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Far from insightful thematically, but it more than makes up for it in the sheer scale of the production. Heston commands the screen throughout virtually the entire runtime, making the betrayal of Messala, and Ben-Hur's slow ascent to seek his revenge, feel pointed and tangible. The chariot race is iconic for a reason; the dedication to practical effects is timeless and still an impressive feat. This doesn't mean that the excessive runtime of the film isn't intimidating and an occassional slog, but the overall production is still impressive. The treatment of the loss of faith would hardly feel as impactful if we did not witness as much detail of the tragedy as we did.
Couldn't make it past the 10 min mark. Far too posy and self-important.
An epic movie in length and in production. You can see why the story has been popular through its novel and through the many films. Charlton Heston is huge powerful presence through the movie, i would not say he is a great actor but he is very effective in his role as Ben Hur. The look of the movie and cinematography are excellent with the vast cities, buildings and arenas. It is very long and some scenes could well have been shorter. The film feels like it is two parts from Ben Hur coming back after being convicted to the chariot race and Jesus. The chariot race is a very good piece of film making. Its exciting. Its thrilling. Its tense. We feel like we are there racing with them. The ships fighting scenes from far away are not effective as the fighting close ups on board. The men rowing on board the ship is shown as painful, very hard work as they are pushed to the brink, Ben Hur stays proud and tries to show his power still. His drive and belief that he will go home and see his mother and sister again keeps him going. Having faith and losing faith are two of the main themes in the movie. The loss of friendship, the Roman empire where you either with us or against us and revenge are all important aspects of the movie. The religious aspects do play a huge part and in the time the film was set you can understand it. Some people may think this is over played but even being not religion i thought this was well handled. I sort of expected a happy ending which is what we end up with. You can understand why it did well at the box office and triumphed at the Oscars. A big, bold, brave movie with hugely impressive production and a story which kept my interest.
In an interview about the making of Ben-Hur, director William Wyler once said that he saw it as an opportunity to make a Cecil B. DeMille movie. The comparison is apt: Wyler's 1959 big-screen adaptation of Lew Wallace's novel is old-school epic Hollywood filmmaking with a cast of thousands (literally) and made on a grand scale.
Ben-Hur is a story with two sub-plots. The first is a historical drama about two friends turned bitter enemies. The second is indicated by the original novel's subtitle "A Tale of the Christ", as Judah Ben-Hur's struggle to gain vengeance and save his family takes place against the backdrop of Jesus Christ's rise to prominence and eventual crucifixion by the Romans. The first of these sub-plots has aged the best: when Judah refuses to betray his people to his old friend Messala, the latter responds with vicious ruthlessness, taking the opportunity to send Judah to the galleys as a slave and despatching his mother and sister to prison. Having escaped his life as a slave by saving the life of a Roman Consul, Judah regains status and beats Messala in a chariot race, only to hear from his enemy's dying lips that his family have exchanged prison for a leper colony.
This works well for several reasons, including the fact that the screenplay – credited to Karl Tunberg but also worked on by four other writers – makes Judah and Messala believable and well-written characters. The acting brings them to life: Charlton Heston and Stephen Boyd convey Judah and Messala's hatred for each other very well, and whilst Heston is hardly the best actor in the film, he still gives a solid enough performance. Boyd rather outshines him though and looks effortlessly convincing as Messala (script-writer Gore Vidal claimed that Boyd was advised to play Messala as a spurned homosexual lover: this has been hotly debated, but watching his performance it isn't implausible). Between them, they bring the rivalry between protagonist and antagonist to life, culminating in the palpable loathing that both Heston and Boyd radiate through physical acting alone during the tense and celebrated and chariot race.
The second sub-plot in Ben-Hur works less well. Wyler apparently gave a great deal of thought to how to depict Jesus without upsetting anyone, and chose to do so by not showing his face on camera. Unfortunately, this results in a couple of scenes of a man with implausibly nice hair being filmed from behind. The actual crucifixion is authentically bloody and unpleasant, but by contrast the nativity scene at the start of the film is hard to take seriously. And after reaching a dramatic climax with Messala's death, the movie drags on for another three quarters of an hour, ending with a risible scene in which Miriam and Tirzah are cured of their leprosy by a rainwater tainted with Christ's blood: unless you actually believe in miracles, this basically takes the narrative from historical drama into the realms of magic.
But in spite of this rather large flaw, Ben-Hur is hard to beat in terms of sheer Hollywood spectacle. Decades after it was made, it remains enormously impressive visually, with enormous and lavish sets, gorgeous Italian location filming, and great attention to detail spent on the costumes and props. A variety of techniques are used that contribute to the film's epic feel, from the voice-over during the first scene through the roman numerals used on one of the film's intertitles to the overture and intermission, which enhance the movie's bombastic sense of grandeur. Cinematographer Robert L. Surtees collaborated with Wyler to work with the director's dislike of the widescreen format and his fondness for depth of field. It pays off: every long- and wide-shot is filled with sumptuous detail, showing off the mise-en-scène to its fullest effect. The galley scenes and the sea battle still look remarkable, whilst the nine-minute chariot race remains utterly enthralling and at times is positively disturbing, as fallen charioteers are ground beneath the hooves of their rivals' horses. Scenes such as the slaves being marched across desert neatly demonstrate the brutal machinery of the Roman Empire, and whether or not the film (or the original novel) has any claim to historical accuracy is largely irrelevant: within the narrative, the world depicted is wholly convincing. Miklós Rózsa's celebrated orchestral score is just as epic as the film itself.
In addition to Heston and Boyd, the fine cast boasts performances from the likes of Jack Hawkins as Quintus Arrius and Hugh Griffith as Sheik Ilderim, both talent thespians who bring gravitas to their parts, which they play with total conviction (nothing dates the film more than heavily made-up Welsh actor Griffith playing the Sheik). The female actors get less prominent roles for most of the film, although Haya Harareet brings real heart to the role of Esther and Martha Scott and Cathy O'Donnell sounded believably wretched as the unfortunate Miriam and Tirzah.
The term classic is often banded about without discrimination: however, when talking about Hollywood cinema, it isn't inappropriate to describe Ben-Hur as a classic. For all of its flaws, it represents the peak of a certain type of film-making which has long since fallen out of fashion and is difficult to do either with conviction or at all nowadays. Whatever failings it may have, Wyler's Ben-Hur remains an absorbing and awe-inspiring piece of work.
Perfect film fine acting by Heston to much of a film to be rebooted
Why? Please tell me why? Better actors and visual but the story and screenplay are just lacking. Stick with Charleston Heston version.
Awesome movie !!!!👍
Excellent movie. I forgot how long it is.
I loved this movie. My only issue is how long it is.
A true classic! I wish they would never re-make it!