Last evening on TCM, I watched 'Ben-Hur' for the first time in a very long time, and I wanted to review it. It is considered one of the epic movies of all time. One aspect of the film which I overlooked when I had watched it as a boy, was the Christian element to it; as it was subtitled 'A Tale of the Christ'. "Ben-Hur" was apparently not based on a real historical figure, but the film was based on an very popular 1880 fictional novel by Govenor/General Lew Wallace of the same title and subtitle.
There had been a 1907 film and a 1925 film based on the novel, and with the same title and subtitle as well. With the upcoming remake, there will be four different film adaptations of the novel, as well as television and many stage adaptations going back over a century. This is one of those movies where a film buff could have a field day researching, including documentaries about it and of how it was made.
The movie opens just as Christ is born. It doesn't actually show it, but it implies it with powerful symbolism, including the Star of Bethlehem moving in the sky and illuminating the spot where he is born. Ben-Hur seems to be the same age as Jesus, and his life runs parallel to his in many ways. Then the film shoots forward twenty-six years as "XXVI" is then shown on the screen with Jerusalem in the background. At this point, the nation of Judea has been conquered by the Roman Empire.
Judah Ben-Hur, played by Charlton Heston, is a wealthy prince and merchant in Jerusalem. At this point his childhood friend Messala, who had joined up with the Romans, has just returned to Judea to rule it as Roman colonial governor. Initially, they are overjoyed to see each other again, and speak of old times... as they are from the same cultural background. However, this soon changes when they begin to speak of Roman colonization. Messala wants to use Ben-Hur to help him crush the rebellions. The heated conversations they have, in my opinion, are the same arguments that people have had from the dawn of mankind to the present day: "Is it okay to betray your people?" Obviously most people have answered "yes" to this question... sometimes even while wrapped up in a flag.
Both have become important young men now. Messala insists that "it's a Roman world now!," while Ben-Hur believes that the Judean nation should go back to being free and sovereign. Messala wants to crush the resistance, while Ben-Hur calls them "patriots." Although it would be much more practical and easy to join up with Messala, Ben-Hur will not give in as he stated that he believes in both the past and future of HIS people.
Eventually Messala finds a reason to lock up Ben-Hur, and he becomes a galley slave, rowing oars on Roman ships. I won't give the movie away, but just as there are parallels with Jesus and Ben-Hur, there is a long battle between Ben-Hur and Messala that takes many dramatic twists and turns. At one point, while being marched across the desert as a slave, the Roman guards will not allow him to drink. While face down on the sand, Jesus gives him water... and he connects with Jesus in a very dramatic way at the end, but I don't want to give it away.
The one scene which the film is best known for is "the chariot race scene," a dramatic sporting competition in Judea, of chariot riders from different Roman colonies; and of which Messala rides for Rome, while Ben-Hur competes for Judea. I wish I could give thoughts about the entire movie, but I won't... but I highly recommend it for anyone who has not seen it yet. Through much suffering, the ending is... to say the least.. special. The movie, espeically the ending, says a lot about love, character, faith, family, culture, and nation.
I thought some of the scenes from Rome, and even some from Jerusalem--especially at night with backgrounds--reminded me of how I perceive what ancient Etruria was like. Even some of the architecture seemed more Etruscan than Greek or Roman. Some of the grand movies of that time, which were based upon the ancient world, were starting to effectively use background imagery.. which I saw some of in 'Ben-Hur.' Also, for the naval battles, believable-looking miniature models were used. A lot of these and other artifacts are available for public viewing.
Ben-Hur is known for its cinematography, which included tremendous Roman pageantry... of which they retained for applicable scenes... without overdoing it. This was a movie with many dramatic ups and downs. There are a lot of dark scenes. The ending scene from Ben-Hur could be metaphorically tied to the scene in the 'Shawshank Redemption' where Andy Dufresne finally emerges from the sanitation pipe... except even better. There was a great cast, as well as many other remarkable aspects to the film, which you can see some of in the below link:
Ben-Hur (1959 film) [Wikipedia]
Ben-Hur is a 1959 American epic historical drama film set in ancient Rome, directed by William Wyler, produced by Sam Zimbalist and starring Charlton Heston, Stephen Boyd, Jack Hawkins, Hugh Griffith and Haya Harareet. It won a record 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, an accomplishment that was not equaled until Titanic in 1997 and then again by The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in 2003.
A remake of the 1925 silent film with the same name, Ben-Hur was adapted from Lew Wallace's 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. The screenplay is credited to Karl Tunberg but includes contributions from Maxwell Anderson, S. N. Behrman, Gore Vidal, and Christopher Fry. Ben-Hur had the largest budget and the largest sets built for any film produced. The nine-minute chariot race has become one of cinema's most famous sequences. The score composed by Miklós Rózsa was highly influential on cinema for more than 15 years, and is the longest ever composed for a film.