Directed by Timur Bekmambetov
I think I can probably count myself as one of a small group of people under 25 that saw the 1959 Charleton Heston version of Ben-Hur. In fact, I ranked it as my 3rd favourite Best Picture winner, so I actually liked the film very, very much. So when I heard that they were doing a new version of Ben-Hur, all I could ask was "why?"
And even after finally watching the new 2016 version, I still don't fully understand the need for this remake. In fact, I'm still fairly unsure who the target audience for this even is. Is it those who saw the 1959 version? But would 3D appeal to that 65+ audience? Is this targeted at the Christian community? Is it trying to draw in new and younger viewers who didn't see the more famous (and long) version? So while I can't exactly figure out who this was aimed at or why it was even remade to begin with, I can say that this remake was much better than I had imagined it would be.
Ben-Hur, if you dont' already know, tells the story of Judah Ben-Hur, a Jewish prince living in Jerusalem. His adopted brother, Masala, is Roman, and when they are grown up, Masala leaves Jerusalem to become an officer in the Roman army. However, Judah is falsely convicted of treason by his adopted brother and becomes a slave, separated from his family and the woman he loves, Judah is driven to return and to have revenge on Masala.
While I did mention this version is much better than I expected, it is in no way a perfect film. In fact, the first 30-45 minutes are a little confusing and not well explained. There is a lot of drama with Romans vs the zealots in Jerusalem but it's not really made all that clear. As well, I feel like who characters even were was not overly explained either. It took a while for the film to eventually find it's feet. But eventually it did, and for quite a while the film was actually really good. Basically, it isn't until Judah becomes a slave that the film really picks up. However, the ending became somewhat clunky as this is the part where the story of Jesus is interwoven into the story and I don't know if the filmmaker really knows how to deal with this part. Without too many spoilers, I felt like it was much more a painting of "Jesus was a really, really good person with great ideas about how to live" instead of telling the audience that Jesus was in fact God and was here to save the world from sin and that he was much more than just a "good man". While I found the lessening of the religiousness and having it turned more into moralism to be somewhat disappointing, I was not overly surprised.
And how can I not mention the chariot scene? I saw it in 3D which was honestly pretty neat, even if my eyes kind of suck at seeing 3D stuff. I can tell this new version really tried to make the chariot scene, which is the most iconic scene from the 1959 version, much more epic, but I really feel like the original chariot scene still holds up so well and is still quite thrilling. Again, this is more a complaint of why remake something that is such a classic, but I digress. The chariot scene was well done, although I feel like most of it was Judah and Masala just grunting at each other and making faces.
Jack Huston as Judah Ben-Hur was quite good. He really nailed the air of a rich naive person who thinks everything can resolve nicely. And Toby Kebbell is also really good as Masala. Morgan Freeman's dreadlocks I found to be extremely distracting, but it was nice to see him around and he was solid (as usual) in his part as Ilderim, the man who makes money off these Roman circuses. Everyone was quite serviceable in their roles, and Jack Huston was actually quite good, but there was nothing that overly stood out to me about their acting.
To be honest, do yourself a favour and see the 1959 version of this film. I know not everyone agrees that it has held up, but it really is a good watch for a 3+ hour movie. However, this 2016 3D Ben-Hur is a serviceable remake of an absolute classic and isn't the worst remake of something I've seen. The pacing is really good despite the confusing beginning and clunky end, and doesn't feel nearly like it's 2.5 hours long. It's not a perfect film, but I've definitely seen far worse this summer.