Starring Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell, Rodrigo Santoro, Nazanin Boniadi, Morgan Freeman
Remakes have become a plague on American cinema. There are few times in history where a classic film has been remade with improvement. Steven Soderbergh had a good idea when he remade a Frank Sinatra/Dean Martin film that was not well received when originally debuted in 1960; “Oceans Eleven” 2001 however was a huge hit. Roma Downey’s faith based film production company LightWorkers Media is behind this remake which is thematically different than the 1959 version that won 11 Academy Awards, including best picture. Director Timur Bekmambetov (“Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter”) explained the difference between the remakes: “The 1959 movie was about revenge, not about forgiveness. For me that was the main problem, as I think that the novel is mainly about forgiveness, about the fact that a human being learned how to forgive.”
Raised as brothers, Judah Ben-Hur (Huston) has the family name, and is a wealthy prince in Jerusalem. His half-brother Messala Severus (Kebbell) is a Roman, with different faith and ambitions. Messala would head to Rome and become a great leader for Cesear’s army, while Judah would remain among his people and family. A misunderstanding years later when they reunite would tear the brothers apart and make them enemies. Through tragedy, the brothers would eventually meet again, in the chariot races, vowing to destroy each other for the pain they have inflicted. “Death or peace,” I’ve tried everything else.
Ben-Hur doesn’t offer the average ticket buyer anything cinematically stimulating.
In 2014 while promoting “Son of God”, Downey’s reason for delivering another big budget film about the crucifixion was that it had been ten years since “The Passion of the Christ”, and therefore a decade since Jesus was on the big screen. Two years have passed, and Downey has him on screen again with another crucifixion scene. Jesus (Rodrigo Santoro) seems contractually thrown in there at the end, not having any real involvement on the rest of the plot. Bekmambetov points out this is actually the third big screen adaptation of Lew Wallace’s novel. His excuse is that times and audiences have changed, and I agree with him, but not in the way he means. The Wrap projects “Ben-Hur” to be one of 2016’s biggest flops, and after seeing many empty seats at a free screening and virtually no buzz for the $100 million dollar epic, the audience seems to have been underestimated.
Despite running at half the length of the 1959 film, “Ben-Hur” 2016 is still an endurance test. John Ridley’s script is tedious as our leading character searches for redemption, revenge and then forgiveness; 8 years earlier, 3 years later, 2 years later, there is a lot of jumping around. Despite Morgan Freeman, who plays Ilderim, a minor role and doesn’t show up until the last half of the film, there isn’t a marquee name selling point. The acting isn’t particularly impressive either, some of the more intimate scenes with Huston (“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”) and Nazanin Boniadi (“Zoolander 2”) feel plucked directly out of a bad soap opera. Modern audiences won’t be impressed by the special effects, even “Gladiator” from 1999 looks better than what we see here. Ben-Hur doesn’t offer the average ticket buyer anything cinematically stimulating. Of course, this film isn’t targeted at the normal ticket buyer, instead the mega church crowd who likely might see a handful of films a year. “Your situation is not unique Judah, neither are you.” Ilderim harshly explains to the former prince. The same could be said for this film, nothing about its filmmaking, theme, or acting is unique.
Been-Hur, done that. Another remake that fails to offer anything new in the cinematic universe.