Charlton Heston, the star of the Oscar Award winning movie Ben Hur, need not worry about being dethroned. He is the original Ben Hur. For that matter, the Ben Hur that won 11 Oscar awards is far more superior than the rebooted version that we accidentally saw tonight.
The reviews are in and the critics have panned this movie. Moviegoers are not watching this. It’s been called “the bomb of the summer” and a movie that “struggles to find an identity” among other things. There are numerous analysis of what went wrong: lack of star power, a director who’s known more for action sequences than giving characters the human touch, the choppy editing and CGI, release of movie was around Rio’s Olympics and schools reopening and several others. The movie made only $41.4 million against a production budget of $100 million.
The director Timur Bekmambetov (who’s directed Night Watch and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) has gone on record to say that “this movie is about the Roman Empire, how seductive and glamorous and dangerous its ideas are – it’s about power and competition. And we live in this world. We live in the Roman Empire today – and this movie is trying to find a way how we can survive today. It’s not a movie about Jesus’ time, it’s a movie about us.” So that clears out the whole idea of deviating away from the source novel which is titled Ben Hur: A Tale of Christ.
It’s also important to know that in Pakistan, all the scenes with Jesus Christ were censored (depiction of any prophets is not permissible), so that meant that Ben Hur’s initial interaction with Jesus and the final cruxifixion scene were all cut out. The running time of the movie is 2 hours 20 mins, and the censored version was 1 hour 54 minutes.
So basically, we got to see a movie about Ben Hur (Jack Huston- a Britisher) and his best friend/ adoptive brother Messala, who live with Ben Hur’s mother and sister. Messala decides one day that he wants to see the world and so he enlists in the army and fights battles. On his return to Jerusalem, Messala has dinner with the family and so everything is fine. The next day, Pontius Pilate is marching through the city and an assassination attempt is made on him (a slight deviation from the previous version of the movie) and in the process Ben Hur is arrested and sent to the galleys to be a slave, while his mother and sister are sent to die (who we find out later are lepers).
For the next five years, we see Ben Hur slaving away, rowing ships in some of the more effective scenes in the movie. During a crash, he manages to escape and is washed ashore, where Sheikh Ilderim (three cheers for the super-talented-and-always-a-joy-to-watch-on-screen Morgan Freeman) rescues him. Sheilk Ilderim is convinced that Judah Ben Hur is not a slave and so trains him to be a professional chariot racer, so he can battle it out in the circus. Some dialogues are uttered about revenge but you don’t pay attention.
So comes the big day of the race. The two best friends turned enemies battle it out. In a ten minute long sequence and the only highlight in an otherwise dull movie, the chariot race scene is a marvel. There were chills and goosebumps as contestants were thrown off, run over and struggle to stay on the chariot. As we all know, Ben Hur wins the race.
Then in some serious, major chopping off a chunk of the movie, we see Ben Hur, Messala, Ben Hur’s mother and sister and Ben Hur’s love interest all hug like one big happy family. Cue the credit song and we realize why this movie underperformed so badly at the box office: there was no heart in it!
I couldn’t help but think of the classic Ben Hur and the authenticity of it all. The way they spoke (in the new version they spoke with a somewhat a British accent, and say words like “yeah” and “oh my God!”), the mannerisms (in the new version, everyone is acting like as if they are on the sets of Gladiator), the dialogues, the settings (who can forget the dreaded Valley of the Lepers in the classic version)– everything felt genuine and real. Movies like The Ten Commandments, The Message and even The Passion of the Christ have a lot of authenticity which the new Ben Hur didn’t.
Avoid at all cost– even if a friend calls you up and buys you a free ticket to the movie.
1.5 out of 5
(1 point for the awesome chariot race sequence and 0.5 for Morgan Freeman!)