• 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


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    Tuesday, October 12, 2010

    Comparison: Bricks Without Straw

    Time for another Moses comparison. This week it's the scene(s) where the Hebrews are forced to provide their own straw for their bricks. It's a little more complex here than previous comparisons of Moses films. Anyway here are the films I looked at this week:

    The Ten Commandments (1956)
    Ten Commandments (1956) 50th Anniversary Collection – Region 2
    Disc 2, Chapters 2 to 3 - 0:05:54 to 0:08:53 [2:59 minutes]
    Moses played by Charlton Heston

    DeMille and co. do a good job of tying Moses' trick with his staff into the punishment meted out on the Hebrews. When asked how they will manage under the new conditions, Pharaoh suggests Moses' stick might do it for them. Moses and Aaron return to the Hebrews who seemingly were expecting an instant release and when they discover that Moses has failed they quickly turn against him. A shorter clip could be made stopping at around 8:18 minutes.

    Moses the Lawgiver (1975)
    Network/Granada Ventures – Region 2
    Disc 1, episode 2, chapter 9 – 39:46 to 41:14 [1:28 minutes]
    Moses played by Burt Lancaster

    This production handles this scene rather unusually. Having been summoned back to Egypt, Moses has a one to one conversation with Pharaoh, but no specific request is made. Then we are shown Aaron on his own requesting the three days in the desert. It ends with a task master telling him to relay a message. There's a cut and we see bewildered Hebrews finding out that no straw will be available to them now. Joshua objects the most forcefully and is punished and, like the 1956 film the episode ends in chaos.

    The Ten Commandments (1994)
    Goodtimes; Nine Film Set – Region 2
    Chapter 6 - 29:26 to 31:26 [2:00 minutes]
    Moses voiced by Joel Briel

    This is a fairly low quality animated film, complete with a cheeky talking bird and an uber-brat of a Pharaoh's son. It doesn't mention the withdrawing of straw provision, opting instead for having Pharaoh tell Moses they have to double the amount of bricks which they must produce.

    Testament: The Bible in Animation: Moses (1996)
    Bible Society; Nine Film Set – Region 2
    Disc 1, title 3, chapter 2 - 13:38 to 14:28 [0:50 minutes]
    Moses voiced by Martin Jarvis

    Rather unfortunately, the events here fall across a scene break. Aaron performs the staff to snake trick, but Pharaoh is somewhat unimpressed. A cut follows and we overhear two Hebrews complaining about having to make bricks without straw and voicing their preference for leadership rather than tricks. The camera pans beyond them to a boat out on the Nile which shortly afterwards Moses will be turning to blood.

    Moses (1996)
    Time Life Box Set – Region 2
    Part 1, chapter 5 - 47:35 to 56:05 [8:30 minutes]
    Moses played by Sir Ben Kingsley

    This is the only portrayal to show this incident before Moses turns his staff into a snake in front of Pharaoh, despite the fact that this is the biblical order. It's also a fairly lengthy clip. Whilst a shorter clip could be used that ends at 51:35, what follows is interesting enough to perhaps warrant inclusion. The Israelites fail to meet their target and so their Hebrew overseer is whipped, seeking out Moses to confront him later on.

    The Prince of Egypt (1998)
    Dreamworks 2006 Single Disc version – Region 2
    Chapter 15 - 41:41 to 45:45 [4:04 minutes]
    Moses voiced by Val Kilmer

    Like the animated Ten Commandments this film omits any mention of the fact that the Hebrews now have to source their own straw, opting instead to have Pharaoh order the Hebrews to double their quotient. It's because of this that I've included a couple of other animated versions in this comparison of the Moses story as one of our congregations is aimed at (young) children and adults.

    Ten Commandments (2006)
    Disc 1; 42:42 to 51:22 [8:40 minutes]
    Moses played by Dougray Scott

    This is one of this film's better moments. Again it's fairly long, but it shows not only the confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh, but also the response of the people, with the detail about the bricks without straw only being released before the end of the scene. Moses borther acts as a go beyween and chastises Moses for getting Pharaoh's back up.

    Ten Commandments (2007)
    32:40 to 33:36 [0:54 minutes]
    Moses voiced by Christian Slater

    I was one of the few critics that was fairly forgiving about this film when it was released, but it looks very dated today - the trees don't move in the air, nor does the characters hair (which people pointed out at the time) and the characters movement is stilted. It's not a bad portrayal of this scene however. Pharaoh spells it what he will do and then we cut to the Hebrews who we see suffering under the new restrictions. This is followed by a contingent of disgruntled Israelites trying to get Moses to admit he made a mistake to Pharaoh.

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    • At 1:41 pm, October 18, 2010, Anonymous marc said…

      after reading "The Ancient World in the Cinema" recently i wasn't keen on watching the lancaster moses which the author had described as existential and plodding. but after reading your post i now see that i need to put it on my list.

    • At 5:35 pm, November 02, 2010, Blogger Matt Page said…

      I have that book too. I've been meaning to review it's take on Bible films for over 2 years now, but never quite found the time and have forgotten almost everything I had to say!

      I think it's interesting from a theological angle. It is slow by today's standards, but I'm not sure that's necessarily a bad thing. It's an interesting take on Moses if nothing else.


    • At 2:04 pm, September 22, 2016, Blogger Becky said…

      Do you know of any of the Moses films featuring the bronze serpent? I've seen the 1996 version with Ben Kingsley and the 2006 version with Dougray Scott but they don't have it.


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