Ben-Hur: My shorter than the actually movie review!!!

Posted: July 8, 2011 in AFI 100, Movies

  Ben-Hur (1959)

Dir. William Wyler

Starring Charlton Heston, Jack Hawkins, Haya Harareet & Stephen Boyd

Ranked #100 on AFI’s Top 100 Films of All Time



As we near the finish of my 100 movies in 100 days, I decided to watch the last movie on the list today and the first movie on the list to finish it tomorrow.  Today I watch one of Hollywood’s biggest biblical epics and winner of 11 Academy Awards, Ben Hur.

Judah Ben-Hur was a Jewish Prince living in the glorious city of Judea.  He lives the good life and is a good man, kind to all including his slaves.  Things start to change when the Roman Empire steps up its military presence in the city.  Tensions run high when Massala, an old friend of Ben-Hur’s, comes to the city.  After an accident where some tile falls, causing the Roman governor to fall from his horse, Ben-Hur is sentenced without trial to hard labor rowing in a galley war ship for Quintus Arrius.  After the ship is damaged, Ben-Hur rescues him from death and after time, is adopted by Quintus.  He goes back to Judea as a skilled chariot racer and crosses paths with Massala, also an accomplished chariot racer.  He races him to avenge his imprisonment as well as that of his mother and sister.  Eventually he gains his revenge but swears away his Roman citizenship, blaming them for his family’s ills.  It is at this point that he witnesses the crucifixion of Jesus at the hands of the new Judea governor, Pilate.

Let’s talk about what I loved about this movie, what stuck with me when I watched this for the first time this morning.  This movie is shot beautifully in 65mm Super Wide Screen at the aspect ratio of 2.76:1.  This is one of the widest shot films in history and it is seen in all of its glory.  Nothing is out of focus and everything has a deep richness and color to it.  No movie since has accomplished this scope and none ever will.  Of course this aspect and wide shot is used stunningly in the greatest scene in this film and possibly all others after it.  The chariot scene alone is worth sitting three and a half hours through this film.

This is, of course, a big downfall for me.  I don’t attribute this to my waning attention span crippled by TV and Internet, but rather to the pace and lack of a truly compelling story.  While the story is not a complete and utter failure, it has numerous pitfalls and pacing issues to say the least.  The acting is also quite forgettable, with the exception of Charlton Heston as the title character, Ben-Hur.  While he is at times slightly over the top, his performance is on par with his portrayal of Moses.

While I’m talking about story, I also felt that the Christ story was completely out of place.  While the official title for the film is Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, it stuck out like a sore thumb.

While epic in time and in scope, this is far from being a true Hollywood epic.  While I fell in love with the cinematography and the scope of the film, the set design and the costumes I could not find much else to make me excited to see this film again.  Maybe I should give it a couple more years before watching it again.




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