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Ben-Hur - Film Review

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by Haydn Radford (subscribe)
Haydn Radford -A freelance writer born in Adelaide, who loves living here. I write about movies, theatre, entertainment, literary and art events. I am happy to promote & review your events.
Published August 28th 2016
Ben-Hur Review

Movie director, Timur Bekmambetov has remade not just any film, but the biggest Hollywood epic of all time, Ben Hur, the 1959 classic which won 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director (William Wyler), Best Actor in a Leading Role (Charlton Heston), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Hugh Griffith) and Best Colour Cinematography (Robert L. Surtees). Ben Hur also won three Golden Globe Awards, including Best Motion Picture - Drama, Best Director and Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture for Stephen Boyd.

Ben-Hur (1959) had the biggest budget ($15.175 million) along with the largest sets constructed for any movie at that time. It's nine-minute chariot race is considered to be one of the most famous and exciting sequences in movie history.

Still today, Ben-Hur (1959) is considered by many to be one of the greatest films ever made, yet Bekmambetov set about to create a bigger than Ben-Hur with an even greater version of the chariot race.

How successful was Bekmambetov's Ben-Hur ? With a production budget of $100 million, his remake took in only $28 million worldwide. Critics have been highly critical.

This film along with the two previous screen adaptations are very thinly based upon, Ben -Hur : A tale of Christ, the 1880 novel considered "the most influential Christian book of the nineteenth century." Co-producers, Paramount and MGM had hoped Bekmambetov's Ben-Hur might appeal to Christian moviegoers but, the fleeting appearances and references to Jesus seem to be a token gesture. The attempts to preach a message about revenge and forgiveness, fall short of being convincing as they appear lacking of spiritual substance.

The early scenes include shaky hand camera work, which may bother some viewers. My friend found it annoying, but I was not troubled by it.

The stirring action of the initial horse race between the wealthy Jewish man Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) and his adopted Roman brother Messala (Toby Kebbell), is exciting and establishes their competitive nature and friendship. However, their different faiths and political loyalties soon undermines their 'brotherly' love. The resulting conflict is driven by the politically ambitious and resentful Messala. His ambition to be seen as a powerful administrator by Rome results in Messala banishing Ben-Hur's mother and sister to a lepers' colony and Ben-Hur imprisoned on a slave ship.

It is the battle sequence on the slave ship and the climactic chariot race that will appeal to viewers, who hunger for more thrills and excitement. Bekmambetov's chariot race is gripping as the camera work has you up close and personal with surprising spills and gruesome accidents that are bound to hold your attention, as you feel you are right there. (And I was only watching the 2 D version). It had me wondering how did they capture such amazing action footage? I went searching the credits and sure enough, no animals were injured during the making of this film. Amazing!

What does appear surprisingly realistic and natural are the CGI-sequences and the spectacular scenery and the mighty grandeur of the surrounding stadium. The thunderous sounds and excitement of the chariot race was achieved using real practical stunts without CGI assistance. Huston and Kebbell declined stunt doubles and along with the crew and practical stunts spent months rehearsing. Bekmambetov only used digital models when filming became too dangerous.

Bekmambetov's adaptation lacks realism in certain areas such as the leper sequences, which don't show Ben-Hur's mother and sister with hideous, communicable afflictions from leprosy, but simply a crazed look in their eyes. When Ben-Hur proceeds to cut his dirty and tangled hair with hand shears, without any mirror, he is next seen sporting a modern boutique hairstyle. During the chariot race an accident victim is dragged by his four horses and re-appears without damage to himself or his attire.

While Ben Hur does provide excitement with its action sequences, they are too few in a film that suffers from an absence of holiness and depth of story telling. Hence, it is bound to disappoint some viewers.

***** out of 10
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