seems to forget that Moses and Ramses grew up together, that they were technically brothers. I know they’re trying to portray Ramses as the bad seed, but if you were never told that these two were brothers, you probably never would have guessed it. There’s no love in their eyes, no memory of the good times that they had. When Moses shows up after years of being gone, Ramses is just, like, “Whatever. Piss off.” In Prince of Egypt, the heart of the entire story is around the fact that they’re brothers. When Moses arrives, he has no idea how Rameses is going to react, and he reacts like any brother would.
Rameses (Animated): (hugs Moses) Moses!
Moses (Animated): (gasps for air and laughs) Rameses.
Rameses (Animated): (still hugging) Where have you been? I took you for dead!
NC (voiceover): The focus of the story seems to be on their relationship, and it really works. You feel the pain both of them are going through, and how much they wish they could return to what they had. This makes the drama much more interesting. I also like how more visual Prince of Egypt is. I mean, yeah, Ten Commandments looks unbelievable, but Prince of Egypt really uses the visuals to its advantage, not just because it’s animated, but because they also do things differently, like compare these scenes back to back where Moses tells his wife about seeing God. The original is done very well, and a lot of it is portrayed just through Charlton Heston’s expressions. But in Prince of Egypt, there’s no dialogue at all. I like that you have to guess exactly what he’s telling her. The music almost tells the story for us, and her reaction of taking it all in is just perfect. You really feel the emotion of this scene. There’s also some scriptural problems The Prince of Egypt works with, too, like in Ten Commandments, Moses turns his staff into a snake, but then the high priests do the exact same thing. Isn’t the idea in both the Bible and this movie that there’s only one God? How do they change those things, then?
NC: Is it…Instant Snake? Just add water? (A fake cover for a toy labeled “Instant Snake” with the tagline “Just Add Water” on the left side and “Is That Mom on Instant Snake?” on the right is shown)
NC (voiceover): In Prince of Egypt, it’s a bit more clever. All the tricks that the priests perform are done with smoke and mirrors. There’s a blinding light when the staffs are transformed, so you could make the argument that they switched them while nobody could see. Now that’s a really clever way out. The songs themselves surprisingly really help to tell the story, too. Not only do they move it along, but they also show what the characters are going through, as well as enhance both the joy and suffering that everyone has to deal with. Though I will admit at times, they do seem a little…sporadic.
Miriam (Animated): (sings) Many nights, we’ve prayed…
NC: (as Moses) Dude, all the firstborns are dead! Can you lay off the show tunes?
NC (voiceover): Don’t get me wrong. The expressing of emotions in Ten Commandments is good, too, but at times, it seems a little soap opera-ish. I mean, yeah, this is heavy-duty stuff that they’re dealing with, but something about the way they hold themselves and speak to one another does seem like a bit much.
Moses (Demille): Forgive me, Bithia.
(The theme to One Life to Live plays as NC’s caption “’One Moses to Live’ Will be right back…” is shown over the scene)
NC (voiceover): And yes, Prince of Egypt does have those problems sometimes, too. There’s just some moments that feel really forced, like the comedy in the first half of the movie. It never really feels that natural.
Rameses (Animated): Father will kill me.
Moses (Animated): Don’t worry. Nobody will even notice us coming in.
(They both enter through a curtain, standing before Seti, Tuya and a huge crowd of people)
Rameses (Animated): (frowns at Moses) “Nobody will even notice.”
(We hear a trumpet go “Wah-wah-wah-wahhh” and NC shrugs)
NC (voiceover): The best comedic moments were the ones that actually added to the drama, like the desperation in (Jeff) Goldblum’s voice as Aaron, while trying to stop his sister from revealing who they are.
Miriam (Animated): (to Moses) You must know.
Moses (Animated): (retracts his hand away from Miriam) Be careful, slave!
Aaron (Goldblum; Animated): Oh, my good prince, um, she-she’s exhausted from the day’s work. Uh, not that it was too much. We-we quite enjoyed it. But-but, uh, she’s confused.
NC (voiceover): But even the bad comedy helps generate the kind of corniness of nostalgia, and let’s be honest, nostalgia can be corny. It's a pleasant time you want to return to where everything seems simpler, and this works in Prince of Egypt, because they’re creating a great contrast to the later drama. The few corny moments in Ten Commandments just come out as corny, and don’t really add anything in the long run. The corniness comes from how overdramatic it is, not how funny it’s trying to be. Because of this, surprisingly, the animated musical seems to be the more dramatic film. Does it have problems? Sure. Are there elements from the original that are better? Absolutely. But on the whole, Prince of Egypt knew that the focus had to be on the brothers. That’s where the drama comes from, and that’s where the most interesting conflict takes place. They knew that that was the most fascinating element. That’s where people could sympathize the most. It makes us realize why the story is so good. It brings out good characters from good writing from a good story.
NC: So it turns out the winner is Prince of Egypt, the superior film.
Moses (Demille): (pounds his fist on a table in anger) Time for my fierce wrath, O Lord!
Round 5 Winner: “Prince of Egypt”
NC: And that’s all I've got. Thanks for joining me, guys, and—
God: (speaks offscreen up above) Nostalgia Critic! This is God!
NC: God? L-Like, “the” God?
God: Yes. I heard what you were saying about me being a loving God or a vengeful God.
God: You were wrong. I’m a vengeful God.
God: Your ass is grass.
NC: (is speechless at first before he speaks to the camera) I’m the Nostalgia Critic. I remember it so you don’t have to. (He wonders to himself what God may do next as he slowly gets up from his chair; a lightning bolt strikes NC, and he disappears)
Channel Awesome Tagline-- Nefretiri (Demille): Oh, Moses, Moses.