The Prince of Egypt
I have seen numerous theatrical and television movies based on the life of Moses. I’ve even been to Universal Studios Hollywood, where they part the Red Sea every ten minutes. Every time I watch as Moses begs to Rameses to “Let my people go,” I get a lump in my throat.
That is why I was skeptical when Dreamworks Pictures announced that their first animated feature would be “The Prince of Egypt.” While I expected something better than the “Bible Stories” series of animated videos, I didn’t believe that animation would be able to capture the emotion and spectacle of the story.
After all, they’re just cartoons, right? Wrong. Animation has made incredible leaps in the last ten years, and “The Prince of Egypt” takes advantage of the new tools and toys that make two-dimensional images come alive with depth and attention to detail. Even though writer Philip LaZebnik takes liberal liberties with the story, “The Prince of Egypt” manages to touch all of the bases.
Even in its abbreviated format, the animated film conveys all of the joy, hope, faith and epic of the story. Smartly directed by Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner and Simon Wells, “The Prince of Egypt” is a miracle in its own right. It is the first full-length animated film that deals with religion without sounding preachy. Instead, the filmmakers tell the story of Moses and his Exodus from Egypt with enough entertainment value to satisfy most viewers.
There are no cute talking animals or show stopping musical numbers. The story and characters are approached with reverence, while the songs by Stephen Schwartz are story arches rather than story stoppers. The film runs a tight 93 minutes, so a lot of the back story has been eliminated.
After a brief introduction that sends young Moses down the Nile and into the arms of the Queen (voice of Helen Mirren), where he is raised as royalty. The story quickly jumps ahead several years, where Moses (voice of Val Kilmer) and his brother Rameses (Ralph Fiennes) are rambunctious teenagers making a mockery of their father’s kingdom. We first meet the teenage Moses and Rameses, they are involved in an exciting chariot race. The two are unaware that their futures will take different paths.
When Moses learns of his past and accidentally kills a man, he flees into the desert. There, he begins a new life with Tzipporah (voice of Michelle Pfeiffer), a former slave girl whom Moses helped escape. One day while tending the flock, Moses wanders into a cave where God speaks to him through a burning bush. With God’s courage and wisdom, Moses returns to his home and begs Rameses to free his people.
Embittered by his brother’s betrayal, Rameses refuses. Of course we all know what happens next, as fire rains from the sky and the seas turn red with blood. No one likes a plague, not even one involving frogs and locusts. The final straw comes when the first born male children are sacrificed, breaking Rameses will. He allows Moses to lead his people to the promised land, but in a fit of rage, changes his mind and decides to stop them. His army isn’t the only obstacle. There’s the Red Sea, which stands between Moses and his people and freedom.
I was enthralled by the spectacle in the animation, especially the parting of the Red Sea. The animators were able to create images that are majestic and mystifying. Look closely into the massive walls of water and you’ll see shadows of whales and other sea creatures as lightning illuminates the other side. Truly inspiring. The animators have taken great care not to reduce the film to a child’s level, even though it’s message and images are universal.
The story and characters are delivered with respect and honesty. Unlike other animated films that rely on cute, “The Prince of Egypt” relies on story, and what a story. The voice talent is excellent, including Kilmer and Fiennes, who bring nobility to their demanding roles. Steve Martin and Martin Short deliver the film’s comic relief, playing advisors to Rameses who use magic to get their point across. “The Prince of Egypt” inspires as well as entertains.
VISION: [ X ] 20/20 [ ] Good [ ] Cataracts [ ] Blind
Absolutely vibrant digital transfer delivered in the film’s original 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen ratio. Exciting, bold colors combine with sturdy blacks and clean whites to create visually stimulating images that look sharp and vivid. The colors are especially inviting, with rich reds and blues, blazing yellows and natural browns. Pristine negative allows for a clean print, with no visible flecking or compression artifacts. Attention to detail is amazing, and despite the fact that this is an animated feature, so is the depth of field. The images are so amazing you feel you could reach out and touch them.
HEARING: [ X ] Excellent [ ] Minor Hearing Loss [ ] Needs Hearing Aid [ ] Deaf
Thoroughly involved 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround soundtrack completely engulfs you in wave after wave of powerful sound fields. Crystal clear delivery of each and every channel, with a strong dialogue mix that sounds natural. Front stereo effects are strong and distinctive, while the front to rear spatial separation sounds definitive. Rear speakers come alive with bold musical cues, realistic ambient noise and surround effect. Basses are dynamic, while middle and high ends literally purr with perfection. Outstanding presentation.
ORAL: [ ] Excellent [ X ] Good [ ] Poor
Closed captions in English for the hard of hearing.
COORDINATION: [ X ] Excellent [ ] Good [ ] Clumsy [ ] Weak
As part of their Signature Series of DVDs, Dreamworks Home Video has loaded “The Prince of Egypt” with extras worthy of royalty.
The film’s three directors, Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner and Simon Wells provide an insightful running audio commentary that fills in some of the blanks from the DVDs other bonus material.
“The Making of the Prince of Egypt” is a fascinating 30-minute documentary that goes behind-the-scenes of the making of the film. The documentary features interviews with the voice talent, including the usually elusive Val Kilmer. Everyone brims with enthusiasm and respect for the project, especially Bullock, who claims to be proud to be connected with the film. Anyone interested in the process of creating an animated film will appreciate the information provided by animators and the directors. Nicely constructed documentary.
Animation fans will also find the Basic of Animation presentation a must. Watch as the film’s chariot race goes from simple pencil drawings to final product. The chariot race is shown several times, followed by a split screen of all four processes.
There is also a “Focus on Technical Effects” that shows how computer animation was used to create some of the film’s most ambitious scenes, including the Parting of the Red Sea and the Plagues.
In order to show American audiences how the film was dubbed for foreign markets, there is a musical presentation of “When You Believe” in various languages. I was truly amazed by this collage.
Two theatrical trailer and a teaser trailer.
Cast & Crew bios and filmographies, plus production notes.
Outstanding main and scene access menus. A lot of hard work and effort went into these menus, and each and every one is a keeper. The scene access menus features clips from each scene, while the special features menu offers a panoramic view of the desert as it spins from menu to menu.
PROGNOSIS: [ X ] Excellent [ ] Fit [ ] Will Live [ ] Resuscitate [ ] Terminal
A Prince of a DVD.
VITALS: $29.98/Rated PG/93 Minutes/Color/28 Chapter Stops/Keepcase/#84853
ATTENDING RESIDENT: John Larsen
PATIENT: THE PRINCE OF EGYPT-SIGNATURE SERIES
BIRTH DATE: 1998
HMO: Dreamworks Home Entertainment