Ben-Hur

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(spoiler free)

It has always puzzled me as to why Hollywood insists on remaking films that are critically acclaimed. I suppose they are trying to capitalise on the popularity of the previous film in question and make a profit from its existing fan base but have they not learnt yet that this rarely happens. What I would much rather see is poorly made films be the subject of re-imaginings, allowing for a second chance on a possible missed opportunity. However, Hollywood don’t look like they are planning to change anytime soon as here I am discussing their most recent remake, ‘Ben-Hur’.

Having not seen the original I wasn’t dreading the thought of this remake and I went in with an open mind. However, as the scenes began to unfold so did problem after problem uncovering what is a very troubled film. For those who don’t know, the film focuses on two brothers and their straining relationship due to ones Roman background and the others Jewish. The brothers are played by Jack Huston (Judah Ben-Hur) and Toby Kebbell (Messala). The relationship between these characters was core to the film and due to the fact that the correct dynamic is never really achieved this is one of the main reasons why the story just doesn’t work. The audience never feels the love or the hate that these brothers feel for each other at different stages of the story which is a massive issue. I actually would have liked to see the two lead actors swap roles as I never thought that Huston was that likeable whereas I think Kebbell could have fared better in his role. The fact that I had time to ponder this should really say it all. Alongside the lead performers is a collection of supporting cast members who put in average to poor performances which don’t help to distract from the issues we see between the main characters. Even Morgan Freeman, who is sporting a ridiculous head of dread locked hair, couldn’t bring much credibility back to the proceedings.

The narrative is full of problems too. There are plenty of scenes which should have been so emotive but the lack of investment in the characters mean that they can’t reach their dramatic potential. As well as this there is another storyline featuring Jesus that is interwoven into the main narrative but it always feels out of place or shoe horned in, the two don’t mix well and the inclusion of this side story usually felt awkward. Certain stages of the story are just too convenient, you’ll question character motivations more than a few times here and you’ll wish that the narrative would have more confidence. The biggest problem with the narrative though is the time it takes to reach the chariot racing finale. This is what the audience are really waiting for, I know I was, and it doesn’t come soon enough. I understand that this sequence needs context but when the context plays out so blandly you can be forgiven for just wanting to see some horses race round a track without any prior information. When this sequence does come thankfully it is very enjoyable, the immediate build up to it is interesting too. The sequence itself struggles with the special effects at times, a problem present in the main body of the film too, but regardless this finale is exciting and was a welcome change of pace. It’s a shame that afterwards the film reverts back to the problems that plagued its beginning; poor and unauthentic dialogue, weak character writing and some questionable costume design.

‘Ben-Hur’ could have been epic, the proportions of the story certainly are but these don’t transpire well to the screen in this remake. Full of problems everywhere you look the film does warrant criticism however whilst it’s largely dull the film never becomes hateful. It’s distinctly average and even poor in most areas but somehow manages to still be watchable at times. This is probably a result of the anticipation and eventual pay off of the chariot racing action but unfortunately isn’t quite enough to allow me to reccomend the movie. If anything hopefully this remake will encourage more to see the 1959 version, which I’m informed is quite spectacular, it’s certainly inspired me to do so.

Rating – 4.5/10

Question: What do you think is the worst remake ever?
(Leave your answers in the comments section below!)


Thanks for reading this review and please let me know what you thought about the movie! Leave a comment below or drop me a tweet over at @HCMovieReviews.


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11 thoughts on “Ben-Hur

  1. I don’t agree at all that you could not believe these two men loved each other. This version especially took the time to show their relationship in detail before the rift- something other versions don’t bother to do. Messala carried Judah on his back for miles. Perhaps it wasn’t that the film didn’t show it, it was just that some didn’t get it. I loved the film, best I have seen this year.

    • It seemed forced, they shouldn’t have needed to have Messala carry Judah to show love, if it had been more natural they wouldn’t have had to spell it out for the audience – which is what I felt they did. The film shows it but not in a believable fashion in my opinion but I’m glad that you enjoyed it. However come the end of the year it will be fighting to avoid a spot on my ‘worst of’ list!

      • In what manner do you think then, that they should have shown it? I think this version is the only one that has ever even bothered to build up and show the relationship beforehand. I also think it’s a gross exaggeration that this would be one of the worst of the year. I have seen it several times and each time, the comments from other movie goers have been positive-quite a few people with tears in their eyes, even some of the men. Not liking it or getting it or being able to appreciate it, I get that. But on a list of the worst of the year? Nah.

      • I’m not sure really as I’m not a script writer. Can you understand what I mean though, the fact that they had to show the love between the brothers in such an over the top manner seems to me that they were lacking in something more authentic. Just because men are crying doesn’t mean anything. I’m a man and quite often cry at films, my eyes were dry this time. That’s ok though, everyone connects with different types of films etc. Again our opinion simply differ, while it was one of your favourites I just didn’t think it was particularly well made. It’s for reasons such as the poor treatment of Jesus (leprosy healing rain!?) amongst many others that it would be a contender for that list.

  2. Except most of the bonding with Judah and Messala were not over the top moments. So no, I don’t know what you mean. Especially if you yourself cannot give me an example of how they could have done it better. As far as the leprosy healing rain, it’s supposed to be a miracle. It isn’t necessarily going to happen in a way that “makes sense”. There is a story in the New Testament of Peter’s own shadow healing people as he passed by. As you said, we saw the movie differently. Have a nice day.

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