Friday, April 11, 2008

Ben Hur

It seems like bad form to criticize a man's peak performance so closely after his death. I didn't plan it that way; the disc was already on its way back to Netflix when the news hit. And I know if I don't write down my thoughts now I'll have promptly forgot them a month from now. So, um, sorry for the bad timing?

Bun Hur is a widely recognized classic. It won like a bajillion Academy Awards in 1960 (more specifically, 14), including Best Actor for Mr. Heston. But let me tell you, it has not aged well. The legendary chariot scene holds up, but the rest is… meh. The characters are paper thin, Charlton Heston is the super cheese, the naval combat scene is laughably bad, and the whole thing is long and pretentious. The only reason to watch Ben Hur is to check it off your list of "movies I'm supposed to see for historical significance." But your time is really better spent doing anything else.

The film labels itself as "a tale of the Christ." It's not; it's a tale of revenge, with a bit of Jesus bolted on after the real climax of the movie. For part of the movie I thought they were going to handle the Christ thing well. I seemed like they were going to subtly interweave the story of Jesus with Ben Hur's story to give more context to both. It could have been really thoughtful and classy. But all that goes out the window when Jesus' death is met with stormy weather and instantly healed lepers across the land. The whole thing would have been much more interesting if there was a chance Biblical connection that was a side note in the life of Jesus (healing lepers 'n stuff) but huge for Ben Hur. But this is not a movie of subtlety. It's a big mess of dress up (how do those Romans get their whites so white?) and play acting. Skip it.

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