December 11, 2016

Blu-Ray Review: BEN-HUR (2016)

Starring Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell, Morgan Freeman, Nazanin Boniadi, Rodrigo Santoro, Pilou Asbaek, Sofia Black D'Elia. Directed by Timur Bekmambetov. (2016, 124 min).

To the surprise of absolutely no one, the all new Ben-Hur landed in theaters this summer with a resounding thud. Was that because it was one of the least necessary remakes of all time, an ad campaign that made it look like yet-another bland CG-driven mess, the total lack of any bankable actors or the simple fact that, Gladiator notwithstanding, nobody goes to see stuff like this (especially in August, the typical dumping ground for leftover summer blockbusters)? 

Or does the movie simply suck?

"You better heed my words, Judah. I'm Morgan F**king Freeman."
Even when compared to the definitive 1959 version, suck is probably too strong a word. For a movie that seemingly has no reason to exist, Ben-Hur isn't a total failure. It just takes some effort on the viewer's part to get anything out of it. For your convenience, here is a brief checklist to increase your enjoyment of the film:
  • Forget the 1959 classic even exists. Some of you probably weren't even aware it exists.
  • For those who can't (a tall order, I know), it'll help if you don't look at Ben-Hur as an actual remake because, technically, it isn't. This is simply the fifth time Lew Wallace's 1880 novel has been adapted, and it isn't even the worst one.
  • Besides, aside from the story, this resembles Gladiator more than the original Ben-Hur.
  • Some of you have to admit you're mostly curious about how well the chariot race is executed. Honestly, it isn't bad, though the boat-ramming sequence while the title character is a galley slave is the best scene in the entire film.
  • There are a few moments of violence that, while not overly graphic, are quite jarring.
  • The lead actors are bland, but while there's no dedicated scenery chewer like Charlton Heston (or even Joaquin Phoenix), they're all very good looking.
  • So is the set design.
  • The movie starts excruciatingly slow, but does get better once people start dying.
  • Jesus finally shows up in a movie that doesn't completely blow. You can't say that about Paris Hilton.
  • Speaking of which, Ben-Hur doesn't really beat you over the head with religious sermons until after the chariot race, at which time you can shut it off.
  • Morgan Freeman! Yay!
  • At 124 minutes, it doesn't quite wear out its welcome.
Messala, a.k.a. Mr. Pouty Puss.
So even though Ben-Hur is ultimately forgettable and you aren't likely to give it another single thought once the end credits roll, it may play okay at home, where we tend to view films with much lower expectations than we do when shelling out twelve bucks at a theater. That may be faint praise for a movie with a $100 million price tag, but you've undoubtedly seen worse from the comfort of your couch.

FEATURETTES: “Ben-Hur: The Legacy”; “The Epic Cast”; “A Tale for Our Times” (making of); “The Chariot Race”


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