Ben-Hur (2016)

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Ben-Hur is a 2016 American epic historical action drama film directed by Timur Bekmambetov and written by Keith Clarke and John Ridley. It is the fifth film adaptation of the 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace following the 1907 silent film, the 1925 silent film, the Academy Award-winning 1959 film and the 2003 animated film of the same name. It has been termed a "re-adaptation", "reimagining", and "new interpretation" of the novel. The film stars Jack Huston, Morgan Freeman, Toby Kebbell, Nazanin Boniadi, Haluk Bilginer and Rodrigo Santoro.

Principal photography began on February 2, 2015 in Matera, Italy and lasted about five months, finishing in June 2015. Ben-Hur premiered on August 9, 2016 in Mexico City and was theatrically released by Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer on August 19, 2016 in the United States in 2D, 3D, RealD 3D, Digital 3D, and IMAX 3D. The film received generally negative reviews and was a box office bomb grossing only $94 million worldwide on a $100 million budget.

Plot

Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) loses everything after his adopted brother Messala (Toby Kebbell), now an officer in the Roman army, returns to Jerusalem and accuses the young prince of treason. Stripped of his title and separated from his wife (Nazanin Boniadi) and family, Ben-Hur must endure years of slavery on a galley at sea. When fate brings the estranged brothers to an epic and deadly chariot race, Ben-Hur finally gets the chance to exact vengeance on the man who destroyed his life.

Why It Sucks

  1. It's a poor remake of the beloved 1959 film with Charlton Heston, only with aesthetics lifted from 300 and its ilk.
  2. Bad acting.
  3. Awful special effects.
  4. Cringe inducing soundtrack.
  5. The religious aspects are made more unsubtle and downright jarring.

Redeeming Qualities

  1. The chariot race is still good, if not as remarkable as the original.
  2. The costumes look decent.

Reception

Ben-Hur has received generally negative reviews from film critics. On the review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 26%, based on 151 reviews, with an average rating of 4.7/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "How do you fight an idea? By filming a remake that has too few of its own, and tries to cover it up with choppy editing and CGI." Metacritic, which uses a normalized rating, gives the film a score of 38 out of 100, based on 33 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A–" on a scale of A+ to F.

The A.V. Club's Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, giving one of the few positive-leaning reviews, wrote: "At first, the new adaptation of Lew Wallace’s New Testament soap opera seems impersonal, as dusty and ornamented as any movie in which robed Jews and Romans argue about gods and kings in accents of vaguely British origin[,]" but as it progresses, "Ben-Hur announces itself as the sort of elemental re-imagining of the source material that no one in their right mind would ever expect it to be." Influx Magazine film critic Steve Pulaski gave the film a C grade, saying, "when it comes to a more concise retelling of a classic story, the new Ben-Hur succeeds as functioning as a briefer work of entertainment, with more communicable and discernible elements of spectacle. As an entire film, its roughness is more-or-less summed up by the difficulty to justify its existence, and that's something that, after being surprised at the film's level of quality, I'm not even going to bother with." IGN's Scott Collura gave the film 5.8/10, writing: "Ben-Hur is an adequate introduction to the classic tale of revenge and forgiveness, but it's an uneven one. Toby Kebbell's antagonist character frequently outweighs the appeal of Jack Huston’s hero, the more religious elements of the story don’t jell very well with the action set pieces, and much of the cast are left behind by their own movie. But still, there’s no denying the power of Ben-Hur's final redemption. It’s just not a very smooth ride getting there."

The New York Times' Stephen Holden wrote, "Overseen by a director not known for his human touch and lacking a name star, except for Mr. Freeman, Ben-Hur feels like a film made on the cheap, although it looks costly." Richard Roeper gave the film two stars out of four, writing: "Ben-Hur struggles to find an identity and never really gets there. The well-intentioned efforts to achieve moving, faith-based awakenings are undercut by the casually violent, PG-13 action sequences." The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy described the film's chariot race scene as being "heavily digitized and over-edited", and called it the worst scene of the film.

Rolling Stone labeled the film "A Remake Disaster of Biblical Proportions."

Sister Rose Pacette wrote a positive review for the National Catholic Reporter, objecting only to the anachronistic costumes worn by Jewish women in the film. Jesus is in the film, which was used for some faith-based marketing to a Christian audience.