Ben-Hur, Done That

Ben-Hur

 

In 1959 the world was introduced to Ben-Hur, a movie that today remains on many top movie lists. So of course Hollywood, would be ready for a remake in this golden age of well…remakes. My final review of the weekend is on the latest rendition of the classic tale that promises the entire plot with more of the action. So let’s get started shall we?

 

LIKES:

  • Sticks to the story
  • Acting
  • The chariot scene finale

 

With remakes sometimes comes a major plot overhaul, which is sometimes good and sometimes bad. In Timur Bekmambetov’s production the story is pretty consistent with its 55-year-old predecessor. The backbone is essentially the same, but they have made a few tweaks such a making Messala, Judah’s brother and using assassination as the means of starting war instead of a tile falling from the ceiling. Some of these additions I think make the drama more gripping, and others were a little more long-winded and overdramatic. At least most of these additions added to the plot and allowed us to get closer and more involved with Ben-Hur’s tale. I liked most of the plot points myself, despite rolling my eyes at times, and welcomed the additions.

I also welcomed the acting, with Jack Huston being an extraordinary Ben-Hur of the modern age. He captures the noble side of the character well and did a decent job for most of the hopeless romantic scenes as well. I can’t lie that his deep brooding voice, sounded a lot like a comical Batman impression and his shaken faith moments were a bit overdone, but overall he did a nice job. Toby Kebell also does the role of Messala well too, though he is a bit more overbearing and brash compared to Huston and bleeds over to the overacted realm a few times. But these two sync with each other well, and both have a great chemistry with the rest of the cast making for a believable crew that you fall into place with.

And as promised, the chariot scene was quite the display of technical ingenuity the modern day Hollywood. The sequence is well put together, with the cinematography capturing all the glorious chaos and action in glorious detail. Its stable, multi angled, and all designed to maximize emotion without making you sick (take a look at this Michael Bay). Now throw in a killer symphony score and sound editing and you get the next component that brings the 15 minutes of adrenaline pumping shots to full force. Finally, throw in some beautifully choreographed moments and planned accidents and you get the complete picture that immerses you into the moment. It certainly was a fitting ending to the tale.

 

DISLIKES:

  • Some of the Drama overdone
  • Writing is surprisingly lacking at parts
  • The savage nature of the film

As mentioned earlier, the writers of the script added some good story elements to the mix, but there were parts that were a little overdone. Many of these parts often had to do with the mother and sister roles, very shallow moments that did not add much to the plot for me. The obsession from that point on led to a lot of circular arguments that were not impressive to me and kept the plot from moving along. A few other character introductions and building rivalries were almost not needed, for the characters weren’t on screen long enough to really add much to the story other than fodder for the violent moments.

This brings me to the next dislike: the lacking writing. For a movie all about finding faith and challenging the reign of the prestigious Roman Empire, you would have thought there would be more boisterous and moving speeches. There are a few of these pride-stimulating moments, but much of Ben-Hur’s dialogue has been reduced to casual conversations where testosterone leads to a semi heated complaining match. Morgan Freeman probably has the best conversations of the bunch when he interacts with the group, filled with the wisdom and enlightenment this time in history was famous for. In addition Esther (Nazanin Boniadi) also had a few wise moments though not as well thought out. While you certainly aren’t there for the writing, it was something that I had hoped would match the intensity of the 50s film.

Finally comes the savage nature of the film. Yes, I know times were horrendous back then and the might of the army was merciless and not shy of brutality. Still I didn’t expect so much focus on it. Ben-Hur’s modern day graphics truly amplify the reality of suffering as both Roman and Jewish citizens are burned, maimed, and crushed under the wrath of entertainment. Some of the violence was indeed necessary, but the cruelty towards the horses in this film was a little too focused for my liking. Yes it does bring you into the heat of the moment and I did feel the suspense building. But seeing those horses (even CGI ones) suffer was not entertaining to me. The violence is certainly fitting, but those with weak constitutions might want to stick to the 50s lower technical qualities.

 

The VERDICT

Ben-Hur is one of the better remakes I have seen in a while, and has many of the elements we fell in love with all those years ago. The actors play their roles nicely and the modern day graphics certainly bring the world to life and immerse you into the entire story. But it is a remake that is a bit more savage and is does not hold anything really special to constitute a trip to theater, with the exception of the few action scenes. Yet those looking for a good historical, action, drama will get their fill, but I recommend waiting on this one to grace RedBox.

 

My scores:

Adventure/Drama/History: 7

Movie Overall: 7

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