review by Drusilla Blakey
I think people are most familiar with the 1959 film of the same name, which starred Charlton Heston.; and most probably consider this to be ‘the original’ film. However, fewer people many know that there was actually another silent film in the 1920s. I mention these two films because I think it’s important to give them due respect for their filming of amazing chariot races and for taking on such an epic story will the technology of that time. Now director Timur Bekmambetov is bringing his vision of the classic epic to life with a great cast including Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell, Rodrigo Santoro, Nazanin Boniadi, and Morgan Freeman, but can it capture the iconic story or will it be a race that it fails to win?
Ben-Hur follows the epic story of Judah Ben-Hur, a prince falsely accused of treason by his adopted brother, an officer in the Roman army. After years at sea, Judah returns to his homeland to seek revenge, but finds redemption. As with most epics, it was beautiful to watch with wonderful country sides, vivid colors, great sets and costumes that really stood out. The 3D was actually very effective in adding depth to the overall film, and did seem to make the action scenes (especially the chariot races) stand out. Props also to the wardrobe department for getting the Roman soldiers looking so tough and manly! They had appropriately placed leather chaps/legging on under their tunics, which is something that has always bothered me – Soldiers in little short tunics going into battle?! Finally a film that got it right! One slip up that was noticeable was a scene where Esther, Judah Ben-Hur’s wife, is wearing white skinny jeans; but I’ll just have to let that one thing slide.
I felt like in comparison to the 1959 film, this movie actually makes several key elements of the story very clear for viewers. First, in this version, we see Judah & Messala grow up together as brothers – Messala was actually ‘adopted’ by Judah’s family and raised in their house. In the other film, it was like a single line of dialog of Messala saying “oh, we were like brothers”; but here we actually see it. Secondly, Judah’s time as a slave and his subsequent training as a chariot racer receive more dedicated time. How he ends up on the island training with Morgan Freeman’s character, Ilderim, is very different from the 1959 film but to me, seems to make more sense and give more feeling to the story.
Finally, another plot point that I feel is more clearly presented is the side story of Jesus Christ. In the original film, we see him a bit from the back and then as he goes to be cruxified; he just seems to be a bit aloof and out of reach. However, in the new movie, we get to see him in action prior to the crucifixion; healing people, saying some well know lines from the Bible, really interacting with Judah and Esther – there was just more there for me.
Oddly enough however, with the feeling that I was getting more story, the running time for the film is shorter! (new film 124 minutes; 1959 film 212 minutes) Having just re-watched the 1959 film, I feel that this is due to Charleton Heston’s extreme overdramatic over-acting and long dramatic pauses during scenes. There are several seconds of silent lamentation through-out the entire film. In contrast, this new film immediately starts with a horse race and keeps going from there.
In addition to the feature this release will include a variety of special features including deleted & extended scenes, music videos and numerous featurettes that take you further behind the making of this epic film. Jump in your chariot and race to get your copy of Ben-Hur available now on Digital and on Blu-ray and DVD on December 13th from Paramount Home Entertainment.