Judah Ben-Hur is a pacifist prince in a Jerusalem being overtaken by Rome, until his adopted Roman brother, Messala, returns from the wars and falsely accuses Judah of treason. After 5 years as a galley slave, a shipwreck and chance meeting with a chariot racing team in town for the opening of the new ‘circus’ (arena) gives Judah a chance for revenge.
I’d suggest that the trailers for Ben-Hur have been quite clever in ramping up the action – that shipwreck, the iconic chariot race – and yet utterly fails to mention to the unwary that this is, in fact, something of a religious movie. Because there happens to be a local carpenter in the area, telling anyone who’ll listen that “love is the way”…! I wonder if this is the reason so many reviews are so dire?!
But then, the movie offers plenty of reasons to rate poorly anyway. The CGI is rather obvious, as is the tale of redemption being played out. That said, the action and tension are reasonably well handled – right up until the preachy last act, sort of glued on after that chariot race.
Ah yes, the chariot race. It starts well, but to be honest the tension just didn’t last for me as it kept going. The necessary speed of the thing goes from ‘wow’ to ‘wait, did it finish?’. It doesn’t help that the CGI is quite in your face, nor the knowledge that the 1959 version is one of the classic scenes of cinema, ever – and was pretty much just done for real. This? Meh, in comparison.
Overall, though, it wasn’t actually as dire as I’d feared. I do like Roman history – even if it is horrendously brutal (more in suggestion than gore on screen, right enough, but still a bit of a shock for a 12A). Still, the story isn’t really presented as well as it could have been given the scope, alas, making the raison d’etre of the piece really just those two big action scenes. Hmm.
Released: 7th September 2016
Viewed: 9th September 2016
Running time: 125 minutes
Rated: 12A but quite gory and violent
My rating: 5/10