Ben-Hur: Not bigger, not better

August 26, 2016


Ben-Hur (M) 

Rating: 3 / 5 

It’s a brave filmmaker who attempts to remake something as iconic as Ben-Hur. The 1959 Oscar-winning original was the most expensive film of the era and boasted the pre-digital age miracles of a literal cast of thousands and life-threatening, brilliantly executed stunts by men and beasts. 

The result was 220 minutes of engrossing storytelling and the fame of entering vernacular speech in the common description ‘bigger than Ben-Hur’.

The latest two-hour version (directed by Timur Bekmambetov) tells the story of Judah Ben-Hur with the required emotional intensity and stunning visuals, but it often suffers from being in the shadow of its classic predecessor.  

The climactic chariot race is there and the slave ship sequences are especially engrossing if a little brutal. The appearance of Morgan Freeman as a Nubian Sheik gives us something solid to hold onto as an audience. His is a presence that always dominates. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast headed up by Jack Huston (Boardwalk Empire) as Judah and Toby Kebbell (Fantastic Four) seem to be just going through the motions. 

In that respect it is disappointing as are some of the handheld camera sequences which just prove distracting on a big screen (to say nothing of the 3-D version). 

As a Christian the intermittent appearances of an initially inconspicuous carpenter named Jesus Christ sustains my interest in the journey of Ben-Hur. To witness how the influence of Jesus and his message of forgiveness changes many people and eventually Judah himself makes my heart leap. This is of course the main reason for the story and is something that modern critics have missed or blatantly chosen to ignore.     

Many viewers will engage with this film, but if you want the real thing perhaps you should revisit the original.

Highlight: The chariot race
Red Flag: Some violence and mature themes


Tags: Salvation Army Australia

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