The 1959 adaptation of Ben-Hur is an all-time classic, everybody who's a film fan is well aware of this. That being said, I was never opposed to a remake for a couple of reasons. One of them is pretty obvious, I just can't get angry over remakes because it's a win win scenario. If a remake is good, that's two good movies based on the same story. But if a remake is bad, at least I still have the original. The other reason I was okay with a Ben-Hur remake was because, well, the 1959 film is in and of itself a remake, and that's considered to be one of the greatest films of all time. It's also based on a book, which means film isn't even the only medium that's going to tell this story. So without further ado, here are my thoughts on Ben-Hur (2016), directed by Timur Bekmambetov.
This is the epic story of Judah Ben-Hur, a prince falsely accused of treason by his adopted brother, an officer in the Roman army. After years at sea, Judah returns to his homeland to seek revenge, but finds redemption.
I have no interest in doing a full review for this movie. The reason for that is because there's just nothing interesting to bring into the discussion, except for the ending, which I'm totally going to spoil. But for now, here are my brief thoughts.
This new adaptation of Ben-Hur is not terrible, at least not all the way through. There's a good 75% of the film where I was actually digging what was on screen, and that's mainly because of strong performances throughout the cast, but especially from Jack Houston as the titular character and Toby Kebbell as Messala Severus. The story moves along at a nice pace, and there are some pretty solid action scenes. But the main reason to do a modern retelling of this story is the main event, the Chariot Race, and it kicked a whole lot of ass! Some people will complain that there was an excess of CGI, but I wasn't too bothered by it. Where the film fell apart for me was the ending, but I'll elaborate more on that later. Overall, this is nowhere close to being the worst remake I've seen, and just the fact alone that the filmmakers even dared to attempt a Ben-Hur remake is commendable in its own right.
Alright guys, consider this your spoiler warning. If you do NOT want to know what happens at the end of this movie, I'd advise you to bookmark this review and come back once you've seen it for yourself. But for those of you who either have seen the movie or just don't care about spoilers, let's talk about where Ben-Hur (2016) went wrong.
Ok, so after Judah wins the Chariot race, he witnesses the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, with whom he's had plenty of interaction with throughout the film. A storm comes through, and rain falls over Jerusalem, resulting in a number of miracles. One of those miracles happens to be Judah's mother and sister being cured of their leprosy, and they all live happily ever after.
I can think of at least 3 things wrong with this ending, which all seem to piss all over the ending of the Charlton Heston film.
First off, it ends on a happy note. Something in my gut tells me that the reason for this deviation to the source material is because a goddamn focus group didn't like the original ending, so the filmmakers were forced to go back for re-shoots. That, or it was dead on arrival from the start because of a noble attempt to deliberately separate itself from previous adaptations.
This one is a minor pet peeve by comparison, but I'm not a fan of Morgan Freeman's narration at any points of the film, but especially towards the end. I get the idea behind his stunt casting (admit it, this was totally a stunt cast because of Bruce Almighty), but voiceover narration such as this impedes a movie's ability to "show, don't tell," and was probably tacked on at the last minute.
Finally, and this is the part that bugged me the most, but WHY WERE THE MOTHER AND THE SISTER CURED OF THEIR LEPROSY!?!?!?!? Wasn't the whole freaking point of the movie that there was no way Judah could have saved his family, and the only option he had left was to challenge Messala to a Chariot Race? Also, I know it's been a while since I've seen the Charlton Heston film, but I don't recall Messala being left alive. Sure, I understand that this time around, the underlying theme is about forgiveness, not revenge, but you could have had the same ending without removing the stakes.
So that's pretty much everything I had to say about Ben-Hur (2016). The ending stops the movie from being fresh, but overall I still feel comfortable enough recommending you see the film. If nothing else, go for Jack Houston and Toby Kebbell's great performances, and for that badass Chariot Race.
Now I want to hear from you guys. Have you seen Ben-Hur (2016), and if so what did you think? Also, which adaptation of the story is your favorite? Drop your thoughts in the comments below, and stay tuned for my next review, where Miles Teller and Jonah Hill star in the probably too crazy to be true story, War Dogs.