BEN-HUR Movie Review by The Commander


2 (out of 4 stars)


The year was 1959.  MGM released its biggest mega-film of the year, Ben-Hur.  More than 200 camels and 2,500 horses were used in the shooting of the film, with some 10,000 extras.  The nine-minute chariot race has become one of cinema's most iconic sequences, and the film score, composed and conducted by Miklós Rózsa, is the longest ever composed for a film and significantly influenced soundtracks for more than 15 years. 


Today, Ben-Hur is widely considered to be one of the greatest films ever made, and in 1998, the American Film Institute ranked it the 72nd Best American Film and the 2nd Best American Epic Film in the AFI's 10 Top 10.  In 2004, the National Film Preservation Board selected Ben-Hur for preservation by the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress for being a "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" motion picture.


It won a record 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director (William Wyler), Best Actor in a Leading Role (Charlton Heston), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Hugh Griffith), and Best Cinematography – Color (Robert L. Surtees), an accomplishment that was not equaled until Titanic in 1997.


So my question is WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO REMAKE THIS FILM?  You really think that with the advent of today’s technology, digital cameras, CGI, etc., you can make a better film?  Actually, the 1959 was a remake of the 1925 silent film, Ben-Hur, so it made sense then that sound could be added, but now?  Give me a break.


With films like Gravity, Fast & Furious, Avatar, that stretch the cinematography to its wildest imagination, what possibly could they create in the new Ben-Hur to wow audiences?  Apparently, the producers (the power couple behind The Bible Mini-Series, Mark Burnett,  Roma Downey) and Sean Daniel believed that by adding “Jesus Christ and the crucifixion” and taking this new story from the original 1880 novel, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, it will elevate this film to a higher spiritual level for the moviegoing audience.  WRONG!  What it creates is a total mess of a film which becomes boring to watch.  Sure they have the great depictions of the Roman army, the watery sea battle, and of course, the famous chariot race (all using CGI), but the story just doesn’t work.  In Wyler’s version, the story centers around family and romance.  In this version, director Timur Bekmambetov (known for his action sequences) is more interested in bringing the producers’ message of Jesus Christ to the audience.  Like the religious themed film series, Left Behind, starring Kirk Cameron, this film is more about preaching the value of redemption than it is about the struggle of cultures and freedom.  


Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) and Messala (Toby Kebbell) grow up together as (step) brothers (Messala was an orphan), until he decides to leave the house of Hur and join the Roman army.  Years pass and the brothers are once again united under tenuous conditions.  Judah is wrongly accused of trying to assassinate Pontius Pilot (Pilou Asbaek) and is enslaved by Messala, who jails his mother Naomi (Ayelet Zurer) and sister Esther (Nazanin Boniadi).  Judah spends five years as a galley slave who, during a sea battle, escapes death and washes up onshore where he is taken in by Ilderim (Morgan Freeman), a horse breeder who convinces Judah to seek revenge inside of the Chariot Games.  Now, add in a Jesus Christ story and muddy everything up.


While the film has some redeeming features (the IMAX 3D was impressive), the overall film just leaves you in the dust (or should I say, mud).  The character of Jesus being brought into the forefront leaves you pondering what movie are you actually watching?  Ben-Hur or the Passion of the Christ?  If you want to see a great chariot battle, try something newer like the Fast & Furious series.  It’s the races at a much higher level. 

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