The recent Ben-Hur is the latest Blu-ray unleashed by Paramount Home Entertainment, with a December 13th, 2016 release.
Keith Clarke and John Ridley penned the screenplay for this historical epic.
The movie is the fifth film adaptation of the 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace.
The film was a box office failure in the United States, though it was more successful in international markets.
Ben-Hur the Movie
A Jewish nobleman, Judah Ben-Hur and his adopted Roman brother Messala are very close regardless of their different origins.
Despite the love of Ben-Hur’s mother Naomi and the affections of sister Tirzah, Messala feels out of place in his adopted family.
He enlists in the Roman army and leaves to fight in the Empire’s wars further north in Europe.
After three years, Messala returns to Jerusalem as a respected and decorated Roman officer.
Part of his role is to content with an uprising by the Zealots, who are opposed to the oppressive Roman rule.
Messala reunites with Ben-Hur and asks him to persuade the Jews to be peaceful and to inform on those that remain at odds with Rome.
However Judah treats and shelters a young Zealot named Dismas, who was injured in an attack on the Romans.
When Roman governor Pontius Pilate marches into Jerusalem, Dismas attempts to assassinate Pilate, but fails.
In retaliation, the Romans storm Ben-Hur’s household and arrest Judah and his family.
Ben-Hur takes responsibility for the assassination attempt and is sentenced to enslavement aboard a galley.
Can Judah escape his enslavement and return to save his family from the Romans?
Ben-Hur – My Thoughts
Ben-Hur is a reimagining of a well known story, perhaps most famously presented in the 1959 epic movie of the same name.
The question that comes to mind though, is why do a new version of the movie at this point in time?
Certainly it has been a few generations since that big screen adaptation, and many have not experienced the story.
It is pretty clear that the film makers wanted to do something different from the 1959 version.
In a number of ways they have gone back to the book for inspiration, but have also made some changes to make it more believable.
The key theme here is forgiveness, offering a different ending from the previous version.
Other more modern themes are overlaid over the original story, legitimizing a number of aspects of the story to modern audiences.
The Christ character plays a lot more of a role in the movie also, where in the prior version he was a peripheral character.
While the pacing is much faster than the 50’s epic, it is still a fairly simple story that drags in places.
On the plus side, the chariot race is extreme and full of energy.
Modern techniques and special effects immerse us into the action, making for a very exciting sequence.
Overall though for me it doesn’t save the movie, which plays like ‘Bible fan fiction’.
That said, fans of the story, particularly the book rather than the well known film, are more likely to enjoy this movie version.
Ben-Hur Cast, Crew and Performance
The cast includes Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell, Rodrigo Santoro, Nazanin Boniadi, Ayelet Zurer, Morgan Freeman, Haluk Bilginer and James Cosmo.
The film has a generally poor critical reception, with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 26%.
It did better in the public eye, earning an IMDb score of 5.7/10.
Ben-Hur had a troubled run in the cinema, taking in $26.4M at the US box office, though it went on to earn over $67M in international markets.
Ben-Hur on Blu-ray Disc
The video on the disc is an AVC 1080p encode at 28.5 Mbps, and is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.40:1.
The technical aspects of the film are very strong, with clean and clear visuals throughout.
This Blu-ray presentation looks great and the visual aspects of the film are conveyed well.
Find full resolution PNG screen captures taken directly from the disc at the details page for Ben-Hur.
The main audio is lossless 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio with 24-bits resolution at 48 kHz.
The disc is a dual layer BD50, with 47.1 GB used and is coded for All Regions.
Ben-Hur Blu-ray – The Bonus Features
There are quite a wealth of supplemental features on this Blu-ray edition for Ben-Hur.
Ben-Hur: The Legacy – 10:37
This featurette delves into the history of Ben-Hur, starting with the novel and the rich film history.
The original book was the best selling novel in 19th century America.
Of course the William Wyler version from 1959 is very well known for it’s success.
The Epic Cast – 12:10
The film makers talk about the casting decision for the film.
The actors get to weigh in on their characters and the other players as well.
The importance of the female voice in the story is also discussed.
A Tale for Our Times – 15:25
The telling of the Ben-Hur story in the 21st century is the focus of this featurette.
The cast and crew weigh in on Timor’s directorial techniques and inspirations.
The authenticity of the locations and actions are combined with modern film making techniques.
This is the best overall behind the scenes making-of featurette for the movie.
The Chariot Race – 10:37
The most epic scene in the film is the chariot race, and this segment goes into the techniques they used.
The race required 33 days of filming, and presented huge logistical challenges to the film makers.
The circus arena was built in close to full scale, and fully practical chariots were built.
A huge number of horses were also required, many trained to pull the chariots.
Deleted & Extended Scenes – 10:23
Deleted footage that didn’t make the final cut of the film is presented here.
There are seven scenes that were cut or are made available in extended versions.
Three music videos with songs from the film are presented, along with behind the scenes segments for two of them.
This release includes a DVD Copy for legacy players and an UltraViolet Digital Copy code that can also be used for iTunes.
Ben-Hur Blu-ray – Final Thoughts
Ben-Hur is a bit of a mixed bag in this re-imagining of the story, which will most likely appeal to fans of the original novel.
Paramount Home Entertainment has put together a technically strong presntation of the movie and a good collection of supplements for the film.
The retail price is $39.99, though you can get it at Amazon for $19.99, saving 50%!
Ben-Hur Blu-ray Extras:
- Ben-Hur: The Legacy
- The Epic Cast
- A Tale for Our Times
- The Chariot Race
- Deleted & Extended Scenes
- Music Videos
Ben-Hur Blu-ray Synopsis:
Fate and adventure collide in the “epic and awe-inspiring” (Mark S. Allen, ABC) story of Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston), a prince who is enslaved by the Romans after being betrayed by his adopted brother Messala (Toby Kebbell). Separated from his family and the woman he loves, Ben-Hur is rescued from near death by the mysterious Ilderim (Morgan Freeman). He returns to his homeland seeking revenge against his brother and an empire, but instead he finds a chance for redemption. This “powerful, action-packed film” (Annalisa Blanco, KDVR-TV FOX) is “an exhilarating must see!” (Emily Engberg, KSTP-TV ABC)