Since receiving the invitation to the preview screening of 'Ben-Hur', I'd been wondering why on Earth anyone would bother to remake it. The original film stands as one of the great accomplishments of its time, with its cast of thousands, so remaking such a film seems like nothing more than a cheap attempt at making a final bit of cash from the last of the U.S. summer film season.
Not so cheap, as it turns out. Recent reports indicate that MGM and Paramount’s joint venture stands to lose almost all of the $100 million budget, with opening weekend figures in the United States a dismal US$11m. There are two main reasons for this - one, almost no media attention in the lead-up to release. I didn’t even know it was coming out, let alone see a trailer, and reviewing movies is my (side) gig. Secondly, it’s another in a long line of recent remakes and people are getting sick of them. In the last few years, Hollywood has quite clearly run out of original ideas, with studios turning to old favourites in a bid to keep the cash rolling in. With the Golden Age of television firmly established with platforms such as Netflix producing high-quality content, Hollywood’s own Golden Age is well and truly over...
Had this year’s ‘Ben-Hur’ been the first to tell the story of Jewish prince Judah Ben-Hur, it still would had flopped. It’s terrible. Just godawful. The start is tediously slow, jerky, and it takes a good 15 minutes to figure out who is who and what they’re there for. Even the dulcet tones of Morgan Freeman narrating don’t help (why he signed up to this, only God knows). Speaking of God, this film is so confused as to what it’s trying to be, that by the smack-in-the-face religious symbolism of the end, you’re wondering what it was you just watched. Was it an historical action-drama? A religious fable? A steaming pile of...
Apart from Freeman, and Nazanin Boniadi (‘Homeland’) as Judah’s wife Ester, acting was wooden, lines forced and expressions non-existent. The writing was child-like; with some dialogue sounding like a Year 8 English creative writing exercise. Both leads were fairly dismal; Jack Huston (‘Boardwalk Empire’) was uninspiring as Judah, completely failing to gather any real sympathy or connexion. Toby Kebbell (‘Fantastic Four’) was just plain boring as conflicted villain Messala.
While the story might be old, this version completely failed to justify the overly corny and contrived ending (which was made exponentially worse by soundtrack choices). The forced intrusion of spiritual material as the film went on wasn’t even done well enough to make this the sort of movie religious schools could show to describe the period. The special effects were second-rate, which is disappointing. A remake of a film famous for the use of live-action on a spectacular scale could have at least made the effort to use realistic digital wide shots. Cinematography was choppy at best - some shots were nothing but a waste of time (semi-POV underwater scenes - were we a shark, or something?). Editing was also pathetic - just when you thought it was over, nope! There’s more! And it’s just as tedious as the last two-thousand hours we’ve sat through. That was another thing - the original is well known for being very long. At just over 2 hours, this ‘Ben-Hur’ felt like my life was wasting away. I cannot emphasise how simply mind-numbing this movie was. The chariot race, which is what we were all looking forward to, was stupid, badly shot, and not even the proper climax of the movie. Clearly, director Timur Bekmambetov ('Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter', 'Wanted') was hoping to keep audiences sitting through the rest of this crap just to see the race, and then hoped they’d stay to find out why it was so crap.
At just over 2 hours, this ‘Ben-Hur’ felt like my life was wasting away.
Was there anything good about it? No, not really. Not even Morgan Freeman could encourage me to recommend this film. So after spending most of the film wondering why anyone would bother making it, by the end I was damn sure they shouldn’t have.