Ben-Hur Reviewed by Luke Weston

The Premise
The epic story of Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston), 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.

The Review
If you have suffered through the original version of Ben-Hur from 1959, you may be thinking that you don’t have a zillion hours to watch the new version of this movie! After all this is 2016. We don’t do 3.5 hour epics anymore (unless they star Hobbits).
But, give it a nudge. What Director Timur Bekmambetov has done is remarkable. He’s condensed the most memorable parts of the original film into an entertaining 123 minutes. More than that, he’s given the story new legs.

This film was always going to be compared to the original. It won 11 Academy Awards for goodness sake. The movie’s makers insist that it is not a remake of the original, and in many ways this take on the story does hold its own.

The storyline takes a few new twists and turns, the visual spectacle and cinematography captivating, and the acting is surprisingly good. Morgan Freeman (as just one example) brings considerable depth to his role, despite his dreadlocks, which are disastrously distracting!

In the ancient world chariot racing was the Formula One of its day. Sure, back then the racers wore gilded breast plates, knee-high laced boots, and fabulous man-skirts, but the excitement was just as frenetic. This film does not disappoint with its chariot race. Horse-drawn intensity from start to finish.

The original story of Ben Hur is a Christian one. Bringing to life the times in which Jesus lived, and interweaving the teachings of Jesus into the narrative. While the 1959 version certainly carried this theme, the latest take on the story explores it even more deeply. This maybe, in part, due to the film’s Producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, who were also responsible for the TV series ‘The Bible’. Simply put; the gospel message in this picture is more overt than its predecessor.

If criticism is to be levelled, it would be that story is slow in places. There are long tracts of dialogue that seem to lead nowhere and some scenes that could have been left on the cutting room floor altogether. I can’t imagine the Oscars being divvied out in record quantities like the original, but then again times have changed.

Ben Hur delivered on the entertainment front however; and when my own chariot rolled over the finish line, and I walked from the popcorn-laden cinema coliseum, I can say that I genuinely enjoyed this film.

The Verdict
A great new take on a much loved classic, and half the length too! Visually epic, but slow in places. A good roman-sandal -slinging yarn. 3.5 stars.

The Trailer

The Info
Releases: 25th August 2016
Rating: Contains Mature themes and violence
Duration: 123 minutes 
Genre:  Drama Action
Starring: Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell, Morgan Freeman, and also starring Rodrigo Santoro, Nazanin Boniadi, Ayelet Zurer, and Sofia Black D’Elia.
Director: Timur Bekmambetov (Films)

The Extras
The lead role was offered to Tom Hiddleston but he chose to do Kong: Skull Island (2017) instead.

This is the sixth screen adaptation of Lew Wallace's novel. The first was the silent short Ben-Hur (1907), the second was the silent epic Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925), the third and most acclaimed was Ben-Hur (1959), the fourth was the animated direct-to-DVD Ben Hur (2003), and the fifth was the television mini-series Ben Hur (2010).

Gal Gadot was originally cast as Esther but dropped out due to scheduling conflicts
17 of 20 found this interesting | Share this

Director Timur Bekmambetov explained the film's adaptation in a interview with Collider: "When we say "original Ben-Hur," we have to be very concrete about which original version we are talking about. They are two big screen versions made, in 1925 and 1959. These are the two most famous ones. There was also a Broadway stage version at the beginning of the [20th] century. There have been a lot of television versions. The Ben-Hur story reminds me of "Romeo and Juliet," "Hamlet," and any story written by Chekhov. It is timeless, so every new generation wants to go back to it in order to adapt it for the new world. The screen version made in 1959 runs for four hours, and there is only a small number of people who can actually stay through the whole movie. It is about people different from us. And it's normal, because people used to be different. The audience was different, too, as well as the cinema language the film was made in. The 1959 movie was about revenge, not about forgiveness. For me that was the main problem, as I think that the novel is mainly about forgiveness, about the fact that a human being learned how to forgive. I got so excited about the project when I read John Ridley's script. I understood that John's vision of the story has so much light to it, and that he shares the same thoughts about a certain morals as I do. We talked with him about our modern world, which actually reminds me very much of a huge Roman Empire. In the Roman Empire, the most important values were pride, rivalry, power, strength, the dictatorship of power and self-love. This kind of world does not have any prospects today. Humanity has to learn how to love and forgive. This would be our only solution."

The film was originally set on for release on February 26, 2016, but in October 2015, it was pushed back to August 12, 2016.

The first remake of Ben Hur (1959) had won a total of 11 Oscars which is a still standing record for most Oscar wins (shared with Titanic and Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King). The first full length feature version of Ben Hur was made in 1925

Morgan Freeman does some narrating in the beginning and end of the film. He recorded a majority of this from Clarksdale, Mississippi.