Genre: Classical Drama
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Running Time: 124 minutes
Main Cast: Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell, Rodrigo Santoro, Nazanin Boinadi, Ayelet Zurer and Morgan Freeman
The 2016 remake of Ben-Hur shows why classics shouldn’t be remade, highlighting that classics are classics because they simply cannot be improved on by modern filmmaking.
The story of Judah Ben-Hur from Lew Wallace’s novel “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ” returns in its first outing since the successful 1959 William Wyler film adaptation of the same.
Ben-Hur is a Jewish prince in Jerusalem that is falsely accused of treason by his Roman adopted brother Messala, an officer in the Roman Imperial Army and placed into a life of slavery. He then returns to his homeland to seek revenge, but ends up finding redemption.
The film features Jack Huston (Ben-Hur), Toby Kebbell (Messala), Rodrigo Santoro (Jesus Christ), Nazanin Boinadi (Esther, Ben-Hur’s Wife), Ayelet Zurer (Naomi, Ben-Hur’s mother) and Morgan Freeman (Ilderim, and as usual the narrator).
The film has been termed as a “re-adaptation”; “re-imaging” and “ new interpretation” of the novel, but it feels like all the others and is just an unoriginal and uninspiring remake of its predecessors. At most it feels like an adequate remake with a large amount of problems.
Firstly the narrative is a carbon copy of the original and the 1959 plots, but refreshes the idea for a new audience, but does nothing to expand on the narrative and remains wholeheartedly faithful to the original storyline. One botched area of the story in particular was the attempted assassination, where in the previous additions the catalyzing event for the arrest of Judah is a falling roof tile and the overreaction of Messala, which adds to his villainy. In this addition however the event leaves him with few options but to arrest Judah.
Cinematography and editing aren’t great throughout the movie and impact the overall feel of the film. Cinematography seems shaky and off putting with a number of tracking shots, constant over the shoulder and close up shots that weren’t appropriate. Editing seems jumpy at times when continuity is needed and continuity happens when it should be jumpy. At some points I wondered why scenes were shot and edited the way they were.
The one part of the film that needed to work was the chariot race, which throughout the additions has been the main focal point of the narrative and the reason why people love Ben-Hur. Here it works well but doesn’t at the same time. The action in the scene is well choreographed and the cinematography and editing work for this type of action but the use of GoPro shots dampens the intended impact of the shot. While we are met with faceless characters that are just time fillers for Messala and Ben-Hur to take out and are used to separate the characters. Overall the 10 minutes of action in the scene is still powerful and enjoyable to watch.
This 21st century version of Ben-Hur doesn’t stand up to its predecessors and it won’t have the same impact as the classic 1959 epic. Narrative needed to be explored more and taken a different path, while editing and cinematography add to the negatives of the film. The Chariot race is still the shinning light of this addition as it was in the 1959 edition with action that has you on the edge of your seat.
The Front Row Opinion