We’ve all heard the saying, “It’s better than Ben-Hur!” Referring to the 1959 film’s huge cost and length of three and a half hours, it certainly is a long sit down, but a terrific film and looks great, even by today’s standards. Being that such a long time has passed since the original film and its success, it’s only logical that Hollywood would once again like to replicate its huge success with a modern audience.
For the uninitiated, the film tells the story of Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston), a Jewish prince from a royal family living in Jerusalem during the time of Jesus Christ (who makes several appearances in the film in the form of Rodrigo Santoro). Judah’s adopted brother Messala Severus (Toby Kebbell) leaves the family and rises through the ranks of the Roman army. A Jewish rebel fails to assassinate Roman figure Pontius Pilate (Pilou Asbaek), and Judah takes responsibility to protect his family and his fellow Jew. Judah is forced into slavery as a rower for a Roman gallery, and eventually gets involved with Shreik Ilderim (Morgan Freeman) who trains Judah in the ways of chariot racing to seek his revenge.
First thing’s first; is the remake as much as a spectacle as the 1959 version? No, but it does looks great. It would be hard for any film to recapture the feeling of a genuine epic, in terms of both scope and feeling, so the remake had a tall order there. The setup of the main story is very drawn out and could have been shorter and gotten into the action a lot quicker, especially if you already know where the story is going.
The acting is definitely not bad, and you certainly feel for Huston’s Judah Ben-Hur. But overall, the acting is very much what you would expect from a Hollywood epic, include faux accents that sound like a pantomime version of the British accent. Morgan Freeman’s presence in the film does give the film a boost, although does not appear until past the halfway point. For this type of movie, there is actually not that much violence in it; perhaps having more action could have helped Ben-Hur. The highlight of the film is definitely the chariot race towards the end of the film, which is indeed very exciting and action packed.
The remake is much closer to the standard movie length of two hours, as this version did not need the original’s three and a half hour running time. Ben-Hur said everything it needed to say, and although it’s far from being the best film of 2016, it does contain some exciting action scenes.
Originally published here at milkbarmag.com on Thursday 1 September 2016