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HUR HOUSE — The remake of the Charlton Heston classic, “Ben-Hur,” rides into theaters this weekend, but is the updated version worth your time?
The original “Ben-Hur” won 11 Academy Awards upon its release, including best picture. That’s a tall order for a remake, but MGM and Paramount thought it was something they could handle. When the dust settles and the horses are back in their stables, however, the 2016 version of “Ben-Hur” will not be remembered like its 1959 forefather.
That’s not to say that this new “Ben-Hur” is all bad. In fact, it has some really spectacular moments, but all in all, it’s just OK. The best way I can explain it is like this: When I saw the screening for this film pop up in my email, my thought was, “Oh yeah, they made another ‘Ben-Hur.’ " I feel the film itself will be remembered much the same way.
Here’s what I really liked about “Ben-Hur” and what left me wanting:
What isn't good:
The first 20 minutes
It’s really hard to explain, but the first 20 to 30 minutes move really slowly and it’s hard to get interested. The story is interesting, as we all know, but it’s hard to get interested in it as it unfolds. In that first bit, “Ben-Hur” feels like an expensive made-for-TV movie with forced dialogue and clichés around every corner.
I know I’m being a little harsh, but based off the first 30 minutes or so, I really did not think I was going to like this movie.
The last 10 minutes (possible spoilers)
“Ben-Hur” had an opportunity to end on a note that may have been a little sour, but it would have really driven the rest of the film home. Instead, they went for a nicely wrapped Christmas present and it kind of ruined a lot of what it had going for it.
I don’t want to ruin anything for those who will see the film, but suffice it to say that sometimes tragedy carries more emotion and should be allowed to play out.
The tone seems to shift quite often throughout the movie’s 124-minute runtime and feels like it doesn’t know what it wants to be. At times, it wants to be a period epic along the lines of “Gladiator,” but then wants to shift gears and become a faith-based film. Then, it tries to be a period piece with modern-day twists, and then goes back to the “Gladiator” feel. It gets confusing and awkward and manages to jarringly pull the audience out of the world they’ve built.
What is good:
“Ben-Hur” may be a well-known and often duplicated story, but it’s duplicated because it’s interesting. A story filled with love, loss, action, revenge, despair and hope is hard to get wrong. The story, even though slow at the start, kept me interested and intrigued. It may be predictable, even for those who have never seen the original or read the book, but it’s still enjoyable enough.
There are several areas that “Ben-Hur” really falls flat, but the action is not one of them. Director Timbur Bekmambetov really immerses us into the mayhem and truly saved the film with these scenes. Two in particular — involving a slave ship and the famed chariot race — are really impressive and almost worth the price of admission.
When the 2016 “Ben-Hur” is referred to as a spectacle, these scenes are why. They are grand, mesmerizing and brilliantly choreographed. Again, for me, these are the highlights of the film.
While I had fun with a good amount of the movie and stayed well enough engaged, it’s not a great film and it makes you wonder why the decision was made to remake the classic in the first place. While the film was passable, it also feels very unnecessary.
I won’t be taking anyone to the theater to see it, but when it pops up on Netflix, I’ll likely sit down to give it another go.
“Ben-Hur” is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and disturbing images.