You might be asking yourself: why would Shawn, with all the movies available to see, decide to go watch Ben Hur? The answer to that is actually pretty complex. My dad asked me if I wanted to see a movie and this was the movie he decided to go to. I know that was a pretty lengthy series of circumstances that I dropped on you, but as long as you can understand my motives as to why I went to see this movie, we can move on.
Ben Hur is the remake to the 1959 classic (that was a remake of the 1925 classic) that nobody asked for, which stars Morgan Freeman in a secondary role and a bunch of nobodies (not that it’s always important to have a big name actor, it just seems like they could have used some of that $100 million budget on someone I’ve kind of, sort of, heard of).
I honestly don’t know what they were going for here. Anybody that gives even the slightest shit about the original(s) is either a film buff that won’t exactly be pleased about Hollywood pumping out a soulless tracing of a beloved classic, or is of an older generation (aka: not the typical summer blockbuster demographic) the people who normally go to see summer blockbusters don’t care about the name recognition of an almost 60-year-old movie. It’s like remaking Casablanca; what exactly are you trying to prove by doing this?
The misplaced arrogance of its mere existence aside, Ben Hur is a tragically mediocre movie. It’s kind of like a made-for-TV version of Gladiator with better production values that gets aired three times a week on a Christian television network because they have nothing better to play. It looks good, has all the right Roman-ish things you would expect. The lighting and camera work are fine, the score is fine, all in all a pretty solidly made movie. The acting is… well it’s not great. The performances have as much subtlety as a daytime soap opera with every line delivered like it’s the most important thing ever said, which, of course, makes everything sound super corny.
I’m not going to get into a breakdown of what’s different in this one compared to the 1959 version, because I don’t want to put in the time and effort it would take to do that properly, but I will say that this version makes some pretty major changes. A lot of these changes seem to have been made to ‘spice things up’, but they don’t really do that; they mostly just make it more like a modern Rome-themed epic (think Gladiator or Spartacus), and a bland one at that.
If I was handing out compliments, I would say that Ben Hur isn’t the most boring movie I’ve ever seen. Despite all the hokey acting and melodrama, Ben Hur manages to keep a decent pace, and the chariot racing scene towards the end was actually pretty great. I guess what I’m trying to say is that Ben Hur wasn’t the longest two hours of my life, which in this case is paramount to high praise.
One last thing I probably should mention is that Ben Hur is a religious film. You wouldn’t know it from any of the trailers, posters or promotion material (though if you saw the 1959 version you would have) but Ben Hur is (sort of) about Jesus. What’s kind of weird about Ben Hur’s treatment of Mr. Christ is that Jesus is for most of the movie a bit character. Jesus has maybe two minutes of screen time for the first 90 percent of the movie, before spending the last 10 minutes on his crucifixion. It’s kind of jarring to have all that dropped off at the end, but by then I was emotionally checked out, so I really didn’t care that much when the movie ended with a Christian message so heavy Mel Gibson might have told them to tone it down.
All in all, this movie is fine. If it weren’t for the sweet chariot scene I probably would have scored it lower. It’s a little sad that while both the 1925 and 1959 versions of Ben Hur are beloved, groundbreaking classics, the 2016 version is destined to be a bargain bin dweller/mid-level trivia question. Then again it doesn’t really deserve anything better.