Ben-Hur (2016) (Blu-ray)

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Released 30-Nov-2016

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Action Adventure Featurette-Ben-Hur: The Legacy (10:37)
Featurette-The Epic Cast (12:10)
Featurette-A Tale for Our Times (15:25)
Featurette-The Chariot Race (10:37)
Featurette-A Story of Christ (11:32)
Deleted Scenes-Deleted and Extended Scenes x 7 (10:23)
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2016
Running Time 123:19
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Timur Bekmambetov
Studio
Distributor

Paramount Home Entertainment
Starring Jack Huston
Toby Kebbell
Morgan Freeman
Nazanin Boniadi
Ayelet Zurer
Sofia Black D’Elia
Rodrigo Santoro
Pilou Asbaek

Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI ? Music Marco Beltrami


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English DTS HD Master Audio 7.1
English Descriptive Audio Dolby Digital 5.1
German Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Italian Dolby Digital 5.1
Japanese
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.40:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Danish
German
Spanish
French
Italian
Japanese
Dutch
Norwegian
Finnish
Swedish
English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

     Prince Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) is from a prominent Jewish family living under Roman occupation in Jerusalem. He lives a privileged life surrounded by slaves with his mother Naomi (Ayelet Zurer), sister Tirzah (Sofia Black D’Elia) and Messala (Toby Kebbell), an orphan Judah’s age from a once prominent Roman family whom the Ben-Hurs have brought up. Messala loves Tirzah but wants to make something of himself, so he leaves Jerusalem to seek fame in the army where he comes to the attention of his commander Pontius Pilate (Pilou Asbaek).

     Back in Jerusalem Judah marries Esther (Nazanin Boniadi), one of the family slaves, and tries to keep peace with the Romans, believing that the Jewish zealots’ attacks upon Roman soldiers are misguided, not to mention pointless. He is equally disparaging of the views of the carpenter Jesus (Rodrigo Santoro) who preaches love rather than conflict. When Pilate returns as governor of Jerusalem, Messala comes with him and renews his friendship with the Ben-Hurs, but when he urges Judah to help him consolidate Roman rule by naming zealots, Judah refuses. Then a zealot shoots an arrow at Pilate from Ben-Hur’s house and the entire family are arrested. Messala refuses to help; the woman are taken away to be executed and Judah is condemned to be a galley slave in a Roman warship.

     Judah is a galley slave for five years until in a battle his ship is rammed and sunk. Judah alone survives; clinging to wreckage he is finally washed up on a beach near the camp of the wealthy Arab horse owner Ilderim (Morgan Freeman). At first Ilderim is all for turning Judah over to the Romans as an escaped slave but when Judah is able to cure one of his precious horses Ilderim takes Judah with him back to Jerusalem where Pilate is about to conduct a chariot race to commemorate the opening of the new Roman stadium. In Jerusalem Judah searches for news of his family and prepares for his date with destiny in the stadium. He also learns that Jesus, through his preaching of love and tolerance, has become a threat to the Romans.

     It takes a brave, or deluded, filmmaker to remake what is widely regarded as a classic, a critically acclaimed, 11 Oscar winning film like 1959’s Ben-Hur and this 2016 film version has been savaged by the critics and did not perform up to expectations at the box office. But is it really that much of a disaster?

     The main problem with this new version of Ben-Hur is that it is not Ben-Hur, no matter how hard it tries. Nor could it ever be for in the 1959 version director William Wyler, star Charlton Heston, cinematographer Robert Surtees and composer Miklos Rozsa came together seamlessly to create one of the best loved epic pictures of all time and a modern masterpiece. “Bigger than Ben-Hur” became a part of the language! Part of the response by director Timur Bekmambetov and screenwriters Keith Clarke and John Ridley was look back to Lew Wallace’s book Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ and to pare down the story considerably; this version is 87 minutes shorter that the Wyler film and, for example, omits entirely the section where Judah saves the Roman Quintus Arrius after the sea battle and becomes his adopted son. It also reduces the relationship between Judah and Messala at the beginning to almost nothing to the detriment of the film as the believability of this relationship is central to the plot. The set piece sequences, the sea battle and chariot race, are present of course as well as some new short segments showing Messala in various battles and sieges. Perhaps the greatest departure of the film from 1959 is a stronger emphasis on Jesus; we see his face, there are interactions with Judah and Jesus’ character, teachings and crucifixion are presented in more detail. Another change is that the Roman occupiers are more oppressive, brutal and arbitrary, something that was not so much in fashion in film in the 1950s!

     It was always going to be difficult to match the towering performance of Charlton Heston as Judah Ben-Hur, and Jack Huston does not come close, coming over as a bit of a wimp. Huston made little impact when I reviewed Pride + Prejudice + Zombies (2016) on this site and he is not much better here, although I will admit that I did warm to him more as the film went on, especially his scenes later in the film with Nazanin Boniadi, who is quite good. It has been reported that Tom Hiddleston was offered the role of Judah Ben-Hur but chose to do Kong: Skull Island instead; make of that as you will. Morgan Freeman is Morgan Freeman; he has enough charisma and gravitas to dominate the screen and carry the role of Ilderim even on autopilot.

