There are movies that are classics, and then there are classics that will seemingly endure forever. The story of Ben-Hur has been told in numerous movies and scripts dating back to 1907. The most respected version of the story is the 1959 version starring Charlton Heston. This rendition of the film is certainly in the top 25 films of all-time by virtually every film critic and reviewer on the planet. It is for good reason Charlton Heston is outstanding and the cinematography and story, along with direction and cast is nothing short of exceptional.
So it is, justifiably so, that one would be critical from the outset at trying to explain why there would need to be a remake of this outstanding film. It would seem as if a remake would be doomed from the start from the criticism that would come about from fans of the 1959 film. I would remind folks, though, that even the 1959 film is itself, a remake of earlier versions of the story. So it is, with some understanding that I understand, the reasoning for a remake.
Ben-Hur, 2016, is brought to us by producers Roma Downey and Mark Burnett among others. These two have delved into religious-themed movies in recent history, some good, some not so good and all thought-provoking. So it is with the new version of Ben-Hur starring Jack Huston as Judah Ben-Hur, Toby Kebbell as his adoptive brother Messala and numerous others including Morgan Freeman as Ben-Hur rescuer and mentor Ilderim.
The story takes place in Jerusalem during the time of Christ. Ben-Hur and Messala are best friends who are like brothers. Ben-Hur believes in the way of peace while Messala understands the need to become a part of the Roman Empire. Messala ends up joining the Roman forces while Ben-Hur stays at home in Jerusalem. Many of the Jews in Jerusalem join the Zealot Movement to try and overthrow Rome, Ben-Hur believing he should befriend all people harbors a Zealot who later on brings his house under the swift and judgmental sword of Rome. As a result, tragic events happen under the eye of those in power and Ben-Hur’s life long friend and brother Messala. Ben-Hur is placed into slavery aboard a warship. Later he regains his freedom but is still wanted for acts against Rome and comes under the protection of a wise mentor, Ilderim who takes him under his wing and trains him to race chariots. The story along the way is the story of Ben Hur that so many are familiar with, and this rendition stays quite true to the intent and concepts of the other films.
I have to say, there is not what I would consider any outstanding leads or bits of acting in this film. It is good but does not compare to the classic 1959 version which one can’t help but think about. That said it is still told quite well with the script doing a good job at showing the influence of a young Jewish carpenter named Jesus. We see the role of Jesus in a background sort of way have an impact on Ben-Hur and the characters around him, including his wife, Esther, played by Nazanin Boniadi. We see the impact and teachings of Jesus certainly come into play in regards to the spiritual freedom he emphasized in a country that was occupied by Rome, especially so when so many Zealots and others fought for religious freedom. Whether by intent or not, the movie helps illustrate in many ways the life-changing impact of Jesus, even in a political climate that seems to be in opposition to all things related to faith. The freedom provided is an internal freedom as opposed to a political freedom. In this manner, the direction provided by Timur Bekmambetov is quite exceptional as it tells an exceptional story and weaves in quite nicely the impact of Jesus not just individuals around him, but the culture of the time.
Ben-Hur tells quite nicely a story that shows the power of redemptive change but along with that concept, the power of forgiveness. I was quite pleased, and moved at how the movie weaved in these messages, not that they haven’t been told before, they have and even in an exceptional way, but the reminder of these themes is still needed in today’s world, and it is in this vein that I can recommend the movie even though it is not a great movie as is the 1959 Classic, it is still a story worth watching and I believe many will see the story for the first time because it is on the big screen. Hopefully, though, it will also inspire people to go back and see the earlier versions, especially the classic 1959 version. I know it did me as I want to return to the classic to compare.
Now the special effects in this are quite incredible, especially the chariot race towards the ending of the film, many will and are talking about those scenes, but again, for me, I can’t help but go back to the 1959 classic film to think about and realize, while there were some special effects and stunt actors used in that film, there was no CGI or those sorts.
All in all, this is again, a good movie, that doesn’t make it a classic or great movie, though, I found the first 30 minutes or so of the film quite boring, almost at times amateurish, but it picked up and the last two-thirds of the film were actually quite good and entertaining and, as the story came together, quite meaningful. I am going to recommend this movie, on the big screen for those reasons. It is a movie that revisits the themes of today’s world that seem to exist in society as a constant, yet, it also shows the power of Jesus to change lives, and, the message on forgiveness and the power it can have is as relevant today as it ever was.
So on a scale of 1 – 10, while it may not seem like a great score, it is still a movie I highly recommend seeing, for the letters in Ben Hur, I give a somewhat, perplexed 6.
Watch the official trailer: