Ben-Hur

The weird thing we all noticed in the trailers of Ben-Hur is that there were no big names. No names mentioned at all. No recognizable faces. I know the actor playing Ben-Hur – it’s Jack Huston, and I came to know him on Boardwalk Empire – but he’s not well-known. Matt never recognized him without the half tin-face, and Sean doesn’t know him from the third freckle to the left of his arsehole. Huston’s decent in it, but he’s no movie star. Isn’t it weird that a studio would spend $100 million dollars on a movie and neglect to cast any celebrities? And I don’t mean Kanye West as Jesus (Yeezus?) – but to cast a whole roster full of nobodies seems like a gamble.

So Ben-Hur is a bonafide flop. Not because Jack Huston couldn’t carry it, but because he benhur-faithtrailer-1-1024x426.pngshould never have been asked to. And of course you could say that Ben-Hur didn’t need a remake, but the simple truth is that no movie needs a shitty remake. If you insist on having a go at a famous and beloved movie, you’d better be bringing something to the table. And Timur Bekmambetov thought he was: CGI. But he failed to appreciate that a lone 10-minute sequence of blood-rushing speed just doesn’t cut it anymore. This is the era of action. 60% of the shite in theatres right this very minute, competing against it, is action-packed. Suicide Squad, which is a pretty terrible movie, is at least more energetic. Star Trek Beyond is full-throttle. The days where Charlton Heston going all fast & furious on a chariot could save a movie are gone. Long gone.

I’m trying my hardest to think of one nice thing I can say about this, but I’m drawing a blank. The editing is tumultuous. I think the film makers are relying on our general knowledge of the classic Ben-Hur to pull us through this one’s bumpy ride in story-telling (quite general: lots of details are changed, and I’m not sure to what end). That, and two really genius visual aids: 1. white horsies vs. black horsies (guess which ones the good guys ride) 2. Caesar haircuts vs. Jesus haircuts (guess which ones the good guys wear).  Subtle enough for you? Not that it matters. This movie lost me in its first 5 minutes. You know why? It’s stupid. You’re going to want to kick a black horse. It was a camera angle that took me out of the time period. It made me feel like Judah Ben-Hur was wearing a GoPro. He may as well have posed for a selfie.

The 1959 epic Ben-Hur used 2500 real, live horses and 10 000 real, live people. It was made with love – I know this because one of the last living American crew members told me so

BEN-HUR

Morgan Freeman plays Ilderim and Jack Huston plays Judah Ben-Hur in Ben-Hur from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures and Paramount Pictures.

in a documentary recently (The Man Who Saved Ben-Hur. Unfortunately he died before he could save us all from this one). Ben-Hur 2016 is a re-imagining lacking imagination. It used just 86 horses, 400 extras, lots of computer fakery, and – fuck me – GoPro cameras. Jesus fuck. Speaking of whom: unbelievably, the 2016 version is the more Jesusy of the two. I suppose producers were hoping for a built-in Christian audience, but the heavy-handed message will likely ring false even with them.

I’m afraid that this iteration of Ben-Hur is a symbol of our culture generally: devoid of our own ideas, we steal old ones and then make them crappier by half-assing things and cutting corners. Tell me I’m wrong.

 

 

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33 thoughts on “Ben-Hur

  1. J.

    I honestly think Morgan Freeman would appear in anything. Anyhoo, I wasn’t aware they were making this, but my word does this look dreadful (and I spotted the GoPro shot in the trailer). Seems the sound is from Transformers … ?

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    1. Jay Post author

      Haha. Not bad at all. He’s perfectly good in this, he’s just dwarfed by the movie and there’s way too much wrong for him to overcome.

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  2. Birgit

    I love the 1959 version and so want to see the 1926 version with Ramon Novarro but this film…..I just wonder how bad it is. I wish they would stop removing great films and load it full of CGI( what is Go-pro??). Morgan Freeman needs to stop making any film that crosses his path and the others??? Have no clue

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    1. Jay Post author

      Go Pro are those little cameras that kids wear on their helmets to capture their skateboard tricks, or adults have on their dashboards in their cars. It’s small and portable and meant to capture action – skiers wear them, and mountain bikers. So to watch biblical people apparently using them as well was just weird for me.

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      1. calensariel

        Sounds almost sacrilegious! There have only been TWO movies that I liked the reboots as well. Sabrina (new one with Harrison Ford and Julia Ormond) and the remake of Planet of the Apes. The end of that one was just different enough that it tickled me pinkless!! And LOVED Charlton Heston’s cameo in it as an ape!

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  3. Liz A.

    I’ve never seen either of the previous two iterations, so there’s no reason for me to see this one. They changed details? Because it would make sense to a modern audience? See, I can’t see the general moviegoer as one who would have seen the 1959 version.

    Most moviegoers today don’t want to take the time or energy to watch “old” movies. I think that’s a big reason so many movies get remade. So, a classic like the 1959 Ben-Hur won’t be on anyone’s radar. (And let’s not even discuss the silent. Because black & white is bad enough. Silent? No one would bother.)

    So, they should at least make the remake good. No? Okay. No point in seeing it, then.

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  4. John Charet

    Great post 🙂 Although I can not see Hollywood or any other parts outside of it remaking this particular film, one wonders If they would ever do a remake of Ken Russell’s 1971 controversial historical religious drama The Devils with Oliver Reed and Vanessa Redgrave? If you want to know what the film is about, do a wikipedia search on it or go on youtube and type in “The Devils trailer”. Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

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  5. calensariel

    You know, Harper Lee said once she never felt the need to write another book because she said all she needed to say in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” We didn’t need a new “Ben Hur” because the original said all that needed to be said on the subject. And it had a terrific soundtrack, too. I have the album. The composer was Miklós Rózsa.

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      1. calensariel

        That’s being hotly disputed because she wasn’t able to make any kind of financial decision like that when it was released. She was both deaf and blind, from what I understand. The speculation is that the book is the manuscript she first submitted that was rejected before she wrote “Mockingbird.” It’s believed her lawyer and her personal something or other were the ones who released it. That’s one reason why it was such a big deal when it came out.

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