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Movie Review

Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ

Reviewed by: Kevin J. Burk
CONTRIBUTOR

Excellent!
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
10 to Adult
Genre:
Drama
Length:
3 hr. 32 min.
Year of Release:
1959
USA Release:
November 18, 1959
Copyright, MGM click photos to ENLARGE Ben-Hur DVD cover—Collector's Edition.
Relevant Issues
Jesus Christ: His Identity, Life, Death andResurrection

Archaeology—Have any burial sites been found for the people involved in Christ’s life and death? 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: Charlton Heston … Judah Ben-Hur
Jack Hawkins … Quintus Arrius
Haya Harareet … Esther
Stephen Boyd … Messala
Hugh Griffith … Sheik Ilderim
Martha Scott … Miriam
Cathy O'Donnell … Tirzah
Sam Jaffe … Simonides
Finlay Currie … Balthasar / Narrator
Frank Thring … Pontius Pilate
Terence Longdon … Drusus
George Relph … Tiberius Caesar
André Morell … Sextus
Director: William Wyler—“Roman Holiday” (1953), “The Best Years of Our Lives” (1946)
Producer: Sam Zimbalist
Sol C. Siegel
Joseph Vogel
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)
Distributor: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

Also see: “Ben-Hur” (2016)

“Ben-Hur” has recently been ranked as one of the one hundred greatest films of all time, and with good reason. Forty years later it remains one of the classics of cinema, as well as a witness for the redeeming power of Jesus Christ.

Based on the famous novel, the film tells the story of Judah Ben-Hur, a wealthy Jewish prince living during the time of Christ who is wrongly accused of murdering the Roman governor. [The governor, however, is not killed during the incident of the falling tiles. He recovers. This is important because it means Judah is sentenced to die in the galleys not only for an accident, but for an accident which does not even result in permanent injury.] Judah, his mother and daughter are imprisoned for the crime by Judah’s childhood friend, the Roman Masala. Judah is sentenced to be a galley slave and swears revenge on Masala. As Judah works to exact his revenge, a young carpenter begins his ministry. The film’s story dovetails into a climatic confrontation between Judah and Masala, until finally Judah learns that love triumphs over hate, becoming a follower of Jesus, the crucified carpenter.

This film is one of the great G-rated biblical epics that Hollywood used to produce, and I highly recommend it. A few scenes of violence may be intense for young children, but little of it is graphic. Overall, the film’s message of peace through salvation in Christ makes this a wonderful film and a testimony to non-believers.

Ben Hur DVD.

DVD DVD release—Collector’s Edition (2005)

On September 13, 2005, Warner Brothers released a four-disc Collector’s Edition of this film which won 11 Academy Awards. The film has been reformatted and includes new features such as commentary by Charlton Heston, documentaries on the making of the film, and a DVD of the 1925 silent version, as well as a Bible Study Guide. This small booklet is titled Ben-Hur: An Epic Bible Study Into the Transformational Power of God (authors: Rev. Drs. Robert H. Schuller and Robert A. Schuller). Specific DVD features include:

  • Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
  • Available Audio Tracks: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Commentary by film historian T. Gene Hatcher with scene-specific comments from Charlton Heston
  • New digital transfer from restored 65MM elements
  • Music-only track
  • The 1925 feature-length silent version of Ben-Hur with a stereophonic orchestral score by composer Carl Davis
  • 2005 documentary: Ben-Hur: The Epic That Changed Cinema—Current filmmakers such as Ridley Scott and George Lucas reflect on the importance and influence of the film
  • 1994 documentary: Ben-Hur: The Making of an Epic hosted by Christopher Plummer
  • Directed by William Wyler—1986 Emmy Award? -nominated documentary featuring the last interview with Wyler before his death
  • Ben-Hur: A Journey Through Pictures—New audiovisual recreation of the film via stills, storyboards, sketches, music and dialogue
  • Screen Tests: Leslie Nielsen and Cesare Danova, Leslie Nielsen and Yale Wexler, George Baker and William Russel
  • Highlights from the 4/4/1960 Academy Awards ceremony
  • Vintage newsreels gallery
  • Theatrical trailer gallery

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


Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Positive
Positive—The 1959 remake of the silent film classic “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ” (which is in turn based on the epic novel by Lew Wallace) is nothing short of magnificent in every way. I grew up watching this motion picture along with Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 version of “The Ten Commandments,” and I highly recommend both, along with the silent versions which preceded them. I never get tired of listening to the music or watching the films. The plot of the novel is so well known, I will not go into it, but suffice to say that both the 1925 and 1959 versions are faithful to the source material. The movie is well acted, well written, beautifully scored by Academy Award winner Miklós Rózsa, and expertly directed by Academy Award winner William Wyler. This film earned every Academy Award it won in 1960. See it on Turner Classic Movies or buy it on DVD and Blu-Ray; however you choose to view it, you will enjoy a masterpiece.

Biblically speaking, there is some violence, particularly in the two most famous sequences, but it is not graphic; there is also no profanity, and no sexual content. There is a line where Sheik Ilderim scoffs at monogamy, but it is played for laughs and is not offensive. While the 1925 and 1959 versions are too long for young children, I recommend the 2003 animated version which stars Charlton Heston as Ben-Hur in his final role before his retirement due to Alzheimer’s. Purists may scoff at a major change regarding a central character, but this was done to make the movie accessible to a younger audience, and the novel’s message of forgiveness is preserved intact in all three versions. The 1959 version was initially Not Rated, but has since been rated G. The 1925 version, though Not Rated, contains three brief scenes of nudity, which are fleeting and not exploitative.

There is a miniseries called “Ben-Hur” that came out in 2010, but I counsel you to eschew it like the plague. The unedited DVD version contains three scenes of nudity, including a graphic sex scene to which there is no lead-in. The edited-for-television version just has a shot of Ben-Hur from the rear, but even so, I do not recommend it. In addition to the aforementioned scenes, the central message of Christ is nonexistent in this version.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
—D, age 30 (USA)

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