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Timor Bekmambetov
Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell, Morgan Freeman
Writing Credits:
Keith Clarke and John Ridley

Judah Ben-Hur, a prince falsely accused of treason by his adopted brother, an officer in the Roman army, returns to his homeland after years at sea to seek revenge, but finds redemption.

Rated PG-13.

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English Audio Description
Spanish Dolby 5.1
French Dolby 5.1
Portuguese Dolby 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 124 min.
Price: $39.99
Release Date: 12/13/2016

• “The Legacy” Featurette
• “The Epic Cast” Featurette
• “A Tale For Our Times” Featurette
• “The Chariot Race” Featurette
• Music Videos
• DVD Copy


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


Ben-Hur [Blu-Ray] (2016)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 6, 2016)

As a rule, it seems logical to only remake unsuccessful movies. If a film already works, why try to improve on it?

This makes even more sense when the movie in question boasts status as a bona fide classic. When a film wins a record-setting 11 Oscars – including the coveted Best Picture - then it seems like a bad target for a remake.

Despite the daunting history behind 1959’s Ben-Hur, a 2016 flick indeed redid it – and earned all sorts of negative outcry along the way. The 1959 edition’s status as a Hollywood classic left movie buffs less than open to a new rendition.

Of course, the 1959 version was a remake itself, as the story previously hit the screens in 1907 and 1925. I can’t say whether or not film fans griped about that back in 1959, but the lack of enthusiasm for the 2016 release became clear, especially when we look at box office. With a budget of $100 million, the 2016 Ben-Hur grossed a mere $26 million in the US, a figure that left it as a flop.

Perhaps that lack of financial success will scare off anyone who thinks about another Ben-Hur in 2070 or so. In the meantime, I found myself curious to see if the 2016 version managed to offer anything new or compelling.

Set in Jerusalem, Jewish Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) grows up with his adopted brother, the Roman Messala (Toby Kebbell). Despite their cultural differences, they remain the closest of friends. In 25 AD, Messala leaves to join the Roman army, and this leads to a rift between him and his Judah, especially when Judah hears the message spread by Jesus of Nazareth (Rodrigo Santoro).

Eventually Messala betrays Judah, and the latter winds up sold into slavery. We follow his pursuit of freedom – and of retribution against his former best friend. Oh, and we see Jesus again, too!

When I said “eventually” in the last paragraph, I meant it - Ben-Hur seems to take forever to get to its most significant material. As I recall, the 1959 expedites these matters to a large degree, as it prefers to spend most of its time on Judah’s time as a slave and his gradual spiritual redemption.

With the 2016 edition, though, we get more of an action-oriented soap opera than a religious tale. Granted, I don’t know how well the 1959 film conveyed the Biblical side of things, as it tended to emphasize its “big epic scale” more than anything else.

Still, the 1959 flick leaves a greater impression of an actual character tale, whereas the 2016 edition comes across as more aimless. It devotes roughly its first one-third to character development, and that decision should make it involving and human.

However, Ben-Hur never manages to give the roles much life. It leaves them as fairly flat personalities, a result that surprises me given how much time it devotes to their exploration. Even with all that cinematic real estate, though, the characters stay bland and forgettable.

As the movie progresses, it veers more toward an action orientation, and that choice gives it a bit more life. I don’t think these sequences work especially well, though, as the attempts at dynamic material fail to offer much excitement.

The recreation of the famous chariot race demonstrates this trend. Almost 60 years after the 1959 version’s release, its chariot scene remains an excellent example of how to create a lively movie sequence, one that holds up exceedingly well despite all the changes in cinematic styles since 1959.

No one will toss such praise at the 2016 flick’s chariot scene, however. Instead, it’s more likely to be viewed as an example of this era’s affection for too much computer imagery and rapid-fire editing. The chariot race tries desperately to excite us but falls far short of its goals.

One other part of the 1959 version that impressed me came from the redemption in its finale. I felt the 1959 flick offered a moving and effective conclusion to the tale.

No such emotion comes from the bland finish to the 2016 Ben-Hur. The movie leaps from the chariot race to the crucifixion with barely a pause, and it does little to illustrate Judah’s spiritual journey.

That’s mainly because he doesn’t really take one. Judah hops from one area to another without much clarity, and that robs the story of its inherent power.

All of this renders the 2016 Ben-Hur as a surprisingly dull effort. When it attempts thrills, it comes up short. When it tries to provide emotion or inspiration, it feels flat. Though a professional film in all ways, the movie just lacks heart.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B/ Bonus C+

Ben-Hur appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The picture looked positive.

