• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Matt Page


    Wednesday, September 29, 2010

    Testament: Moses

    It took Cecil B DeMille nearly four hours to tell his version of the Moses story - even longer if you count the ten minute theatrical trailer. So it's interesting to see someone else tell the story in just half an hour. Whilst this film ends a good deal of time before the giving of the Ten Commandments, it still manages to tell the story of the first fifteen chapters of Exodus very effectively in such a short time frame. Of course elements are missed out. Like many Moses films not all of the ten plagues are shown, and other common omissions, such as God trying to kill Moses on the road back to Egypt, are also excluded. Running time is also cut back by telling the story of Moses' birth and childhood in a flashback along with an account of Moses murdering an Egyptian. The film opens with Aaron aiding Moses' escape from Egyptian soldiers.

    Like most of the Testament series the animation uses a more expressive style, marking it as much for adults as for children. Here the characters all have a lithe, elongated shape which lends them a sense of elegance - fitting for what is essentially a battle of wills between a Pharaoh, a former prince and the sovereign God. The animators also use their medium to great effect. Aside from the flashback, set against a deep red sky, there is also a literally red Red Sea. There's also a notable moment when the tenth plague is shot from the point of view of the Angel of Death, and the closing zoom out shot is cleverly executed.

    Two years after this film the more well known animated version of this film hit the silver screen. The Prince of Egypt had a much larger budget, but seems to have drawn at least some inspiration from the earlier film. Aside from the expressive use of animation, the opening scenes emphasising the rivalry between Moses and the Pharaoh, in this case Menephtah (son of Ramsees II). They even compete in chariot races.

    But this is one of the few Moses films to show Aaron speaking for Moses, even if Moses does take over in the end. It also uses the correct initial request of Moses and Aaron - to be allowed to go to worship in the desert. Such fidelity to the original text is matched by the subtle ways the film introduces elements of historical context into the background. For example, the blooding of the Nile takes place during a religious festival celebrating the God of the Nile, and there's also a mention of a frog god who is quite literally toppled by a plague of his amphibian minions. The script also reminds us that Pharaoh himself was viewed as a god, and that ultimately it is he, rather than the idols that adorn his palace, which is Yahweh's primary target.

    Overall, this is one of the strongest entries in the Testament series, with fine voice work from Martin Jarvis as Moses and Simon Callow as Menephtah, but it's the vivid illustration which really catches the eye and gives real significance and texture to this most critical of Old Testament stories.


    This is one of a series of reviews of the films from the series Testament: The Bible in Animation. The entire nine-film series has recently been re-released on DVD by the Bible Society.

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