Stars: Morgan Freeman
CRITICS are falling over themselves to criticise this newest version of Ben-Hur, claiming it is a massive waste of time, and that it can’t possibly surpass the 1959 blockbuster.
I have to ask, how many of them actually bothered to watch the classic version recently in order to compare the two?
I, for one, did as the last time I was forced to watch the original was way back in the Stone Age when I was at school, and all I could remember was Charlton Heston looking glum tooling about on a chariot.
And as it turns out, my memory wasn’t that far off the mark.
People need to remember that today’s audience has been spoiled with high energy, wizardly computer generation and we can’t possibly compare two such vastly different films.
The 1959 Ben Hur remake of the 1925 silent original had the largest budget ($15.175 million) as well as the largest sets built of any film produced at the time.
Back then, people were just so amazed to get colour after years of black and white that you could dazzle the audience with little more than Heston standing in front of a cardboard set glowering and grunting his lines.
So I, for one, will not be joining the blood-thirsty pack eager to tear down what actually turned out to be quite an epic retelling of a fairly boring story to begin with.
In the 1959 version a Jewish prince Judah Ben-Hur was a dear childhood friend of a Roman called Messala back in the days where the Romans were crucifying Jews and generally taking over the world in a nasty way.
In the latest version, Messala is Judah Ben-Hur’s adopted brother, who never felt he belonged in the family.
Ben-Hur loved his brother regardless, but Messala just had to prove his mettle and runs away to join the Roman army, quickly ascending the ranks chopping people to bits and winning a few chariot races at the Roman circus.
One day he comes back home, all heroic and in a spiffing new suit of armour and goes to show off to his old family.
Things get all messy when a cheeky zealot gets a bit stroppy and shoots one of the soldiers in the neck with an arrow as the Roman governor rides in a military parade outside Ben Hur’s place.
Ben-Hur being such a good guy takes responsibility and gets thrown into the galley of a war ship for his good deeds, and as punishment gets whipped a lot for five years.
Meanwhile his family is presumed dead, and when fortune strikes he manages to escape and find his way back to Judea.
The scene as the boat gets rammed is probably one of the most exciting parts of the entire film; very graphic and head and shoulders above the clunky puppetry in the original.
Then Morgan Freeman appears in a funky wig and sets up a chariot race for Ben-Hur against his snotty little brother, and then the wheels fall off.
It’s actually a darn good scene and had me on the edge of my seat.
Don’t be a too worried about the little bit of religiousness here and there, it is after all a biblical story.
But don’t just write it off because a bunch of critics have nothing nice to say about it either, when compared with the original this newest version was made for a modern audience and deserves far more credit than it is currently receiving.