What’s New on DVD
From Moses like you’ve never seen him to a behind-the-scenes look at Oscar winner Natalie Portman’s scary swan feathers.
The Ten Commandments
If he were as age-proof as his 1956 Bible epic, Cecil B. DeMille would be 10 years older than Moses this year: 130. But in its 55th-anniversary high-definition debut, the fifth-highest-grossing flick in history looks as fresh as baby Moses (star Charlton Heston’s son Fraser) — you can even see the gleam of Fraser’s diaper pin in his basket on the Nile. The parting of the Red Sea (a tank Paramount also used in a Harrison Ford movie, according to Katherine Orrison’s chattily erudite commentary) looks downright miraculous.
And looks count because DeMille’s dialogue is so dull it could cause the pigeons wheeling over Pharoah Yul Brynner’s spectacular capital, Thebes, to fall stunned from the sky. DeMille insisted on the pigeons to prove to viewers that the set — which Time called the biggest Egyptian construction since the Suez Canal — was real, not a painted-on-glass effect.
The film is so extravagant it warrants a boxed set that parts like the Red Sea to reveal a hardback book, a paperback, 13 replicas of original telegrams, letters and epic paintings, and stone-tablet replicas containing six Blu-ray and DVD discs: the 1956 Vista Vision version and DeMille’s historically costly 1923 silent original, featuring Technicolor System 2 and DeMille’s preferred Handschiegl color process for still-cool effects.
It’s enough to make a film nerd weep like Anne Baxter in the famous Plague of Rubber Frogs scene, tragically cut from the film and lost to history because the test footage made people weep with laughter. “There’s just something that’s not scary enough about these frogs hopping around the bedroom,” Orrison says. (Paramount, $59.99; Blu-ray $24.99, DVD $14.99)
One reason Clint Eastwood’s film about death-haunted people is a DVD/Blu-ray best-seller is the Oscar-nominated opening sequence re-creating the 2004 Indonesian tsunami, which critic Richard Corliss called “the most exciting, expertly assembled flood scene in movie history.” It includes an extra on how the tsunami was filmed. (Warner Bros., DVD $28.99, Blu-ray $29.99, combo $35.99. Some proceeds donated to the Japanese Red Cross.)
There’s only one real extra on the Darren Aronofsky “were-swan” horror/ballet movie that won Natalie Portman an Oscar, but it’s a 49-minute doozy of a making-of doc. Seeing how the gory swan-feather effects were done only makes them scarier. (Fox Searchlight, $29.99)
If you liked Jim Broadbent and Lesley Manville in Mike Leigh’s Oscar-nominated Another Year, check them out in his superior Oscar-winning 1999 movie about Gilbert & Sullivan making The Mikado. Leigh’s commentary is smart, and there’s a second disc of extras: deleted scenes, cast interviews and a smart Amy Taubin booklet. Leigh also appears in a feature on Criterion’s new DVD of the first G&S show ever filmed, 1939’s Technicolor The Mikado. (Criterion, $31.96 for each DVD)