Never rule a remake out is an essential subjective conjecture. Providing it has something new to offer to the table. 1959’s ‘Ben-Hur’ won eleven Academy Awards in which ‘Titanic’ equalled in 1998, making it the most coveted film of all time. The original Ben-Hur was hailed as ‘The Entertainment Experience of a Lifetime.’ The question lies within, does the 2016 remake live up to this quote? In all honesty it doesn’t. Be that as it may, it doesn’t fail or make the viewer leave the cinema in disgust or despising a disastrous and disappointing film. An A+ for effort must be rewarded and a C+ for the overall piece of work.
Putting that aside, no more comparisons must be mentioned and it is only fair to judge the 2016 version on its own merits. The original (oops) is three hours and twelve minutes long. The remake is two hours and five minutes. One may ponder how can one third of the film be missing? It’s all crammed in cleverly and this can be perceived as a positive aspect of the film. It doesn’t get pretentious as Russian-Kazakh film director Timur Bekmambetov has made a wise executive decision to differentiate for a modern audience with a more comfortable and conventional running time.
The plot is still an epic action adventure in where, 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. Set in 33 AD, during the era of Jesus rising to power and resulting to his crucifixion, it is touching and captivating that Jesus Christ walks in and out of Ben-Hur’s life, from feeding him water whilst dying of thirst and Ben Hur trying to reciprocate the noble gesture in the end.
The film makes any British person proud to see the two leads embark on iconic roles that Charlton Heston and Stephen Boyd once had. Jack Huston’s performance in the title role has taken on a huge challenge but delves in the iconic character with confidence and charisma. Will he garner an Oscar nomination? Sadly the film overall will probably not get one nomination due to the Academy’s prejudice with remakes. However from seeing him in the famous HBO show ‘Boardwalk Empire’ as Richard Harrow: the deformed gangster but loyal protector; any observant viewer could see Huston would soar to huge heights. He did steal the show from Steve Buscemi after all. He deserves the A-List stardom and there is no doubt that he will maintain this status due to his professional attitude to the craft.
On the other hand, Toby Kebbell deserves all the Hollywood success in the world as he has earned it. From Shane Meadow’s ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’ to Steven Spielberg’s small role in ‘War Horse,’ Kebbell has proven that an actor must work his way up and that he has done. His villainous character as the Roman traitor and brother; Messala Severus is snide, spiteful and handles the role with superiority. The fact that Kebbell will be a lead alongside Tom Hiddleston in 2017’s ‘Kong: Skull Island’ proves he will continue to strive in Hollywood Blockbusters.
In conclusion, the arc of the film is structured averagely. The theme of two brother’s loyalty to each other is intriguing, as it leads to betrayal, revenge and eventually forgiveness. With these themes intact, the viewer is finally won over in the end when the chariot race occurs. This scene is jaw dropping and at times makes you jump out of your seat in excitement like you’re a spectator in the stadium cheering for Ben Hur to win. Unfortunately, the journey to get to that point is a letdown due to a shoddy script, but the showing rather than telling is the strength of the film. Pontius Pilate’s thumb turns sideways rather than up, but not down.
[rating=3] | Aly Lalji
action, adventure, history| USA, 2016 | 12A | Paramount Pictures | 7th September 2016 (UK) |Dir.Timur Bekmambetov | Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell, Rodrigo Santoro, Morgan Freeman, Ayelet Zurer