Even when you first saw the trailers for Ben-Hur (2016) you couldn’t help but think “that seems like a mistake.” The 1959 film version was the Titanic of its time and has mostly endured unscathed. So imagine the year is 2050 and you see a trailer for Titanic starring ZDawg (the biggest star on ZippyZapp, the only way people watch TV in the future). It’s 69 minutes long and was created using an AI system they’ve dubbed Camera-On. It took four and a half hours to make and ZDawg never shot a scene, he just said the Gettysburg Address into a microphone and they generated his performance from that. Would you go see it? The answer is of course, yes. That sounds amazing. Besides, I’ve heard ZDawg’s performance is transcendent. He’s a front runner for the Zoscar (the new name for the Oscars) and I can’t wait for his next film ZDawg Presents: ZDawg: The Story of ZDawg.
Alright, let’s get into it. Ben-Hur is the classic story of Ben-Hur, a prince in Jerusalem, and his adopted Roman brother Messala. Messala has got the hots for Ben-Hur’s sister and Ben-Hur’s mom is not into that idea at all. Messala decides the best course of action is to join the Roman army and become so hot that they’ll have to say yes. Flash forward years later and Messala returns as the head of the army in Jerusalem. Pontius Pilate is coming to town so Messala asks Ben-Hur to tell everyone to cool it so that he doesn’t look like a dope. Ben-Hur is kinda like whatever, but that doesn’t work out so well when a zealot attempts to assassinate Pilate from his house. Oops. Messala is quite peeved and sentences his family to death and Messala to salvery on a Roman ship. During a battle his ship ends up crashing and Ben-Hur is able to make it to land. There he encounters a chariot racer, Ilderim, who recognizes that Ben-Hur is the best he’s ever seen. Like the Michael Jordan of chariot racing. They head off to Jerusalem where Ilderim sets up a race between Mesalla and Ben-Hur. In the big climactic race, Ben-Hur is a master of disaster and crushes Mesalla, both figuratively and literally. Afterwards, Ben-Hur is still a big ol’ saddo cause he life kinda sucks but then he sees Jesus and witnesses his death on the cross and his family turns out not to be dead (and also are miraculously healed of leprosy) and he reconciles with Mesalla and they all leave Jerusalem together as a fambly. THE END.
Uhhhh, I mean, what can you say about a wholly unnecessary film? At no point was this ever going to get good reviews. Impossible. You can’t remake a classic film as a CGI centric action film and get rewarded. You must be punished and BMT is your ultimate punishment. All that being said, it’s not like this is the worst thing in the world. I didn’t mind 90% of the film and they didn’t botch the chariot race, which is the most important bit. I didn’t love that they chose to change how Ben-Hur gets in trouble with Messala. Rather than have it truly be an accident (a tile from his roof falls off at such a moment to foster a false accusation of attempted assassination) they switched it to where Ben-Hur harbors a fugitive zealot who ends up trying to assassinate Pilate for real. Messes a little with the plot. Also they had to condense the plot down to two hours, which really makes for a rushed middle act about Ben-Hur’s time at sea. Otherwise I think it got dinged more for what it represented than what it actually was. As for The New Gladiators, it’s important that we watch some of the foreign films that dominated low budget action films of the time. This included Filipino and, like The New Gladiators, Italian films. But we might have to give it another college try, cause I didn’t think The New Gladiators was all that good. It’s just too low budget. Really looks super duper cheap. Some of the acting was fun, but when a 1984 film looks like it’s from the 60’s my brain starts to tune out. I want some visual invention with my low budget film and this had literally zero.
Hot Take Clam Bake! You would come away from this film thinking, ‘boy, Ben-Hur’s natural athleticism clearly shows him to be the superior chariot racer.’ I wouldn’t blame you for being totally wrong like a dumb wrong person. That’s cause they never let us see Messala cook. It’s one race! Messala has clearly won thousands (perhaps millions?) of chariot races. He is the undisputed champ. You might be like, ‘but surely now Ben-Hur is going to go on a championship run that Messala could only dream of.” You wish! First of all, Ben-Hur was driven almost entirely by revenge. You think he’s going to have the competitive fire burning after that? Hardly. He’s going let things loose, put on a few pounds and his career will be done in a couple years. Messala was fueled by imagined slights. All he needed was a tile falling near him to be like “if you die, you die.” He’ll be back. Sure he’s been catastrophically injured, but he’s been through wars before and come back full strength. In total his career will far outstrip Ben-Hur. Hot Take Temperature: Spicy Garlic. Patrick?
‘Ello everyone! Ben-Hur? More like Ben-Huh?! Amirite? A remake of a four hour epic in a svelte 120 minutes? It’s a choice. Let’s go!
- I’ve seen the 1959 Ben-Hur but not the original or read the book. I don’t think that matters ultimately though. This isn’t the 1959 film. That film is an oddly beautiful epic with a whole subplot that is, effectively, just Sunday School: The Movie. It is weird, but also, again, incredible in its scale.
- This film is small potatoes. It is no wonder critics seemed to be perplexed. When comparing it to the epic scale of the 1959 film what are you supposed to think? This film is garbage when you consider that!
- On the other hand I liked the acting well enough, and I think there were a lot of interesting ideas, specifically the idea of forgiveness between the antagonist and protagonist in the end. It necessitated the odd decision to make Pontius Pilate the bad guy … I’m pretty sure he’s not even in the original film, so that was either invented whole cloth or is from the book or something.
- Morgan Freeman sleep walks through this though. Didn’t care for his part too much.
- And I could have used a bit more chariot racing given that they were already cutting a huge amount of the Jesus stuff. Flesh out Ben-Hur’s natural elite athleticism a bit!
- Oh, I should also mention that in this they show Jesus’ face which is a pretty big let down. One of the cool things from the 1959 film is that they never do, almost like the glory of his image is too much to film. Here he’s just some goober.
- You like that very non-epic review of this very non-epic film? Sorry, not sorry.
- I wish there was some sweet chariot product placement, but alas. Solid Setting as a Character (Where?) for Israel. How about this for a Secret Holiday Film (When?) for the original Easter baby! I think this is BMT, it is an amusing bomb of a film, but also eminently watchable given its runtime.
- This week we also watched The New Gladiators, a weirdo Italian film about … well, new Gladiators. After their television show about people on motorcycles killing each other ends, the television executives at Murder TV think up a new awesome show: “people on motorcycle kill each other, but this time in the newly renovated dystopian Colosseum.” There are some very fun Clockwork Orange-like scenes, and a lot of Italian actors dubbed over in English. Overall it is mostly just cool to finally watch one of these films, a film that was made for video release in a foreign country with mostly foreign actors (and one or two token Americans of intermediate fame) and then dubbed over. Wouldn’t recommend it though, just a little too much of a nothing film. D.
Check out the sequel idea in the Quiz: Ben-Hur: Back to the Minors. Cheerios,