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Movie Review

Ben-Hur also known as “Ben Hur,” “Ben Hurs,” “Ben-Huras”

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of violence and disturbing images.

Reviewed by: Raphael Vera
CONTRIBUTOR

Better than Average
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults Teens
Genre:
Adventure Drama Remake Adaptation 3D IMAX
Length:
2 hr. 21 min.
Year of Release:
2016
USA Release:
August 19, 2016 (wide—3,084 theaters)
Copyright, Paramount Pictures click photos to ENLARGE Copyright, Paramount Pictures Copyright, Paramount Pictures Copyright, Paramount Pictures Copyright, Paramount Pictures Copyright, Paramount Pictures Copyright, Paramount Pictures Copyright, Paramount Pictures Copyright, Paramount Pictures
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Paramount Pictures

faith

truth

ancient Rome

slavery

Pontius Pilate

seeking revenge/retribution

redemption


Lew Wallace’s novel, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, has been called “the most influential Christian book of the nineteenth century”. He was not saved when he began the novel, but during the research and writing he became convinced of Christ’s deity. Wallace’s grave marker says, “I would not give one hour of life as a soul for a thousand years of life as a man.”


Jesus Christ: His Identity, Life, Death andResurrection

How did Jesus Christ die? Answer

Was Jesus Christ only a legend? Answer

Is Jesus Christ a man, or is he God? Answer

If Jesus is God, how could he die? If Jesus died on the cross, then how can he be alive today? Answer

Was Jesus Christ God, manifest in human form? Answer

Is Jesus Christ really God? Answer

If Jesus was the Son of God, why did He call Himself the Son of Man? Answer

TRINITY—How can one God be three persons? Answer

JESUS’ CHARACTER—Is Christ’s character consistent with his high claims? Answer

Featuring: Jack Huston … Judah Ben-Hur
Morgan FreemanSheik Ilderim
Sofia Black-D'Elia … Tirzah Ben-Hur, Judah’s sister
Toby Kebbell … Messala, a Roman army officer
Ayelet Zurer … Naomi Ben-Hur, Judah’s mother
Rodrigo Santoro … Jesus Christ
Nazanin Boniadi … Esther, a Jewish slave
Haluk Bilginer … Simonides, a loyal Jewish servant to Ithamar, Judah’s birth father
Pilou Asbæk … Pontius Pilate
Marwan Kenzari … Druses, a Roman captain
Moises Arias … Gestas, a teenage Jewish zealot
Yasen Atour … Jacob
David Walmsley … Marcus Decimus
more »
Director: Timur Bekmambetov—“Wanted” (2008), “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” (2012), “Night Watch” (2004)
Producer: Mark Burnett (husband of Roma Downey)
Film Production Consultants
LightWorkers Media
more »
Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Review: “Ben-Hur” (1959)

“In the time of the Messiah…”, and so begins the story of a Hebrew Prince named Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) and the Roman, Messala (Toby Kebbell), that he would call brother. Messala had been adopted into Jerusalem’s Royal house of Hur and raised as their own, after he had been orphaned as a child, but, one day, left them in order to seek his destiny serving in the Roman army.

Years of fighting as a soldier of Rome will give Messala the chance to redeem his disgraced family name, rise through the ranks of the Roman army and return with the stature and power he left the house of Hur to establish. However, when he returns to Jerusalem, his growing admiration for the “glory of Rome,” coupled with his personal ambition, will put him at odds with his former “brother,” cost him the burgeoning love he has for Ben Hur’s sister Tirzah (Sofia Black-D'Elia) and risk his very soul in the process.

Beginning with the start of the tale’s climactic chariot race, wherein Messala vows to end his erstwhile brother’s life on the track, the film then flashes back to all the events that led up to this tragic confrontation. Those who have grown up seeing the 1959 version of “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ” starring Charlton Heston will be astonished by some of the changes in both the characters, their stories, and the visuals, the last of which may be a major area of concern for filmgoers.

Objectionable Content

Violence: Heavy. Men are shown fighting, beaten, and bloody throughout the film. The film does not spare the audience from witnessing some of Messala’s battles, in all their blood-thirsty glory, and there are several scenes showing a fight’s aftermath, with dead bodies strewn about the landscape and men lifeless floating in the water. A young man’s open wound is treated by a knife heated by fire, and there are more than a few scenes of the brutality Rome was known for. Men are cut down by swords, arrows, spears, set on fire, trampled and crushed, one while being chained to the bow of a ship (blood is shown spraying onto the screen).

We are also briefly witness to some of our Lord’s heartbreaking final hours leading up to and including his crucifixion as part of Almighty God’s plan to pay the price for mankind’s sins. The scene’s of violence and death make this film something that I urge parents take seriously—and hopefully prevent young and impressionable minds from seeing.

