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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 10.99%
Average: 6.59%
Pretty Bad: 9.89%
Total Crap: 3.3%

2 reviews, 79 user ratings

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Ben-Hur (1959)
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by Slyder

"A relentless emotional ride"
5 stars

Legendary William Wyler’s adaptation of General Lew Wallace’s Biblical era classic might have been coldly seen as a last chance attempt to save the producing studio MGM/UA from going bust back in 1959 and did its job. I mean, why remake a movie as good as the 1925 classic? In the end, it was just more than that. Though I must say that I haven’t seen the 1925 version (Wyler actually was assistant director in this version), this remake is one of the most impressive and emotionally exhausting films I’ve ever seen. That is the feeling I got when I first saw it when I was 12 years old and still feel the same way as I’ve watched it over the years and a couple of nights ago when I saw it again for the purpose of bringing you this review.

You know, you have to feel intimidated by epic films, since they are long, dense and intense films that you pretty much don’t know where the hell to start describing it. At least that is the problem that I have. As always, here’s the attempted plot description: Set in the time that Christ lived, Jewish Prince Judah Ben Hur (Charlton Heston) finally greets back his oldest and dearest friend, Roman Tribune Messala, only to realize that Messala wants to use Judah in order to catch the Jewish insurrectionist rebels whom are fighting against the Romans. After an accident on the new Governor of Judea, Messala frames Judah and is sent to the galleys for 3 years, surviving by saving Consul Quintus Arrius (Jack Hawkins) after a bloody battle against Macedonian pirates. Despite the fact that Arrius embraces him and insist on him to stay in Rome, Ben Hur is determined to lay vengeance on Messala for what he did to him and his family.

First of all, let’s make a couple of things clear: This is not a “Biblical epic,” as a bunch of people have wrongly interpreted. The story of Ben Hur is a work of fiction set in the time that Jesus Christ lived. And finally and most obvious, it’s not what you think when the title reads “A tale of the Christ.” The intention of the screenplay written by Karl Tunberg, Gore Vidal and Christopher Fry, as well as I believe General Wallace’s intention, was to do a parallel story with the life of Jesus Christ. Create a character –in this case Judah Ben Hur- and make a contrast with the life of Christ. Christ’s life can be easily summarized in the moral values and the power of good that it represents; that’s one of the reasons why you only see parts of him from time to time, just as a reminder that he’s there. The problem with it is that Christ is too much of a perfect or alien being to be related to, hence why he was always photographed from behind, because you can’t put a face to Christ since it would go against the symbolism that he represents. And that’s where Ben Hur comes into play, since here’s an ordinary man, wealthy, respectful of his religious ways and to his family and then suddenly everything is taken away from him and has to endure the biggest test of his life, just like Jesus (Comparisons to the Biblical tales of Job and Joseph will spring to mind as well), only that Ben Hur is a human being, like you and I, fallible, imperfect, capable of endless love as well as raging hate. And thanks to this, you get a Christ-like character more down to earth that you can relate to (Martin Scorsese tried to do the same thing with Nikos Kazantzakis’s controversial The Last Temptation of Christ, but as we all know, you can’t just fuck around with a symbolic figure like that).

The most obvious flaw is that of a certain propagandistic tone to it since the Romans and Jews are many times stereotyped to the usual Evil and Good forces respectively; not to mention that the Jewish belief of being “chosen people of God” as well as the religious references (mostly Christian than Judaic) will make it seem more like religious propaganda. That maybe true to a point, but you must also understand the obvious feeling of the Jews AT THAT TIME when they were oppressed as well as other countries by the Roman Empire. It’s obvious that the conquerors will always end up looking evil while the Jews are seen (in their own culture) as the good guys, and its obvious that Jews felt like the chosen ones thanks to their religious beliefs, nothing was going to change that. I can bet there were a lot of anti-British hate back when the United States was a British colony back then, as well as anti-Spanish hate when Mexico was a Spanish colony back then.

With that said, we move on to the most important aspect of the film which pretty much makes the difference depending on where you stand and I don’t mean in a religious way. The film’s main focus is on emotional effect and mood. Sure, the story and characters are important but they all serve one purpose which is to produce an emotional effect of right and wrong and its respective gray area which adds to the humanity of the film. Since from the very moment that Ben Hur and Messala greet, the differences they have crack that sullen emotional bond that they had between each other. Once it’s fully broken and once Judah is sent to the galleys, the whole film up and beyond the chariot race is driven by revenge, until Ben Hur realizes he’s taken it a step too far. This is probably the most effective example of a film that focuses on emotional effect and to a certain point it can also be its flaw. Emotion driven films in my opinion are the toughest ones to master since it relies on its audience to be taken and manipulated by its moods and effects, and though there are many people that will lend themselves to it (myself included), there are many people that will immediately reject it, and hence make their experience, in this case a boring one (212 minutes is a lot to sit through), so this film may not be for all audiences. Still, the colossal undertaking that Director William Wyler managed to achieve here plus the emotional atmospheric impact that he pumped up and carefully balanced in the entire film is remarkable, and makes his Oscar for Best Director even more deserving.

