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Ben-Hur
Genre Adventure
 
Review:

The Ben-Hur of 1959 starring Charlton Heston is widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time. A remake of a silent movie, the production took six months to film and six months of postproduction to complete at a cost of just under $15 million. Massive sets, thousands of costumes and long days, it was a colossal undertaking, inspired by The Ten Commandments. Originally, Marlon Brando was set to star but the iconic role eventually found its way to Charlton Heston with the film generating 10 times its budget in returns at the box office.

The story, penned by Lew Wallace, follows a prince falsely accused of treason who returns to his homeland after years at sea to take revenge on the adopted brother, who betrayed him. The new Ben-Hur of 2016 isn't as grandiose as its predecessor, making some drastic changes to the story. The central revenge plot between Judah Ben-Hur and Masala, played by Jack Huston and Toby Kebbell, is still a primary focus, however it seems that the film makers have made more room for Ilderim and Jesus Christ, played by Morgan Freeman and Rodrigo Santoro respectively. The effort seems divided between four characters, when it's really Ben Hur's film.

Jack Huston isn't your typical leading man and seems pretty ordinary when you contrast him with Charlton Heston. Huston pushes off Kebbell as their paths diverge and for a moment you're not too sure who is playing the lead. Huston is likable and goes through a number of transitions in terms of his appearance much like The Count of Monte Cristo. Kebbell has more of an embattled sneer and comparable with Joseph Fiennes's role as Clavius in Risen, a film which makes an interesting contrast in terms of production values and themes.

The new Ben-Hur tries to elevate itself into the realm of Ben-Hur, Spartacus and Gladiator, which is such a strong influence that it almost becomes an undercurrent. However, it's a lesser film – leaning on CGI to create dazzling effects but failing to capture the same injustice, turmoil and sprawling, epic splendour. Perhaps a stronger lead would have helped raise this historical adventure drama's profile seems more in line with Kingdom of Heaven, starring Orlando Bloom.

Timur Bekmambetov is a director best known for Night Watch, Day Watch, Wanted and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. These dark fantasy films make it seem strange that he was elected for the remake of Ben-Hur. Although when you look at Darren Aronofsky's Noah, it may help explain the decision. Bekmambetov excels in the darker moments, most particularly his vision of the hellish sea battles. He's also paid special attention to the chariot race, a scene which has left an indelible mark on Hollywood history. While he doesn't trump the original, it still functions as the film's climactic highlight.

Ben-Hur certainly doesn't have the same magic and power as the golden era films its trying to mimic, but it's still entertaining as we journey with a wrongfully accused man on a path to redemption. The quality of the production ranks alongside Ridley Scott's Robin Hood, yet its restrained by its decision to try and parallel the story of Christ. Ben Hur did have some interactions with Jesus Christ, but the timing of both stories just seem implausible and convoluted rather than coincidental. The ending while touching is cheapened by Ben-Hur's hollow victory and change of heart. This heavy-handed approach just makes this mediocre, at best promising, biblical epic seem a bit cheesy.

The bottom line: So-so


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