director: Timur Bekmambetov
writers: Keith R. Clarke & John Ridley
starring: Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell and Rodrigo Santoro
genre: Adventure | Drama | Religion | Remake
released: 19 August 2016 (USA), 25 August 2016 (Australia), 1 September 2016 (Germany), 8 September 2016 (Greece)
based on the novel: "Ben-Hur" by Lew Wallace
It has been a while since the last time I saw the original classic 'Ben-Hur' and this was something that helped me better enjoy the newest version of the same tale. Although, no matter your potential level of enjoyment of this new film. Once you compare it to the original, everything falls apart. Which is the dreaded curse of being a Hollywood produced remake.
In Jerusalem, during the time of Christ. There was a Jewish family of nobility that had two sons Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) the Jewish prince of the Royal family and his adopted brother Marselus (Toby Kebbell) of Roman blood. Despite their differences and views on things they both are close to each other during Israel's Roman occupation. When though, Marselus moves away from Jerusalem to join the Roman army and come back years later as a Roman officer. Unfortunate events will follow that will put their friendship to the test and their family in immediate danger.
For some odd reason films are being lazy and are taking cues from television show tropes. One of which is showing the ending of the third act at the beginning of the film. Something unnecessary as we are already aware of the film's narrative and that the two brothers will come to blows from not only the synopsis, but also from its trailer and the original classic. We didn't require the film at the very beginning to remind of this. But anyhow, the film also has the necessary exposition to clue us in on the setting, history and characters and narrated by who other than Morgan Freeman. Sadly, though it must be compiled with a short action scene. With its existence merely being only to illustrate the bond between the two brothers during a moment of uncertainty and to make us immediately question the ending that will come later in the film. Something that is lazy and conventional filmmaking instead of just crafting a couple of extra character moments, so we can get to know them better and see their friendship blossom.
Thankfully, the film moves along, but sadly quickly breaks the brothers apart even though there was enough meat there to have another half hour of story for Marselus to brood over his brother's royalty and favoring a life with the Roman empire. Which is treated in the film with a very simplistic manner. As it doesn't make sense to see the family (step-mother) treat him badly in the film and in such a short time span and then leave his reason of departure to just one scene where the step mother says, "we believe in other gods" as the catalyst for Marselus to suddenly rush off into the night towards Rome. Not to mention the fact that not much info is given about the family and who the women in their lives are. Are they sisters or lovers? Later on, in the film we find out, but it is kind of confusing to start off with.
Furthermore, I may emphasize a bit too much on trailers in my reviews, but it’s so crucial to setting a tone for an upcoming film that you are about to see, and this film in particular was sold too much as an action film with a heated adversary between the two brothers that didn't exist on screen. I mean yes there is the chariot set piece, but besides that there is very little action in the film and the adversary between the brothers is short and not so much about the hatred between, but about the bad circumstances that come about to set them apart in their Roman occupied home.
In the end, the film's problems boil down to its screen time that is nearly half of the original. Making the attempt of capturing something great and entertaining on film half as likely and difficult. Despite these the issues I did enjoy the film somewhat. The production value isn't terrible and even though the budget is close to a 100 million. It's noticeable that they cut corners on crowds and big vista shots. It is also worth mentioning the direction of Timur Bekmambetov wasn't as bad as I would have thought it to be due to his past work. While I also did like Kebbell and Huston's performances and chemistry in the film despite their short time together on screen. Additionally, the plot naturally isn't the issue and is even handled in a slightly different manner than the original film. As the filmmaker mentioned in interviews his efforts of making it more about forgiveness rather than revenge. Which is one of the main points of doing a remake, to venture a little off the beaten path. The bigger problem is that they didn't go further.
The effort was made to be better than the expectations and they succeeded in that while having a less than stellar cast and crew, the usual last-minute script polishes and half the length time of the original to develop its story. Because of all of this you must give them their dues and at the same time still see the original film over this.