In this adaptation of Lew Wallace's 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of Christ (previously brought to the screen in 1925 and 1959), a Jewish prince (Jack Huston) spends years toiling in slavery after an old friend, now an officer in the Roman army occupying Jerusalem (Toby Kebbell), falsely accuses him of a crime. In time, he wins his freedom and competes against his betrayer in a violent chariot race, but an encounter with Jesus Christ (Rodrigo Santoro) teaches him the importance of mercy and compassion. This version of Ben-Hur was penned by Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave scribe John Ridley, and directed by Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter). Morgan Freeman co-stars.~Jack Rodgers
Not including the silent version from the 1920's, Ben-Hur has been filmed three times. The first was MGM's lavish 1959 production starring Charlton Heston along with a first rate supporting cast and directed by William Wyler. This was epic film making at its best with the climatic chariot race scenes justly famous. The 1959 version ran 212 minutes or about three and a half hours and followed the book by General Lew Wallace reasonably well. Over 50 years passed before another attempt was made to film this "tale of the Christ." In 2010 a UK/Canadian version was released which was intended to be a two-part television mini-series which was shown on the BBC in Great Britain and the CBC network in Canada. (It was later picked up by ABC and shown in the U.S.)
The version intended for TV had decent product values, a good cast, on location filming, and the wise sense not to try to top the 1959 film but rather
to update it here and there and make it more accessible to a current, more modern era audience. It ran about three hours and there was some mild plot/character cuts here and there but all in all a respectable version that generally achieved its purpose. In 2016 a new version came out which is what this review is directed towards. I must confess that the 2016 film is my least favorite version. For one thing, the film barely went over two hours so you know there was a great deal of plot and character deletions and I think this hurt because it changed the thrust of the original story. In the 2016 version Christ plays a somewhat greater role and the idea of forgiveness is definitely present and given a bit more of a push than we saw in 1959 and 2010 although
the earlier versions did not ignore this central theme by any means. Morgan Freeman has a starring role so you know this is a mark in the film's favor and this 2016 version took a stab at outdoing the chariot race scene from the 1959 classic but came up a tad short in my view -- but it was impressive. The producers of the 2106 version seemed more interested in producing a new version of Ben-Hur that spoke to Christianity more than to General Wallace's original book. I cannot say that the 2016 version was a mistake -- and if an individual has never seen the earlier versions of Ben-Hur, I think this more truncated film is definitely worth a look. It was sincerely produced and acted. For those like myself who have viewed the 1959 and the 2010 movies, I think the 2016 take may prove a disappointment despite sound production values. Too much of the story was changed in the 2016 film for my tastes but I think it deserves a viewing by everyone who can then make up their own minds. So I give it a cautious 4 stars because younger viewers who are viewing Ben-Hur for the first time may well come away with some positive life messages and philosophy.
We all (people my age bracket) seen the original Ben-Hur with (C. Heston. This is a same day but, different prestation movie. Very exciting, poor horses that looked like they were getting the life beaten out them from the charoite scenes. That is how well the visual effects were and the thunderous sound from the horses! The acting between the characters were very good. Believable and convincing...
It's not the Charleton Heston film, which is considered a classic. A lot of people automatically hate remakes of films which are considered "classics." I'm willing to give them a chance. Often, the remakes do indeed fall short. In this case, I was satisfied.
Before I went to see this film in the theater, I re-watched my BD copy of the Heston film so it'd be fresh in my mind for comparison purposes. The overall story was much the same, though certain details were changed (such as the triggering event regarding the threat to the Roman official which starts Ben-Hur's captivity story). For some of these changes, the new film's choice did seem more "realistic" than the original's.
Afterward, I was interested enough to look up the Wiki article on the book which the films were based on. The book was written in the late 1800s. And it turns out that in some ways the original film was more faithful to the book than the newer film. (While the opposite was true for other differences between the two.) I was surprised that some of the less realistic plotting from the Heston film was actually taken almost directly from the book. I suppose books written over a hundred years ago were more intent on the drama than on realism. I was also surprised to find that both films cover only a fraction of the book, which had eight parts! Anyone remotely interested in these films who hasn't read (or read about) the book should learn more from Wiki or elsewhere.
For the BluRay itself, the video/audio quality is what you'd expect from a BD. There are four principle bonus features with the disc discussing various aspects of the story and production. These each run between 10 and 15 minutes apiece. There is also a Deleted/Extended scenes feature which runs a bit more than 10 minutes.
Remakes rarely live up to their originals - this remake is no exception. But it still was a decent remake that was enjoyable. If you haven't watched the original I suggest you watch it before you watch this remake.
Anyone looking for this "Ben-Hur" to overtake the classic version will deservedly be disappointed. This "Ben-Hur" stands on its own as some lively and moving entertainment. Yes, as in the original the chariot scenes and ships and oars and ramming speeds are the movie's best moments. But the rest of the movie seldom drags. The leading male actors don't have the gravitas of Charlton Heston or even Russell Crowe in "Gladiator", but their friendship and eventual falling out is believable. The ending may not be perfect but it is emotionally moving. A theater patron can approach this version and criticize it for falling short of the original or they can appreciate this movie on its own merits, and possibly be entertained. I choose the former