Monday, May 18, 2015

Ben-Hur (1959)

Today's film is Ben-Hur.  This film had a huge budget, and they used every bit of it.  Authentic costumes, props, thousands of extras, no expense was spared and that makes one awesome movie. However, some of the editing cuts were pretty bad, but then again it was made in the '50s.

Judah Ben-Hur (played by Charlton Heston) is a Judean prince whose best friend is a Roman, Messala.  Messala (played by Stephan Boyd) is power hungry, and when an important Roman figure is killed by Ben-Hur's poorly maintained roof, he uses this to his advantage.  Instead of forgiving him, he makes an example out of him and sends him off into slavery, and also imprisons his mother and sister.

Ben-Hur spends the next three years as a galley slave, rowing the Roman boats.  He catches the attention of a Roman Consul, Quintus Arrius, and later saves his life when the boat sinks.  Arrius is so grateful that he petitions for his freedom and later adopts him as his son and teaches him how to drive chariots.  However, Ben-Hur is still consumed by his quest for revenge against Messala and he returns to his hometown.

Now here comes the part we've all been waiting for: the chariot race.  Ben-Hur meets a sheik that owns beautiful white horses and asks him to run the big race.  Once he finds out Messala is running too, he agrees.  Because the race is so dangerous, either one could die while doing it.  So now he can kill Messala in a semi-legal way, which somehow makes it better.  Messala may be an ass, but he hasn't killed anyone.  Meanwhile, Ben-Hur killed two guards while escaping prison, and then more people while the boat was sinking.

The chariot race scene itself had 15,000 extras.  The little town my husband lived in had 6,000 people living it it.  Ok?  So 6000 people in town and then over twice as many were in one scene in a movie, that's how big this scene was.  That's amazing.  The race was exciting, and Messala pulled some straight James Bond shit with his sharp wheels.  However, Ben-Hur won, which is not surprising because it is his movie.  Messala is dying from his injuries but Ben-Hur doesn't even care.  Was killing him really worth it?  Did it really change anything?

Meanwhile, he finds out that his imprisoned mother and sister contracted leprosy.  A remedy wasn't available back then.  Fun fact: leprosy takes about 3-5 years before symptoms appear.  They were imprisoned for 3 years, meaning they could have caught it long before they were imprisoned.  So, Ben-Hur killed the bad guy and will marry his slave's hot daughter (who is a terrible actress and took away from the scenes) but what will happen to his mother and sister?

One of my lit teachers told us about "deus ex machina" - basically, the writer can't end the story (like the plot has come to a standstill or they face an impossible problem) so something unexpected happens to solve the problem almost by magic.  It comes from Greek theater where a god would appear at the end to fix everything.  Well, this is how they solved the leprosy problem - Jesus, who by now has had a few cameos, uses his +5 god magic to heal them.  Wow.  Did not see that coming.  So the moral of the story is, if one of your friends betrays you, make sure you kill enough people to survive, and kill him too, then Jesus will heal your family.  Cause that's what happened.

Since so much effort was put into this movie, it really is a spectacle.  I will give it an 8/10.


  1. Loved the +5 god magic comment.

    This is one of those movies where pan and scan went from annoying to just plain ridiculous. It's shot in 2:76 to 1 ratio. You saw two of the eight horses during the chariot race. Thankfully widescreen versions of movie won out for home theaters.

    1. Thank you - I thought my tv was messed up when I couldn't see the whole race.