Been Hur Before
When I was a kid I was constantly amazed at how my brother was able to buy some sweets and not just empty the whole pack into his face in one go. Me? Well, if I could avoid breathing difficulties and that feeling of your heart trying to escape by smashing through your rib cage then well done me and my self control.
The same was true with media. I wanted something big bright and colourful, I wanted it quickly and I wanted to move to the next one. Not my brother. One of his favourite films was Ben Hur; a three hour epic to end all epics but to me three hours was too much time not eating cola cubes.
Today is quite different. For a start our drug addicted world probably would have prescribed Ritalin to combat ADHD but also the idea of a three hour film is not that uncommon.
I still haven’t seen the original but my brother always went on about the chariot scene and legend has it that a billion stuntmen died in this scene… something like that… so this seems like a good place to jump in.
The chariot scene is the most entertaining part of the film but it also has two striking problems. There are some rather obvious moments of CGI and whilst you can get away with it in Super Space Voyage 3000 you can’t really get away with it when the height of technology is hot water. Without top notch CGI you are removed from the gritty, unforgiving world the characters are meant to inhabit.
The second problem is the pillar of expectation. You either have to have the chariot scene be more spectacular than the original (I refer you to literally the last thing I just wrote) or you try to do something different with the scene which is not even attempted.
You can argue that this is true for the whole film; it’s not very original. I mean even if you haven’t seen the original you will have no problem thinking “I’ve been here before” especially if you have seen Gladiator.
The story follows Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) a Jewish prince and Messala Severus (Toby Kebbell) his adopted brother. As the adopted brother Messala joins the Roman army to prove his worth but when his army rolls through town like some pompous dressage parade Judah is wrongly incarcerated, forced to work on a Roman galley and has to win back his freedom.
I actually enjoyed most of the story, especially the relationship between the two brothers, the motivations and values of whom are surprisingly well balanced by director Timur Beckimov. I found myself relating to aspects of both and neither siblings at the same time, questioning who is right and wrong.
A rather sloppy and obvious inclusion of God’s favourite carpenter was one of the few aspects I didn’t enjoy. Maybe it made sense in 1959 but this plot line goes nowhere and is a clear candidate for being crossed off the storyboard. Pun intended.
The only thing more pointless was Morgan Freeman in dreadlocks who simply didn’t suit his role. Presumably he’s there to add star power.
There isn’t anything about Ben-Hur that is essential viewing but as a straight remake it’s not the complete shit show I thought it might be. I’m secretly disappointed about that because I was ready to go to town on it like it was a big bag of pick and mix!
The Good, The Bad and The Outcome:
+ The chariot scene
+ Enjoyable story
+ Interesting relationship between brothers
– CGI during the chariot scene
– Morgan Freeman with dreads!?