Monday, September 5, 2016

Movie Review: "Ben-Hur" (2016)

Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 2 hours, 4 minutes
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After harboring a zealot that murders a Roman soldier, Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) is charged with sedition by his adopted brother Messala (Toby Kebbell). He is imprisoned as an ores-man on a Roman galley for five years. During a battle on the sea, he breaks free and makes his way back to Judea to exact his revenge on Messala. 

Who watches the 11-time Academy Award winning "Ben-Hur," one of the three most winningest films in all of Oscar history, and thinks, "you know what, I think we can improve upon this!" Apparently, that man is Timur Bekmambetov, the director of such films as "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," "The Arena," and now, 2016's soulless, artificial, stripped down version of "Ben-Hur." It stars Jack Huston as the titular Judah Ben-Hur and Toby Kebbell as his adopted brother Mesalla Severus. Joining them are Morgan "Sure, I'll take the part" Freeman (along with one of the worst fake wigs we have ever seen in all of cinematic history), Sofia Black-D'Elia, Pilou Asbæk, Ayelet Zurer, Nazanin Boniada, and Rodrigo Santoro as sexy Italian Jesus, who not only gets to show his face in this version, but gets to spout off the occasional Bible verse as he now always has them at the ready. These actors come together to...what exactly we don't know, because so much is changed from the original that to bear the same name would make Charlton Heston and his cold dead hands spin from his grave all the way back to 1959 so he could un-star in the original to ensure this remake would never see the light of day.

We had two big questions that ran across our minds while sitting in our astonishingly crowded for a midday Thursday showing of "Ben-Hur." One, how did Bekmambetov manage to take a story that earned 11 Oscars and rip the soul out of it, turning into such a heartless spectacle? And two, how did he manage to make a film with a hundred million dollar budget look so damn cheap? The screenwriters manage to make a few major changes that totally destroy the spirit of this story, altering its entire premise and meaning in the process. Despite many of his claims to the contrary, in this version, Ben-Hur is actually guilty of a crime as opposed to being completely innocent. By harboring an enemy of the state who attacked and killed a Roman soldier and letting him go free, Ben-Hur is deserving of prison under Roman law. The films also attempt to make Messala a much more sympathetic character, but why did they need to do that? This gives Ben-Hur little reason to seek revenge against him, making Ben-Hur feel too much like a vindictive little prick and not enough like someone who had their entire world stolen from underneath them. Finally, in the crucial scene where, after a long, arduous, near death walk through the desert with the hundreds of other slaves, Ben-Hur sees Jesus Christ for the very first time and is aided by him and given water in his moment of dire need. In this scene in the original, this desert walk looks and feels like it has gone on for hours, possibly even days. In the remake, this first encounter with Jesus happens after a 2 block stroll when Ben-Hur falls over and in a clamor, Jesus rushes to his side to say some Bible verse and then "peace out." There is no sense of time, no sense of meaning, and no sense of true help needed. There are other massive changes as well, ones which leave gaping plot holes in the story and make it inexplicably stupid and meaningless.

Then, in one of the worst parts of this updated version of the movie, comes the chariot race. If you've seen the original "Ben-Hur," you know what an epic, stunning scene this is. It is absolutely amazing and still so spectacular, holding up well even today. When Messala rolls out into first place during the first lap, the instant we get a good look at his chariot we see THERE ARE NO BLADES ON HIS HUBCAPS. This is the instance where we went from generally annoyed and mildly angry to complete and absolute "f-you, new "Ben-Hur"" status. Bekmambetov and co. manage to take this once exciting, brutal scene and make it feel entirely underwhelming, without any sort of substance, and have now turned it into a complete and utter digital bore to boot.

We like to make it a habit of judging remakes on their own merits. Just earlier this year, we did so with "Ghostbusters," something a lot of the movie going population flat out refused to do. We went into "Ben-Hur" giving it was every chance in the world to prove us wrong, that there can actually be good remakes. This is not one of them, and we have no choice but to compare it to the film that came before it, and let us stress again, the 11-time Academy Award winner that should have never been touched or sullied. This movie is awful. It looks cheap, it is completely changed, the acting is not great, the CGI is abysmal, and it shouldn't have been made, period. It should be forgotten, buried in the annals of history like the tomb of Jesus himself. The producers of this tripe deserve to lose money on this box office bomb.

My Rating: 3/10
BigJ's Rating: 3/10
IMDB's Rating: 5.6/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 26%
Do we recommend this movie: AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE!!!

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