Language: Minor. “Hell” is uttered once, and the Lord’s name is taken in vain three times—“My G*d” (2), “Oh My G*d” (1). There is one vague line about some women being abused that will likely not be understood fully by children, but whose sinister intent will be recognized by others.

Sex/Nudity: Mild. Some kissing is shown, usually on the cheek, and a husband and wife are seen in bed together from the shoulders up, but nothing is visible.

Lessons

”Ben-Hur” is an often interesting film, told during a barbaric time of human history, that manages to touch upon some powerful biblical themes including that of vengeance, love, but most of all mercy and forgiveness.

Vengeance: Ben-Hur is bent on revenge for all the loss and pain he has endured at Messala’s hands. The Word of God is clear on this and offers a far better path, if we would only trust Him.

“Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay, ” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
…if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:19-21

Love: Among all the themes that run through “Ben-Hur,” perhaps the most prevalent is that of love—the love that Esther, a Jewish slave (Nazanin Boniadi) born in the house of Hur, has always had for Ben-Hur, the brotherly love that blinds Ben-Hur to the changes in Messala, and, lastly, the love that, once an essential part of Messala, now with its absence threatens to bring him to ruin. No greater definition of love has ever been given than that which we find in the letter to the church in Corinth:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” —1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Mercy: Ben-Hur disagrees with the methods of the zealots who are in violent resistance to Rome, yet still tends to one of them brought to him wounded. Sheik Ilderim (Morgan Freeman) is seen performing a costly act of charity that seems somewhat out of character for the fortune-focused Arab. Lastly, Esther finds a new life, after hearing the words of Jesus and shares her joy by spreading the Word and helping those less fortunate.

However, the most powerful example of mercy shown in the film is when the thief/zealot hanging on his own crucifix to the right of our Lord admonishes the other crucified thief, while admitting to his own guilt.

“We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong. Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’.”

Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” —Luke 23:43

The Word of God gives us a glimpse at the merciful heart of the Almighty, as well as his desire that we likewise show mercy to one other.

“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” —Hosea 6:6

“This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.” —Zechariah 7:9

Despite a few historical inaccuracies, less than credible character motivations (specifically regarding the mother and sister’s fate), and a sometimes abrupt and awkward narrative, ”Ben-Hur” is a reasonable take on a familiar story that will likely have more appeal with the current generation, unfamiliar with the stellar 1959 version, let alone the beaufifully written, yet lengthy tome that is the original source material. The surprisingly redemptive final act alone makes it worth the price of admission, and so I recommend this film for both teens and adults alike.

Violence: Heavy to extreme / Profanity: Minor / Sex/Nudity: Mild

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.


Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Positive
Positive—Very good! We usually avoid 3D, but we were very glad we saw this in 3D, not only for the action scenes, but also for the exceptional way it put you into that world. I wasn’t sure what to expect with the original “Ben-Hur” 12 Oscar winning classic in mind. This is a grittier, more realistic version. I mentally set the original aside and enjoyed this film as a new telling of an excellent story. Two brothers driven by pride, ambition and revenge in Roman occupied Judea catch glimpses of a better way through followers of The Way, and encounters with Jesus of Nazareth.

