Starring Jack Huston, Morgan Freeman, Ayelet Zurer, Toby Kebbell, Rodrigo Santoro, Nazanin Boniadi, Sofia Black-D’Elia
1.5 STARS (out of 5)
Remakes and reboots, as any good movie-goer will know, come and go like the drawing of breath – and while some do exceptionally well at drawing upon their source material and create an entirely new adventure and premise for current generations to enjoy, others struggle more than a little. Ben-Hur, a 2016 remake of the award-winning original cinema staple, safely falls into this latter category from both film-making and re-telling perspectives.
Ben-Hur is essentially a tale of fighting back against injustice – Judah Ben-Hur is a young royal who finds himself thrown into slavery after being wrongly accused of treason – and after spending considerable time away from his family and loved ones, returns home to clear his name and return to the bosom of his household. What transpires is a tale of competition and of redemption – all set against the backdrop of the Roman army during the time of Jesus Christ.
The main problem affecting this modern take on Ben-Hur is its blandness. Similarly to the issues faced by The Legend of Tarzan earlier this year, 2016’s Ben-Hur appears to rely on casting and flashy designs to carry forth a retelling of a story that may not even have needed retelling at all. Is there room in 2016 cinema for Ben-Hur? Alongside the emergence of Gods of Egypt earlier this year it appears that this is another big budget attempt to revitalise heroes and epic concepts of old for a new audience – perhaps in an effort to give movie audiences a new hero from old that can be depended upon to roll out a whole series of movies. Sadly, for Huston’s Judah Ben-Hur, this does not look likely to be on the cards.
The original Ben-Hur broke new ground and won awards – this retelling of the original story is smattered with awkward dialogue that does little to inspire enjoyment and instead allows the admittedly talented cast to flounder around in set pieces and bland movements in the story. Ben-Hur is, ultimately, bland – and this has been picked up on in a big way by the vast majority of critics watching the movie. This is a Christian tale that is largely told in such a muddled and manufactured fashion that it’s hard to take too seriously. This is the downfall here – it seems to be a story that has been retold for the sake of it, and instead of inspiring people to get behind its main cast of characters, it rather peters out, plodding along and letting the story fulfil its own prophecy of simply having to finish. It’s not the most entertaining of watches by any means.
Ben-Hur - Official Trailer (Paramount Pictures)
The movie generally looks rather good and there is genuine directorial effort here, but there is so little to say about Ben-Hur coming away from it that it bears wonder as to why it was ever considered fair play for modern audiences. This is a classic tale that is given little in the way of drama or new twists on familiar characters, and is therefore little more than uninspiring – and while some of the visuals and staging work a little in its favour, there is still an overriding blandness and artificiality that betray its need to be loved. There are attempts at spectacle and there is clear effort on show from all angles – but, similarly to The Legend of Tarzan, they just don’t add up to a particularly appealing whole. Ben-Hur is, again like Tarzan, a foregone conclusion. It is not entirely clear why such a tale got the Hollywood remake treatment – and it is also unclear as to why so much belief in its ability to ride the crest of the summer blockbuster wave was ushered in on such a haphazard product.
Ben-Hur is by no means awful, but it certainly isn’t a movie that can be considered either noteworthy or even worthy of viewing more than once. While it’s not clear who the target audience may be, it’s unlikely that anyone who enjoys historical action and all-out mayhem will find much to cling onto here. It’s by no means an out-and-out spectacle in the poor quality Gods of Egypt was let out as, but for a movie that clearly wanted to be the big summer blockbuster so badly, it will be more than humbling for the studio and all involved to try and understand why there’s little more going on here than actors trying to earn a paycheck. Should an outright ban be placed on remakes, reboots and re-imaginings of classic characters? Box office money says no – and the sheer spectacle agrees – but if dull, lifeless attempts at high action such as Ben-Hur seep into cinemas every other weekend, we may be at risk of fatigue.