The Ten Commandments

The narrator sounds as casual as if he were detailing the adventures of Bo and Luke Duke, the thousands of extras seem to be merely marking time until their lunch break (Dance and rejoice? Oh, fine), and God himself has the snippy, uncommanding cadence of a person trying to whisper instructions into a cell phone. It all tends to undermine the greatness of the Greatest Story Ever Told, which is being told yet again, with little inspiration, except for star Dougray Scott as Moses.

ABC’s The Ten Commandments miniseries is a tightly agendized march through Exodus, with accordant bullet points: Moses, raised as a prince of Egypt, realizes his true roots as a Jewish slave; he encounters the burning bush and is commanded by God to lead his people from Egypt; the plagues plague; the Red Sea parts. These events — plus the welcome bonus of Naveen Andrews (Lost) as Moses’ charming prince of a stepbrother, and Omar Sharif swiping scenes as the desert-dwelling Jethro — are all found in the first half of this two-parter, which is markedly superior to the second. Possibly that’s because there’s simply more action to be had. Sure, the locusts and frogs that afflict the Egyptians seem cobbled together from nature-film stock footage, and certainly the deaths of the firstborns aren’t even half as chilling as the cartoon version in DreamWorks’ The Prince of Egypt. But Andrews and Sharif provide energetic bumps in the narrative, and the showdown between Moses and Pharaoh (played by Julius D’Silva as a fey 1930s villain) is a nice bit of gnashing.

Unfortunately, what was an okay-enough version of this biblical story crumbles once the Red Sea tumbles back in on itself, crushing the Egyptian pursuers. (Actually, in this not-so-lavish production, it sort of just splashes them heavily.) As the descendants of Abraham wander together into the desert searching for the Promised Land, they become quite testy — in terribly unriveting ways. Certainly, their doubts and desperation are part of this biblical tale, but here these newly free people seem more like whiny office workers: ”We need you to tell us where to go next,” complains one. ”What kind of leadership is that? ” snipes another. Moses thus becomes the put-upon middle manager, who can please neither the masses nor the Big Boss (who insinuates himself either with that nagging whispering or by making clouds whip by really fast).

The saving grace is Scottish actor Scott (Heist), a charismatic, booming presence who proves a worthy successor to Charlton Heston — particularly when he gets to let loose with some rousing, Braveheart-style speechifying. But mostly he’s stuck playing a lot of similar scenes, all of which the writers probably described as follows: ”Moses is teary and pissed. ” It becomes a bit tedious, which is something this story never should be.

The Ten Commandments
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