This version does a superior job of depicting, by contrast, how revolutionary Jesus’ teachings were and how compassion, mercy, love and forgiveness can be difficult, but the only way to true peace. The acting, costumes, sets, and cinematography are excellent. Instead of a CGI-fest, the chariot race with creative and amazing camera angles looked and felt more sand-in-your-face realistic. Overall, very well done.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Tori, age 40+ (USA)
Positive—I’ve seen the silent version. It’s been years since I’ve seen the 50s version, and I don’t remember it. I only really know the silent version to compare this movie to. I loved it. It was well worth seeing. There is implied sex between a married couple. The chariot scene is well done, although appropriately violent. The Romans were known for their brutality, so the violence you see is present, but not a bad as it could be. I would recommend this movie for older teens and adults. There’s also a good message of forgiveness that’s not in the silent version. Makes me want to see the other two versions again to compare. I would highly recommend it.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Keith Chandler, age 38 (USA)
Positive—I thought this was a well-acted, powerful film that focuses on the fall-out of Judah’s desire to pursue revenge, and his ultimate choice to embrace love, forgiveness, and redemption. The characters are well drawn, and acted; the script never lags, although it requires a little familiarity on the audience’s part when it comes to the zealot uprising; the cast is terrific, and the chariot race is suspenseful and brutal, without being too gory. As someone familiar with the period, I loved the costuming design, the emphasis on the Roman occupation, and how the script wove in the political upheaval of the time. The ending may seem a little optimistic under the circumstances, but I value any story that encourages belief that Christ can transform a life, bleed out into others’ emotions, and urge them to extend similar forgiveness. Don’t let the fact that it “remakes a classic” throw you off; go see it with an open mind and heart, and decide for yourself.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 4½
Charity Bishop, age 33 (USA)
Positive—Excellent epic film. Screenplay, acting, all of it was top notch. I loved the aspects of Jesus in the film and how it affected the outcome. Beautifully done. These are the types of movies that are needed and hope more are made. Well done to all those involved in the making of “Ben Hur.”
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Gloria, age 51 (USA)
Positive—I hesitated going to see this film because it received poor reviews. But then I realized something important: WHO are the reviewers? Why they’re the sophisticated Hollywood Liberals who turn up their noses at any movie that dares to honor Christ. On the other hand, little ol’ unsophisticated me thinks this film was EXCELLENT.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Leonardo, age 74 (USA)
Positive—Excellent movie! See it before the theaters pull it, as they are want to do, at times, with movies that promote the teachings of Jesus overtly. This is a fiction story, but still a great story about the message of Jesus Christ. This is thus far the only big screen, widely distributed, Christian movie out this year that has solid biblical content. The message from Jesus is consistent with the Bible. I believe followers of Jesus would do well to see this movie and give their $ to a movie that is pro-Jesus. The story line is, in essence, the same as the 1950s version that was released, but is tweaked a little. The tweaking makes it more enjoyable. Promotes Christ’s teachings accurately.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Jerome S, age 68 (USA)
Positive—I saw the 1959 version at the theater, and this one is exponentially better. The screenplay writing is much improved over the older version. Also: The quality of the film direction, as well as the acting, and the cinematography, are head and shoulders above the old version. The message of the movie is obvious and far more “on point” with the Gospel than the 1959 version.

The re-uniting of Esther and Ben Hur is shown in a brief moment of kissing. The next scene is of the two of them on the ground, several feet apart from each other. Nothing immoral is shown, so it’s all a matter of whether you want to impute sin on the two of them, or not. I choose not to and don’t accept those who are sticklers for even a hint of worldliness. I’m in the USA, and here it’s “innocent until proven guilty.” I wish other films were as pure as this one. more »
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Mike, age 60 (USA)
Positive—The movie, overall, left me feeling the Spirit of Christ in how it ended—nicely done, in fact, better than the original, in this regard. What following Christ really brings to us in our hearts was illustrated, and thus I was very happy to have taken my family to see this. The biblical, historical drawback was that Pilate was depicted such that he “could” be suspect of wanting to crucify Christ vice the Jewish religious leaders—although that was not specifically stated.

The other main drawback was that the actor portraying Christ was hit with a stone and bleeding while shielding someone; this explicit showing of His blood in a fictitious scene was wrong (in my opinion, to diminish His precious blood as the blood of the sacrificial lamb) and likely a compromise with the studio to get it released. Although to be fair, the movie did focus on His blood at the cross—so, as I said, the ending saved the movie spiritually. more »
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Roy, age 55 (USA)
Positive—A must see film. A story about the struggles of life, faith, and forgiveness.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Scott, age 40 (USA)
Positive—I saw the new version of “Ben-Hur” at the flicks tonight. The film has been unfairly treated. It certainly isn’t the disaster the media would have one believe. Hur 59 (but don’t forget the Heston wasn’t the first) didn’t adapt everything in Wallace’s book, nor did this one, but, in and of itself, it was nicely done. The chariot race was well done, as was the sea battle. I think the problem with marketing is their not featuring Jesus in the trailers and Jesus and Hur’s brief encounters with him was the point.

The film had a feeling of redemption, something missing from contemporary cinema. Marco Beltrami’s score though was unmemorable and one big mistake was having a pop song kick off the final few moments of the film. A historical drama needs just instrumental orchestral music to allow time for the viewer to digest what they’ve seen and be “in the moment.” As with other films featuring Christ, tears streamed down my face at those key moments, particularly the crucifixion. The film Risen earlier this year was a “mini Hur” in terms of story to me but as the scenes were shot similarly, I’d consider “Risen” almost a Hur sequel (though more moving), as it starts with the crucifixion and then resurrection. In Wallace’s Hur book, he doesn’t show the resurrection, thus the films don’t.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Dirk Wickenden, age 49 (United Kingdom)
Neutral
Neutral—This movie was entertaining. I am somewhat conflicted about it. As serious of a topic as the gospel of Christ, I am not fully convinced it is a good idea to mix an imaginary story with the truth of the Word of God and the seriousness of the crucifixion. Or to be entertained with an action movie and throw in the Bible. But part of me thinks the Gospel is worthy of our music, poetry, and even theatre. But not sure fiction belongs with it. Something to think about.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Adam Woodward, age 44 (USA)
Neutral—Me and my aunt went to see the movie. I find not the same as Charlton Heston in the old “Ben Hur.” Also, I thought that the actors who played in the movie didn’t know anything about the Bible at all. Also, there was an scene in the movie where Ben Hur and Esther were lying with each other, and I felt that was uncalled for. Also, I thought that the actor who played Jesus didn’t do it right, so I’m giving this movie a 3.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 3½
—Charlene (USA)
Negative
Negative—This third cinematic (and sixth overall) version of Ben-Hur: A Tale Of The Christ is a spectacular chariot crash, pun intended. Without going into detail, I will say that the movie takes numerous liberties with the source material (the novel, not the classic 1925 silent and 1959 sound versions), so much so that were it not for the names of the characters and similar situations, you would think this was another photo play.

