RELEASED 1959 RUNTIME 212 MIN LANGUAGE ENGLISH DIRECTION WILLIAM WYLER SCREENPLAY KARL TUNBERG STARRING CHARLTON HESTON, JACK HAWKINS, HAYA HARAREET, STEPHEN BOYD, HUGH GRIFFITH, MARTHA SCOTT, CATHY O’DONNEL, SAM JAFFE, FINLAY CURRIE, FRANK THRING MUSIC MIKLOS ROZSA
Wow, what an experience! Watching Ben Hur for its runtime of almost 4 hours feels like being on vacation in a world far away. They don’t make these kind of movies anymore, historical epics that is. I think the last one was Kingdom of Heaven by Ridley Scott in 2004. Or was it Alexander by Oliver Stone? … Actually, Exodus: Gods & Kings by Ridley Scott came out last year. But it wasn’t 4 hours long, and it lacks an Overture and Entr’Acte and all that fun stuff. Hateful 8 has it, but that’s a Western.
Ben-Hur takes place during year 0 (zero) onwards in Ancient Rome and Judea. It’s a revenge story between two friends who become enemies because of their political views. Messala (Stephen Boyd) is a Roman commander about to set Judea under his reigns. Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston) on the other hand is a Jew of a noble family who gets betrayed by his friend Messala and sent into slavery. From here on out Judah Ben-Hur gets on an incredibly epic journey to come back and take revenge on his once best childhood friend.
Oh my god, this story is so epic in scale. It’s like Lord The Rings in one movie. There is so many nuances of depth to the story arc Judah goes trough, it would take me way to long to talk about all of them here. And it’s all set during a time when Jesus Christ appears on earth which also plays into the story. But it’s not the focus by far. It’s actually a very minor segment, but it frames the story and at the end plays into the resolution of the overall plot. It’s more of a setting than a focus. Our characters know that there is a guy running a round telling people he is the king of Jews, but they never really interact with him. It’s just a set-up. Plus, it’s not in your face, so you don’t have to be a religious person to enjoy the film, THANK GOD!
But that’s what I mean with nuances. There is so many ingredients that play into the story because of things that were going on in that period, and a man called Jesus, son of God or not, was one of them.
How were the performances? It’s hard to judge for me because the acting style back in the 50’s was a little different than today. But from the impact the characters had on me, I can tell that the acting sure must have been very good. Charlton Heston stands out among the performances.
But let’s talk about what impresses me the most about the film.
The production design and the music. Holy shit! A movie on that scale today would cost way over 300 million $ to make. The sets are just mind-bogglingly huge, beautiful and full of detail. They are being populated by thousands of extras wearing beautiful costumes. And you know it’s all REAL because there were no special effects back then. It’s really impressive. Now I know why they call the 50’s the golden age of Hollywood.
The music is beautiful. I’m actually listening to the 3 hour score while I’m writing this. It’s classical in the most true sense of the word. Before Star Wars, there was Ben-Hur…
And now my absolute favorite part of the entire film: The chariot race!
Are you fucking kidding me?! How on earth did they even film that?! In a world where we take action set pieces for granted, taking a movie like Mad Max Fury Road to wow us, this chariot race is just mind blowing. Note, it’s not like you are driving cars around, no, you have real animals pulling these things that you also have to control and make sure they get not injured. Holy shit, this sequence really wowed me and still keeps me thinking about it. Just watch the movie for the chariot race alone and it will be worth it. Fucking crazy!
Before Mad Max, there was Ben-Hur…
You know, I could easily give the movie a 10/10. The story is epic, the characters are incredibly well realized, the production design is stunning, the music is iconic and the action is mind blowing. So why do I give it a 9? Because the ending is just too happy and it has a supernatural element that in my opinion didn’t have to be there. Dot get me wrong, the ending totally works for the story and feels earned. But I just wish that there was a little of an edge to it. That’s just a personal opinion. But I guess back in the day Hollywood films had to end on the highest high note.
Anyway, this movie is regarded as one of the best films ever made. It won 11 oscars, which I can totally see why it did.
Watch it! Unless you are a total jerk who doesn’t want to watch older movies, there is no reason why you shouldn’t pop it in when you have a lot of time to spare. The movie is almost 4 hours after all. But when you can watch the extended version of Lord Of The Rings, you sure can watch Ben Hur as well. After all, before Lord Of The Rings there was Ben Hur… 🙂