Published on August 19th, 2016 | by Ryan Guerra0
Published in 1880, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ is considered one of the most influential Christian books of the nineteenth century. The success of the novel led to film adaptations, most notably the 1955 academy award winning version of the film string Charlton Heston. Fast forward to 2016 and MGM and Paramount Pictures hope to see continue the success of this proven story with their newest film adaptation Ben-Hur.
The story follows a fictional Jewish Prince, Juda Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) as he is betrayed by his adopted brother and roman officer Messala (Toby Kebbell). Juda’s family is falsely accused of treason and Juda becomes enslaved by the Romans. Fueled by hate, Juda returns to Jerusalem seeking vengeance, until he unexpectedly finds compassion, forgiveness and redemption.
Walking into Ben-Hur, I did not know what to expect. I watched the 1955 version of Ben-Hur in 7th grade and did not remember anything accept the amazing chariot scene. That being said, this 2016 version of Ben-Hur stands on its own as a good film. Set in the time of Jesus, the story of Ben-Hur can be universally understood by people in all walks of life, religious or otherwise. That was something that I really appreciated about this film. Often stories set in a Christian setting can turn out to be distractingly preachy. However, Ben-Hur was the perfect blend of religion being hinted at throughout the story but never actually becoming the focal point of the story as a whole until redemption is found. Sure, it is there throughout for those who want it to be, but it also plays as a quiet catalyst for Juda through the compassion he sees in his wife Esther (Nazanin Boniadi) and Jesus (Rodrigo Santoro).
The film is acted well and the use of relatively unknown actors to play these major roles in an epic like this only works to strengthen the story as a whole. In fact, the most popular actor by far is Morgan Freeman (Ilderim) who has maybe 15-20 minutes of total screen time.
From a technical standpoint, Ben-Hur works not only visually with fantastic epic action scenes, but also in its pacing. The film’s pacing finds balance between intense action moments and the quieter exposition scenes that helps develop these characters, most notably Juda. We witness Juda’s transformation from naive prince, to a slave fighting for survival, to a man on a mission for revenge and the forgiveness he gains along the way.
Ben-Hur stands out to me this summer because at its core, it is a good coherent story told between impressive action pieces. Unlike so many recent summer blockbusters that are intent on showing off huge set pieces and not much more, Ben-Hur doesn’t forget that those action scenes are there to further the plot and tell a human story.
4 out of 5 stars
Second Review by Joshua Aja
Ben-Hur (2016) is the story of a wealthy Hebrew family and their adopted Roman son during a tumultuous time in Jerusalem. The Hebrew son, Prince Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston), is wrongly accused of trying to assassinate a Roman leader by his adopted brother Messala Severus (Toby Kebbell).
He is sent to rot in the galley of a Roman war ship as punishment. Thinking his mother (Ayelet Zurer) and sister (Sofia Black-D’Elia) were killed, and the whereabouts of his wife Esther (Nazanin Boniadi) unknown, Judah resolves himself to outlast his Roman captors and return to his home in Jerusalem.
When the ship is destroyed during battle Judah is the lone survivor and he washes ashore and into the hands of Ilderim (Morgan Freeman), a chariot race team owner headed to the Roman Circus in Jerusalem. Judah has found his way home and sets out for revenge on Messala and to find out what really happened to his family.
The story is not a new one and was most famously told in the 1959 film of the same name staring Charlton Heston. The 1959 Ben-Hur is considered a classic film and was the winner of 11 Academy Awards, including taking home the Best Picture prize. The current version failed to capture many of the things that made the classic version such a success. Both stories take place in the same era of Roman control in Judea during the time of Jesus and his crucifixion.
The meeting of Jesus plays an important part of both versions but they have different ways of telling the story, making this more of a retelling than a remake. Including that in the classic, Judah is a champion chariot racer but in the new version this is his first race. The size of the world felt bigger and Judah’s internal and external struggles much more profound in the classic version.
The current adaptation had the Roman Messala traveling the world in a few scenes that felt like they could have been anywhere, including in Jerusalem. Also, in the sea battle where Judah escapes death, in the classic version shows a large battle of two warring nations and the new version is the battle mostly seen through the hole where Judah’s oar went through. The new version seems confined to a few city blocks while the classic version seemed to touch every corner of the known world. The most famous scene of the original is the chariot race between Judah and Messala. In the new version they did their best to build to this moment but it again lacked the grandness of the original.
The 2016 film at times is slow moving and after an exciting first two minutes takes some time to build the story. The version of the film I saw was in 3D which I would not spend the extra money on as it really added nothing to the film visually.
What should have been the climax of the film, the chariot race, was good but also had too many cuts to Ilderim barking commands to the unexperienced racer, Judah. It also had a CGI horse breaking free and going into the crowd that broke all momentum that the race had up until that point. I did enjoy the story and it has a message that will resonate with viewers.
I give it 2 out of 5.