The music for the leper scene and the chariot race, along with the aforesaid scene, was good, but that is all the compliment I can pay to this version. The acting was okay, but the writing was dreadful, and the directing even worse. Biblically speaking, there is more violence here, some of it graphic, than in the 1925, 1959 and 2003 versions, but no profanity (save for a few inappropriate uses of God’s Name) and a brief scene of Esther and Ben-Hur in bed together (seen from the shoulders up). The PG-13 rating is appropriate, and should be observed. more »
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 2½
—D, age 30 (USA)
Negative—For once, I actually agree with the liberal LA Times that this movie should never have been made. That was my thought, even before the LA Times review. The movie opens with a grade-C directing and horrible acting, bad close up hand held camera work (It gave me the feel that a 16mm camera was used), with mis-cast actors. I will say Morgan Freeman was OK.

We see on the opening shots were terrible and boring, worse than made for TV shots. The Jesus scenes were almost blasphemy, putting words in His mouth that He never said. They made Jesus look like a street hippy type with not one ounce of authority on his face. There were no sweeping vast wide gigantic scenes that compare to the 1959 version of William Wyler’s film. To compare the music to the Miklós Rózsa composition of the 1959 Ben-Hur, was no comparison at all. This version sounded like they hired college kids to put the music together with three musical instruments. Music Comparison: Horrible at best. I was going to walk out on this one, but I said to my wife, I’ll stick around just to see the boat battle and chariot race scenes and see what they do with the over $100,000,000 they spent on this movie, but so far as of the 9/11, 2016 date it made a little over $25-million. Not enough to recoup. I don’t recommend this movie to anyone. It did not inspire me at all.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 1½
—Robert Garcia, age 69 (USA)
Movie Critics

…Much to our surprise, Timur Bekmambetov’s ancient epic has genuine heft. …a surprisingly tactile, compelling film… the closing minutes of the film handsomely, convincingly depict a moment of what you might call ecstatic grief, as Judah Ben-Hur is overcome by Jesus’s death and his own sudden conversion. …
—Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

…a film that is a surprisingly non-campy, more explicitly Christian meditation on slavery and freedom, revenge and forgiveness that also happens to have that climactic chariot-race thrill ride… The new “Ben-Hur” doesn’t eclipse its predecessor… [2½/4]
—Cary Darling, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

…this newest Ben-Hur is a pleasant surprise. It doesn't succeed at everything. …hard to overstate the violence we see here: The loss of life we witness can feel both callous and gratuitous. But the action is pretty exciting…
—Paul Asay, Plugged In

…BEN-HUR is very exciting, especially the sea battle and the chariot race, but turns the message of the good news of salvation into a lesson about forgiveness. …
—Ted Baehr, Movieguide

…By turns, “Ben-Hur” is good, bad and so-so, but it's always epic… [3/4]
—Colin Covert, Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune

…Morgan Freeman rides off with the movie… [2/4 ]
—Mark Feeney, The Boston Globe

…the film is conceived and directed less as a sweeping epic than as a talky, plotty, melodramatic made-for-TV special in the vein of “The Bible”… [1/4]
—Keith Watson, Slant

…oddly lackluster… sludgy and plodding… feels like a mini-series… the new “Ben-Hur” tries to “humanize” everything, starting with Huston’s overly moist Judah, and the result is that this story seems a lot less human than it did 57 years ago. It’s become a chariot of mire.
—Owen Gleiberman, Variety

“Ben-Hur” is an expensive lesson in how not to make a modern biblical epic… an emotionally unconvincing remake… undermined by inelegant writing, erratic direction and indifferent acting… [1/4]
—Kate Taylor, The Globe and Mail

…an epic disaster… a schmaltzy “inspirational” script that pointlessly alters the story in ways that make absolutely no sense… truly ridiculous finale… [0/4]
—Lou Lumenick, New York Post

…What were they thinking? …Misguided, diminished and dismally done in every way, this late-summer afterthought will richly earn the distinction of becoming the first Ben-Hur in any form to flop. …
—Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter

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