Sharpness was always strong. Virtually no softness emerged in this tight, concise presentation. The majority of the movie looked accurate and concise. I noticed no jaggies or moiré effects, and edge enhancement never manifested itself. In addition, the film failed to display any print defects.

Given the setting, the film went with an emphasis on an arid, yellow look, but a fair amount of teal came into the image as well. Within those constraints, the colors seemed fine; they showed appropriate range. Blacks were dark and full, and shadows showed good range. This was a consistently strong presentation.

The DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Ben-Hur suited the story, which meant it came to life on occasion. Battle scenes and the chariot race offered the most pizzazz, but a lot of the film stayed with general atmosphere.

In that regard, the mix worked fine. The soundscape opened up matters in a satisfying manner and created a natural setting. While it lacked a slew of standout auditory segments, the overall impact remained positive.

Audio quality pleased. Speech was concise and natural, without edginess or other issues. Music showed good range and vivacity, while effects worked nicely. Again, these elements didn’t get a ton to do through much of the film, but they displayed good clarity and punch. This added up to a satisfactory mix.

As we shift to extras, we find a handful of featurettes. The Legacy runs 10 minutes, 37 seconds and involves executive producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, producers Joni Levin and Sean Daniel, the author’s great-great-granddaughter Carol Wallace, and executive producers/co-screenwriters John Ridley and Keith Clarke.

“Legacy” offers notes about author General Lew Wallace and the creation/success of his novel, the 2016 version’s development and adaptation, and story/character/thematic areas. Wallace’s comments offer interesting thoughts about her ancestor, but the rest of the piece seems superficial.

Next comes The Epic Cast. It lasts 12 minutes, 10 seconds a features Daniel, Burnett, Levin, Downey, Ridley, director Timor Bekmambetov, and actors Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell, Morgan Freeman, Ayelet Zurer, Sofia Black D’Elia, Rodrigo Santoro, Moises Arias, Haluk Bilginer and Nazanin Boniadi.

As expected, “Epic” discusses cast, characters and performances. It mixes some good notes with fluff.

With the 15-minute, 25-second A Tale For Our Times, we find info from Daniel, Bekmambetov, Ridley, Burnett, Levin, Freeman, Huston, Downey, Bilginer, Zurer, Kebbell, production designer Naomi Shohan, producer Duncan Henderson, and costume designer Varya Avdyushko. “Times” covers Bekmambetov’s approach to the project, sets and locations, costumes, and some action elements. Despite some of the usual happy talk, “Times” comes with a nice mix of details.

Lastly, The Chariot Race spans 10 minutes, 37 seconds and offers comments from Daniel, Ridley, Downey, Freeman, Burnett, Bekmambetov, Henderson, Levin, Huston, Kebbell, stunt coordinator/horse master Steve Dent, veterinarian Nicholas Snookes, visual effects supervisor Jim Rygiel, 2nd unit director Phil Neilson, animation supervisor Kevin Scott, and chariots art director Massimo Pauletto. Like its title implies, this piece looks at elements connected to the film’s chariot race sequence. It follows the same path as its predecessors, which means a mix of information and puffery.

Seven Deleted and Extended Scenes take up a total of 10 minutes, 23 seconds. Of these, “Permission” offers the longest piece, as it develops family relationships in the Ben-Hur clan and Judah’s love for Esther. “Goodbye” and “Reunion” connect to this theme as well. Even though these would’ve padded out the already sluggish first act, both add some much needed emotion to the tale and probably should’ve made the final cut.

The other four sequences seem less useful. They deliver some minor extensions but nothing memorable or significant.

Three Music Videos complete the set. We see “The Only Way Out” by Andra Day, “Ceasefire” by For King and Country, and “Back to You” by Mary Mary.

As videos, these fail to excite. For the most part, they just mix lip-synch shots with movie clips. “Ceasefire” places the band in an incongruous industrial setting – this adds literal sparks but the video itself bores.

We also get two featurettes related to the videos. One goes “Behind the Scenes” for “The Only Way Out” (0:50) while the other looks at “Ceasefire” (1:00). In the first, Audra Day gives us a few thoughts about the song and video, while “Ceasefire” features bandmembers who give similar notes about their tune. Both clips seem pretty useless.

A second disc provides a DVD copy of Ben-Hur. It includes none of the DVD’s extras.

An attempt to update a tale of religion and redemption, 2016’s Ben-Hur flops. Despite good intentions, the movie lacks compelling characters, vivid action, or real emotion. The Blu-ray offers terrific picture along with satisfactory audio and a few decent supplements. Though I can’t claim I love the 1959 Ben-Hur, it remains superior to this lackluster reinvention.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2.5 Stars Number of Votes: 10
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