The Ten Commandments reviewed.

What you're watching.
April 10 2006 5:51 PM

Moses, Like You've Never Seen Him Before

Do we really need another Ten Commandments?

The Israelites wandered the wilderness for 40 years. ABC's new version of The Ten Commandments (Monday and Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET) makes it feel like at least 60. By the time Egypt's Jews escape their bondage, you'll know that this is an oddly tedious affair. The parting of the Red Sea occurs at the end of tonight's half of the miniseries. Though that's an exceptionally lousy cliffhanger, the CGI work—two vertiginous walls of water—is impressive. But the plagues are outright slapdash: The locust footage seems to be spliced in from an episode of NOVA, and when Aaron strikes the river Nile with his staff, all its water turns to Hawaiian Punch. 

How is this Ten Commandments different from all other versions? (Or, at least, different from Cecil B. DeMille's 1956 spectacular with costumes by Edith Head and heroics by Charlton Heston.) For starters, it's working an identity-crisis angle as if it were a daytime talk show. This Moses has known since childhood that he was adopted, and this knowledge has left him alienated and angry: "I don't belong there. I don't belong anywhere!" Also, half the town seems to know that Princess Bithia found her baby in the bulrushes. If that circumstance causes you bewilderment—why wouldn't the pharoah have young Moses whacked?—then you have put more thought into the matter than director Robert Dornhelm (USA's Rudy: The Rudy Giuliani Story) and writer Ron Hutchinson (The Island of Dr. Moreau).

Advertisement

Dougray Scott, currently the star of NBC's Heist and most famous as the villain of Mission: Impossible 2, trots out much scowling anger and sulking angst in the lead role. This is Method Moses. Tonight, back from his conference with the burning bush and heading toward Egypt, he stumbles over a rock and mutters, "You'd think if this is what He wanted He'd make the going a little easier."  Tomorrow, he furrows his brow and frets, " 'I am who I am.' What does that mean? Why give me a riddle to solve?" And while he struggles with his faith, he's got to cope with logistics. When Aaron says, "The well's run dry. We need you to tell us where to go next," Moses sighs and manages a shrug. Is this the prince of Egypt or a shift manager at Starbucks?

After Willem Dafoe in The Last Temptation of Christ and Jim Caviezel in what a colleague once called The P. of the C., it is inevitable that Scott should go in for psychological veracity. But Jesus is Jesus, Jesus is Everyman. Viewers expect some complications, some Brandoisms, some daddy issues. When it comes to an Old Testament prophet, Heston's dreamboat righteousness and hambone solidity seem entirely in order. Further, Scott, who is Scottish, occasionally slips out of his historical pageant voice to sound like a Glaswegian tax attorney.

The rest of the ensemble goes at it haphazardly, offering a mixed salad of accents and acting styles. Omar Sharif, who plays Moses' father-in-law, has presumed this production to be an actual epic and starts chewing things up accordingly. Naveen Andrews (Lost) is Moses' stepbrother, a role not found in either DeMille or the Pentateuch; his performance suggests that he instead took some inspiration from the Royal Shakespeare Company and then a little more from Gladiator. Then there is the spacey flatness of the leonine Padma Lakshmi. Lakshmi's husband, Salman Rushdie, has already limned her charms in the novel Fury, wherein she serves as the model for the hero's love interest: "Compared to the intoxicating effect of her presence, the bottle of Dos Equis in his left hand was wholly alcohol free." Here, as Princess Bithia, she is indeed lovely, but I still must recommend beer.

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.

TODAY IN SLATE

Culturebox

The Ebola Story

How our minds build narratives out of disaster.

The Budget Disaster That Completely Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

The Shooting Tragedies That Forged Canada’s Gun Politics

A Highly Unscientific Ranking of Crazy-Old German Beers

Education

Welcome to 13th Grade!

Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.

Culturebox

The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

Want Kids to Delay Sex? Let Planned Parenthood Teach Them Sex Ed.

Would You Trust Walmart to Provide Your Health Care? (You Should.)

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 9:42 PM Landslide Landrieu Can the Louisiana Democrat use the powers of incumbency to save herself one more time?
  Business
Continuously Operating
Oct. 22 2014 2:38 PM Crack Open an Old One A highly unscientific evaluation of Germany’s oldest breweries.
  Life
Dear Prudence
Oct. 23 2014 6:00 AM Monster Kids from poorer neighborhoods keep coming to trick-or-treat in mine. Do I have to give them candy?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 23 2014 8:51 AM The Male-Dominated Culture of Business in Tech Is Not Great for Women
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 23 2014 9:00 AM Exclusive Premiere: Key & Peele Imagines the Dark Side of the Make-A-Wish Program
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 5:33 PM One More Reason Not to Use PowerPoint: It’s The Gateway for a Serious Windows Vulnerability
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 23 2014 7:30 AM Our Solar System and Galaxy … Seen by an Astronaut
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.