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THE PRINCE OF EGYPT (DTS)

Review by Alex Haberstroh

Voices:  Val Kilmer, Ralph Fiennes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sandra Bullock, Jeff Goldblum, Danny Glover, Patrick Stewart, Helen Mirren, Steve Martin, Martin Short
Directors:  Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner and Simon Wells
Audio:  DTS 5.1
Video:  1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Studio:  Dreamworks
Features:  See Review
Length:  99 Minutes
Release Date:  November 7, 2000

Film ****

In 1994, three men sat around a table talking about their ambitions to form a new studio.  Spielberg, Katzenberg, and Geffen, already highly respected men in the entertainment community as producers and directors, were deciding to bring their creative forces together to make the most astounding films ever seen by audiences.  What they created would be called Dreamworks SKG.  And it was there, even before their fledgling studio had even begun, that they dreamed of making The Prince of Egypt.

The Prince of Egypt is a timeless tale of two brothers pitted against each other by fate.  Even those who aren’t particularly religious are most likely familiar with the premise.  It is a tale of friendship, yet also of great responsibility.  This contrast of values provides the foundation of the film. 

The first few moments portrays the friendship between teenage Princes Moses (Kilmer), and Rameses (Ralph Fiennes), as they destructively race each other through the streets of Cairo on chariots.  From the very start, the filmmakers put an emphasis on the friendship between the two brothers, showing the viewer just how much these two princes love and respect each other.  Yet as I said earlier, this is not just about friendship, but the great responsibility that can change your goals and even sometimes, bring them into conflict with the people you love. 

The dramatic moment occurs when Prince Moses, who has grown up in the Egyptian royal family, unexpectedly discovers that he is the son of Hebrews, the same slaves who sweat and bleed to provide his families’ luxurious lifestyle.  His life, the fact that he was the Prince of Egypt, everything he believed, was a lie.  To make matters worse, Moses finds out that there was a mass infanticide of Jews at the hands of his adopted father, and that it was to save him that his biological mother set him adrift in a basket. 

Previously content and happy, Moses becomes emotionally torn after hearing this, and when he is walking through the temple that he and his brother ruined the day before, he sees the toll he put on the slaves, his own people, who now have to work twice as hard to restore what he was responsible for destroying.  Losing self-control, he attacks and kills an Egyptian guard who is beating an old slave.  He then runs off to the desert despite his brother’s pleas, unsure of what his life will become.  Stumbling into the town of the High Priest of Midian (Glover), he finds his wife and while living there, discovers peace within himself. 

A little while later while working as a shepherd, he follows a sheep into a cave and hears the voice of God, which tells him to go back and free his people.  Moses is somewhat reluctant; after all, as he puts it, he is the son of “the man responsible for killing their children.”  But it is this responsibility that will send him back to Egypt to free his people, and challenge the love between him and his brother.

This film is really remarkable.  In my opinion, it’s the best account of the story of Moses because it accounts for the “human factor.”  The animators and actors both lend a passion to this film that can’t be denied.  Whereas the animators provided the incredible facial and body reactions that helped make the characters, actors such as Kilmer and Fiennes, two very credible actors in their own right, added an incredible depth as well to the motives and emotions of the characters.  When watching this film, the viewer will see that there doesn’t always need to be the clash of fierce enemies to make a film great.  Moses and Rameses both exhibit deep sadness and distress that they have been put on opposing sides, and do everything in their power to avoid their inevitable fate.  This interpretation differs greatly from other interpretations of this story like “The Ten Commandments,” where characters seem to act like they’re reading from a script.

Having a film that so well focuses raw emotion could have been enough for many, but Dreamworks surpassed the mark, assembling some of the best art and computer designers in the business who combined 2D and 3D art perfectly.  This cinematography is one of the best I’ve seen ever in an animated film, adding scope and grandeur I have not seen since Lawrence of Arabia.  Every scene is unforgettable, from the moving death of the guard whom Moses kills, to the astounding splitting of the Red sea, and to the highly entertaining chariot ride that gave Ben-Hur a run for its money.   This film is truly one of the best films of 1998!

Video ****

The picture was stunning, every scene a beautiful menagerie of colors.  The light brown hue of the deserts contrasted greatly to the lush greens and blues of the Pharaoh’s garden.  I noticed no blurring or grain throughout the film and the Anamorphic support made it look even better.  Well done!

Audio ****

Wow!  When I went out to buy the The Prince of Egypt in Dolby Digital 5.1, I was blown away.  The sounds were crisp and precise, the surrounds aggressive and well used.

Then I popped in the DTS.  Dear God!  Once again DTS outshines the Dolby Digital version hands down.  The dialogue is crystal clear throughout the film and is never overwhelmed by the surrounds.  The bass soundtrack is truly a powerful presence throughout the film, whether it’s in the deep resonant echoes of God’s commands or the splitting of the Red Sea, (which bass was so loud and rumbling I felt that I was in the middle of a roaring ocean), the sound is truly a treasure to all proud owners of a system with DTS capability. 

The DTS soundtrack also utilizes the surrounds a little better than the DD 5.1, providing a subtler soundstage that totally envelops the listener throughout the whole film, even Moses’ hand sliding across a pillar of alabaster is picked up with an unbelievable clarity.  Also funneled through the surrounds besides effects is the music of Hanz Zimmer (Gladiator, Lion King), whose breathtaking scores can move the viewer to moments of elation or tears.       

Features ****

This is why many reviewers love Dreamworks.  Not only do they generally provide a great film with high quality sound and video, they also provide a wide breadth of supplements.  At the start of DVD, many enthusiasts complained of Dreamworks’ apparent lack of involvement in the format.  I would argue that that time was used to decide what people enjoyed in their supplements and then to offer even more.

(All the included supplements are the same as the DD 5.1 version except the two previews, which are in DTS, instead of DD 5.1)  The first supplement provided was an informative look at  The Prince of Egypt through an audio commentary from directors Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner, and Simon Wells, where they discuss everything from story changes to more technical ideas such as going with certain computer effects ideas over other.  Also included were “The making of The Prince of Egypt” which is pretty self-explanatory.  But the supplemental item I enjoyed the most was the “When You Believe” multi-language presentation, where Dreamworks explained the laborious task they went through releasing the film in 50 different countries in 28 different languages.  I found it particularly fascinating just how close the voices were from the singers in all different languages for “When You Believe.”  Other items included were “the Basics of Animation: the Chariot Race,” which showed the viewer the evolution taken between an artists drawing on paper and the final animated result as well as, “Focus on Technical Effects.”  Rounding out the supplements were an art gallery, two theatrical trailers, Cast and Crew bios, production notes and a theatrical sneak preview of Chicken Run and El Dorado for the summer of 2000.        

Summary:

In conclusion, this film is a story of the power of redemption and the triumph of the human spirit.  The acting is both wonderful and heartfelt, with a masterfully told story, and amazing animation that is a visual dream.  The DTS sound also, is dead on and will make your neighbor’s scream at you at you to “TURN IT DOWN!”  Finally, the supplements are successfully implemented and quite useful.   Recommended!