One of the special features for this blu-ray is called “A Tale For Our Times”. After watching the film I have to agree. There are many aspects of the story which should be relatable to today’s audience. It entails a people on top subjugating those they want to keep under their thumbs. Blended families. Those who think that the world’s problems can be solved with a show of force. All things that people today are faced with. Topical. There are threads to this story that should pull you in. Plus some epic chariot racing scenes. And yet, in the end Ben-Hur ends up being a rather empty shell of a film.
The year is 38 A.D. Prince Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston – American Hustle, Hail, Caesar!) and his half-brother Messala Severus (Toby Kebbell – Warcraft: The Beginning, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) are devoted to one another, but competitive. Their father has died. Judah is Jewish whereas Messala is Christian. One day, they are racing their horses and Judah is thrown from his. He is gravely injured. Judah mother and Messala’s step mother (Ayelet Zurer – Angels & Demons, Man of Steel) blames Messala. Judah eventually recovers, but Messala is made to feel like an outsider in his own family.
Due to the fact that he does not feel at home in his own house, Messala decides to leave for Rome and join the mighty Roman army. He leaves despite the protests by Judah. Three years go by and Messala has moved up the ranks of the Roman army. Judah writes him letters which Messala ignores.
Judah is living a completely different life than his half-brother. He is a pacifist who refuses to join in the fight for freedom from the Romans by the zealots. Also, he and Esther (Nazanin Boniadi – from television’s Homeland) have married.
The half-brothers are finally reunited. Messala is now a commander in the Roman army. He implores Judah to help him find the zealots. Judah refuses. This decision turns tragic when a zealot Judah has allowed to live in his castle kills a couple or Roman soldiers. Judah still will not betray the young man and takes responsibility. He is sentenced to be a slave for the rest of his life.
For five years he lives the brutal life of a slave for the Romans. He is put on a Roman destroyer with many other slaves in order to row the boat. It is attacked by the Greeks and Judah is the lone survivor. He washes onshore to a camp. Taken under the wing of the man who runs the camp, Ilderim (Morgan Freeman – The Shawshank Redemption, Driving Miss Daisy). Judah is now determined to return to Jerusalem to find his family.
Amazingly I did some research and this is the sixth version of Ben-Hur, so it is a remake of a remake of a remake…well, you get the picture. I understand that you might want to modernize an epic tale of this sort, but how many times? Yes, many out there were probably wondering how the big chariot scene would be made more hair-raising by today’s technology though is that enough to warrant greenlighting a multimillion dollar production? I think not.
The chariot race is thrilling to watch. The other two hours and a bit? Not so much. We should get out of the trap of hating a film just because it is a remake. Not liking a film because it is bad is something else altogether. Judging the film on its own merits is what we should strive for. The action sequences are alright with the climatic chariot race being the best. The lead does a fine job as Judah though he certainly is no Charlton Heston. Morgan Freeman, who usually is a solid actor, kind just floats through his scenes. Disappointing. The Jesus character is just plain odd. Despite the fact that this film is roughly an hour and a half shorter than the original it still felt like it was dragging in parts. Which is not what you want to hear about a sword a sandal film. This most certainly is no 1959 Ben-Hur.
-Ben-Hur: The Legacy
-The Epic Cast
-A Tale For Our Times
-The Chariot Race
-Deleted and Extended Scenes
-Music Videos: “The Only Way Out” by Andra Day, “Ceasefire” by For King and Country, “Back to You” by Mary Mary