Now, let’s tackle the technical aspects: The production designs are impressive, with strikingly accurate sets and costumes of that time. The cinematography by Robert Surtees is visually striking, with its use of 70mm camera gloriously capturing the glorious landscapes in an epic way. The FX are obviously dated and the great sea battle as well as some background matte paintings may come off a little iffy, but that is if you don’t allow your suspension of disbelief to raise any higher. But all these elements are shown at their very best with the legendary Chariot race sequence. What else is there to say that hasn’t been said? It kicks fucking ass and the atmospheric emotional suspense reaches a full maximum here, and is gorgeously photographed and directed. Truly one of the greatest action scenes ever; much later, George Lucas tried a piss-poor remake with his “pod race” in the wretched Start Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, but as the saying goes, “nothing beats the original.”

The acting also kicks ass, mostly in part due to the “hard-hitting” dialogue. Charlton Heston is in full form and gives his most striking and most complete performance to date. Jack Hawkins and Stephen Boyd also chew up the scenery very well in their roles. Hugh Griffith is also impressive as Sheik Ilderim and manages to steal a scene every so often. And am I the only one that thinks that Haya Harareet looks a lot like Sophia Loren? Wow, she’s quite a babe, probably even better looking than Sophia.

In the end, this film has aged somewhat and it may not be greeted as well by many people who will reject its emotional manipulation, but for those who can, just sit tight and watch one of the greatest epics of all time unfold in front of your eyes, since its one hell of a ride; whether or not you go to the extreme of converting to Christianity because of this film, that’s your problem. 5-5

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originally posted: 10/17/04 06:09:52
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User Comments

