Saturday, August 20, 2016
Ben Hur 3D 
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review
RogerEbert.com (G. Kenny) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review
Ben Hur 3D  (directed by Timur Bekmambetov , screenplay by Keith R. Clarke and John Ridley based on the novel [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Lew Wallace [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) is a film that like many / most of my generation, I went to skeptically. Having seen it now, like most others, I'm more-or-less certain that the current film will never attain the Epic / Awesome Stature of the celebrated 1959 version that starred the "Larger-than-Life" CHARLTON HESTON ... However, having said this, I _must add_ that do think that this is NOT a bad film and to the extent that it serves to "update the presentation" and (re)introduce Ben Hur to a new generation, I DO THINK THAT (3D and ALL...) THE CURRENT FILM DOES A PRETTY GOOD (to VERY GOOD) JOB.
Readers of my blog will note that I generally _support_ "updated presentations" even quite _imaginative_ ones -- True Grit , The Three Musketeers , Anna Karenina , The Great Gatsby  -- so long as the update was NOT just "an update for the sake of updating," but offered something something truly compelling/new of past cinematic versions:
True Grit  for example sought to "return to the original novel" (where as its celebrated 1969 cinematic version had been overwhelmed by the "Larger-than-Life" presence of JOHN WAYNE).
The Three Musketeers  was _really imaginative_ BUT invited Viewers to experience the story with "(re)newed eyes" as the ORIGINAL story was NOT MEANT to be "a dry/dusty Classic" but rather a YOUNG ADULT ADVENTURE STORY ... Thus "3D / Airships and all," I do believe that 2011 film _recaptured_ a lot of the _wonder_ of the original story (before it _became_ "a required read" for "advanced French Language classes ...").
Anna Karenina  was IMHO simply a beautiful film that often felt like both a movie and a stage play (IMHO intentionally ... as the the film-makers sought to express the point that Anna Karenina (the story's tragic heroine who was destroyed by gossip) did seem to live a life in which she found herself "on stage" (being gossiped about) whether she liked it or not).
Finally, the failings of the unnecessary 3D notwithstanding, LEONARDO DICAPRIO simply _nailed_ the role of the tragic hero Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby  in a way that previously "Larger than Life" ROBERT REDFORD simply could not (Jay Gatsby was _not_ Redford's role to play ... while DiCaprio, IMHO was almost born to play it. IMHO, Redford was instead "born to play" roles like his in The Natural ).
Now, I have reviewed over the years some _terrible_ updates / remakes of "classic" stories -- from The Legend of Hercules , to Young Messiah , to the second (but not the most recent third) film of the Star Trek "reboot" series -- I thought Star Trek into Darkness  was simply awful (frenetic / "action filled" for "action's" sake) while do think that the more recent Star Trek Beyond  was finally (re)gaining its footing. Still I do enjoy being surprised by something "new" that invites _new_ insight.
To the current film then ...
I do think that the general lack of "Larger than Life" stars in the new (2016) version of Ben Hur is A PLUS (yes, "Larger than Life" MORGAN FREEMAN does play a narrative / and still SECONDARY ROLE in the current film). Thus viewers of the current film are allowed experience the story of Judah Ben-Hur (played by still relatively unknown / "up-and-coming" Jack Huston) rather than CHARLTON HESTON simply playing (and arguably OVERWHELMING) the role of Ben Hur.
As a result, the story of Ben Hur becomes almost "Job-like." At the beginning of the story, he's presented as "a Jewish prince" from a well-to-do / well-connected family (living admittedly in "Roman-occupied Rome at the time of Jesus"), who finds himself _losing everything_ as a result of "circumstances outside his control." He suffers enormously, and and comes to harbor an enormous amount of anger. Jesus, or at least his message (as Jesus is actually portrayed as only a peripheral figure in the tale) _helps_ him (and CAN HELP US) to _let go of that anger_.
As such, I have to say I loved this _simpler version_ -- 3D notwithstanding though the 3D, notwithstanding the chariot race that might have been too fast to film using this technology, was actually about as good / clear as I've seen it -- BETTER than the CHARLTON HESTON one.
In any case, the current version COULD encourage young people today (teenagers to 20-somethings) to pick up the original novel [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] or perhaps at least look-up the 1959-Charlton Heston version.
As such, a surprisingly _good job_ here. Good job! ;-)
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