     Director Timur Bekmambetov has also come in for criticism, which I think is not entirely justified. I have enjoyed some of his earlier films, such as his excellent breakthrough film Night Watch (2004), and I even thought his Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012) was a lot of fun. He is a visual stylist and Ben-Hur is impressive with images under defuse lighting, almost film noir, the beautiful detailed sets at Cinecitta in Rome and the wonderful look of the location filming in the hill village in southern Italy standing in for Jerusalem. The action sequences are also well done, the chariot race using cameras that were not invented in 1959 to provide a much closer and more immediate look into the action. The chariot race in the 1959 film is rightly considered one of the best actions sequences ever filmed; this one is still pretty exciting and uses digital effects only to expand the stadium and in stunts where horses, or people, were in danger.

     Is Ben-Hur a disaster despite critical savaging and losing money, not covering its $100,000,000 price tag? Not totally. The sets and locations look fabulous, some sequences are heart in mouth stuff and the film does pull at the heart-strings towards the end. If one just forgets it is called Ben-Hur with all the baggage that that title brings with it and think of it as a well-made, spectacular biblical epic it is an entertaining, colourful and exciting adventure film.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     Ben-Hur is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.40:1, in 1080p using the MPEG-4 AVC code.

     In a word: beautiful. Detail is strong, showing off the sets, costumes, the village location, the blood and dirt and every whisker and hair on the performers’ heads. Colours are glossy but not unnatural, blacks and shadow detail excellent, brightness and contrast consistent, skin tones natural.

     Artefacts and marks were absent.

     Subtitles include English for the Hearing Impaired, a wide range of European languages plus Japanese.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     Audio choices include English DTS-HD MA 7.1, English descriptive audio using a male voice, French, German, Italian and Japanese (all Dolby Digital 5.1).

     I am as yet not set up for 7.1 but can say that, even with 5.1, this is a loud and enveloping audio experience. During the quieter moments the rears and surrounds are utilised for voices, music, rain and thunder, the clink of chains. Crowd scenes are full of sound while the sea battle and chariot race send impacts, hooves, yells and cheers resonating all around the room. Dialogue is clear throughout. The sub-woofer added boom to the impacts, hooves, general mayhem and the music.

     The score was composed by Marco Beltrami, who has been nominated twice for Oscars, for 3:10 to Yuma (2007) and The Hurt Locker (2010), winning neither. His score for Ben-Hur is epic, using percussion and brass effectively.

     There are no lip synchronisation issues despite a number of the actors from non-English backgrounds being dubbed.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

     Except for the deleted / extended scenes the extras are reasonably interesting EPK type featurettes using film and on-set footage and interviews. Most of the interview segments involve various (up to 6) producers. Additional contributors are noted.

Ben-Hur: The Legacy (10:37)

     Discussion of why reimagine a classic film, the theme of this film and going back to the book. Added comments by the co-screenwriters Keith Clarke and John Ridley but the most interesting contribution comes from Carol Wallace, great-great-granddaughter of author Lew Wallace, who talks about the life of Wallace and his intentions when writing the novel. Also includes black and white photographs of Lew Wallace.

The Epic Cast (12:10)

     Mostly the producers, director Timur Bekmambetov and nine cast members saying how wonderful everyone was in their roles.

A Tale for Our Times (15:25)

     The producers, director, production designer, costume designer and five cast members talk about telling an old story in a modern way and making it look authentic. Discussion includes the Italian locations, shooting at Cinecitta Studios in Rome, the sets, including the ship and the racetrack, and the costumes.

The Chariot Race (10:37)

     Preparing for and shooting the iconic race sequence, including green screen before and after shots. Contributions from six producers, the director, four cast members, the stunt co-ordinator, chariots art director, visual effects supervisor, a veterinarian, animation supervisor and second unit director Phil Neilson. No animals were harmed during the making of this film.

A Story of Christ (11:32)

     The filmmakers wanted to concentrate on the importance of faith and of forgiveness so, unlike the 1959 version, this Ben-Hur shows the face of Jesus and involves Jesus in more sequences with Judah Ben-Hur. Contributions by Carol Wallace, three producers, the director, costume designer, four cast members and two religious leaders.

Deleted and Extended Scenes (10:23)

     The scenes can be selected individually or there is a “Play All” option. The longest deal with Judah almost losing Esther. The scenes are:

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     The Region A US version of Ben-Hur has less language and subtitle options and adds some music videos while missing out on the “A Story of Christ” extra we have. Otherwise it is the same. Call it a draw.

Summary

     I like epic films, biblical or otherwise, and I did enjoy Ben-Hur as a historical adventure / action film. The filmmakers were never going to win here, even if this was not a remake of the 1959 film as such but a reimagining drawing on the original source novel; the comparisons were always going to be made unfavourably, given the legendary status of the Wyler / Heston film. Was a remake of Ben-Hur needed? Of course not, but if one views this Ben-Hur as a historical action adventure the film is well made and entertaining, and rather better than some critics would have you believe.

     The video and audio are excellent. The extras are okay and pretty much the same as other releases world-wide.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Wednesday, March 29, 2017
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S580, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 55inch HD LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Messala redemmed? -
Correction -
I quite enjoyed the "new" version - REPLY POSTED