3/29/16 Aj wales True epic. When actors had something. Emotion. A Story well told. 5 stars
3/28/14 Mike It bored the heck out of me. Best part of the movie was the end, so I could leave the thea 1 stars
3/20/14 david finney remains my best film ever 5 stars
3/27/12 Monday Morning Yes, awe-inspiring. But cutting 60 or even 90 minutes would have improved it immensely. 4 stars
2/15/12 Ron Larson definition of an awesome Hollywood epic 5 stars
12/25/11 mr.mike Is "no bad". 4 stars
5/28/11 GSR Art depression era, Diagnosis and treatment of depression in late life, Cause cure depressi 4 stars
4/30/11 Frank Z Best single movie ever made 5 stars
11/14/10 RUBERTO KINO Ben-Hur (1959) Director: William Wyler Writers: Lew Wallace (novel), Karl Tunberg (screenpl 5 stars
1/16/07 Barbara This film is great - a classic - I watch it every time it comes on near Easter time. 5 stars
1/13/07 MP Bartley Ponderous at times, but mostly splendid stuff. A shame Heston is such a stiff bore though. 4 stars
12/09/06 Ron one of the best movies ever made 5 stars
11/26/06 Peter Still the best movie ever made. Nothing else comes close 5 stars
11/05/06 Thomas It is the best film ever to be shot! 5 stars
5/14/06 nate poo poo bear pretty good, little slow 4 stars
4/22/06 noel thomas real good 5 stars
2/16/06 cheee cheee man It was alright, they could have cut out some boring parts 3 stars
1/11/06 Megan Taht Was A Very Awesome Movie 5 stars
1/09/06 Gerry Dunne Visited Rome- Circus Maximus was pretty accurate,but I don't like the Hollywood feel to it. 3 stars
12/27/05 TERENCE GONSOLVIS greatest film i have ever seen /// 5 stars
12/05/05 Anna A little boring... 3 stars
11/06/05 Michael And their sins were forgiven and they were clean 3 stars
7/27/05 sonu singh execellent 1 stars
4/19/05 J K Rowling excellent movie 5 stars
2/25/05 ALDO brilliant film....loved it....abit similar to count of monte cristo.. 5 stars
11/19/04 screb goes on and on and on 2 stars
11/09/04 Leonardo de Stinky Ben Hur is one of the greatest movies ever made. I do not see how anybody could not like it 5 stars
11/03/04 Nevena Absolutely brilliant!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
10/23/04 Denise great 5 stars
10/19/04 Al Guy A classic film that is a must see. 5 stars
10/17/04 Monika marvellous! 5 stars
10/09/04 Sudhakar Kasina Great to have produced a movie like this scale at 1959 5 stars
9/25/04 Guy Paquin Great! 5 stars
9/25/04 James D. Joslin For all the spectical and drama, the key message is only forgiveness brings peace. 5 stars
8/09/04 BigBlack One of My personal Favorites! Like any great film, the more you see it, the better it gets. 5 stars
8/08/04 ALDO Don't know what the reviewer was on when he watched this. this is a masterpiece 5 stars
6/16/04 S C A truly fantastic movie 5 stars
5/28/04 dangergirl the chariot race is greatest part of the movie 4 stars
5/16/04 DM Very plodding in places but well-acted and directed 4 stars
4/23/04 Lucy Eyre-Tanner The greatest film ever made! 5 stars
4/23/04 Xanthe Summers Absolutley fantastic! This film has proven to be the greatest epic of all time! 5 stars
4/17/04 Chris This it the greatest movie ever made 5 stars
3/16/04 Mike Ord An epic which is both intimate & spectacular. A true gem of the cinema. 5 stars
3/04/04 Abigail Harry Its one of the greatest movies in the world! 5 stars
3/01/04 rusty morris one of the best pictures ever made in history 5 stars
12/07/03 tevfik excellent... 5 stars
11/30/03 john stretched out superficial bore interrupted by a great chariot race 3 stars
11/22/03 ross hendrick GREAT MOVIE 5 stars
9/17/03 Alan Hmmm... this critic rates "Plan 9 from Outer Space," awesome and "Ben-Hur," pretty bad. 5 stars
9/14/03 John Menuis Great! Great! Great! Too bad there are no actors today that can compare with Heston. 5 stars
9/14/03 jessica perez It was a breath-taking movie 5 stars
7/10/03 bg good movie considering the fact that it was made in the 50's 5 stars
7/10/03 addy simply awesome! I freaked out! 5 stars
7/02/03 bob mint 5 stars
5/19/03 Mahtab They could not make this movie would cost billions....It moved my soul. 5 stars
4/26/03 Kushan Ranatunga everlating film 5 stars
4/21/03 vikki kostin This film was good, the critic has gone into overdrive with his analysis of it. 4 stars
4/16/03 JL This movie is phenomonal! 5 stars
4/10/03 Ross Bernard Fuck you critic, Ben Hur rocks! 5 stars
3/11/03 Apathy Good lord that was a long movie. 2 stars
3/10/03 Chris Pretty damn gay 1 stars
2/09/03 J Sartain Great! film. wish we could still make those today 5 stars
1/09/03 Derek This 1950's movie captures the feel of the ancient world better than Gladiator. 5 stars
11/22/02 Ike Excellent and riveting! The only film I have seen where the audience applauded at the end. 5 stars
11/08/02 Jack Wolverton Best Epic Ever 5 stars
11/01/02 Ray Yes, it is such a awesome film I've never seen before 5 stars
10/14/02 Stephanie Oh I think that it was great. 3 stars
9/25/02 Addie Frentsos It's a life touching ,amazing film, a favorite of mine. 5 stars
7/27/02 I Can't Swim Gore Vidal said Ben-Hur & Messala were lovers, but didn't tell the NRA Prez..HA HA HA! 5 stars
6/02/02 Chris One of the greatest films ever made. A bibical story that dones't bore. An epic. 5 stars
4/26/02 Charles Tatum A little slow, but ten times more enthralling than "Gladiator" 4 stars
4/05/02 Rockitman007 It fucking Ben-Hur people!!!!! 5 stars
8/31/01 spaceworm Holds up to scrutiny on all cinematic levels (except some dialog). 5 stars
7/23/01 R.W. Welch Drags a bit in spots but the chariot race makes up for it. 4 stars
6/28/01 Michael Goldfield A true motion picture masterpiece that delivers and has been doing so since 1959! 5 stars
10/06/00 Monday Morning A "historical spectacle" '50s film very much worth seeing. 5 stars
5/06/00 Daria The chariot race is great, but the rest is easily forgettable. Go see "Gladiator" instead. 2 stars
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  DVD: 13-Sep-2005



Directed by
  William Wyler

Written by
  Karl Tunberg

  Charlton Heston
  Jack Hawkins
  Haya Harareet
  Stephen Boyd
  Hugh Griffith
  Martha Scott

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