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Movie Review: Ben-Hur

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Winner of eleven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Ben-Hur is widely considered one of the greatest films of all time. Combining powerful acting performances, unique set design, colorful costumes, and unrivaled visual effects for its day, Ben-Hur is a pleasure to watch. Like Lawrence Of Arabia, it's one of those rare films from yesteryear which remains a top-tier film to this day. The film itself doesn't seem old, nor do the special effects look amateurish. If you enjoy classic films like Spartacus, Cleopatra, or Casablanca, then Ben-Hur is a definite must-see for your list. Like Gladiator, Ben-Hur manages to bring the Roman Empire into vivid display on the big screen.

Charlton Heston plays the title role of Judah Ben-Hur, an Israelite prince during the reign of Tiberius. Young and wealthy, Ben-Hur enjoys the finer aspects of life in the era of Pax Romana. When his old friend Messala (Stephen Boyd) arrives in Jerusalem to serve as the Roman Governor, the two are reunited and enjoy each other's company. However, the two quickly find that their political views have created divisions between them, and when a brick falls from the house of Ben-Hur during a parade (almost killing Messala), Ben-Hur and his family face the wrath of the Roman governor.

Intent on sending a message to the Jews that he will have zero tolerance for rebellious behavior, Messala jails Ben-Hur's mother and sister and sells Ben-Hur into slavery. As Ben-Hur is taken away from his native land, he plots his escape and eventual return to exact vengeance on his sworn enemy. Ben-Hur's arrival in Jerusalem coincides with the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth.

Charlton Heston makes quite an impression in his title role of Ben-Hur, following up well on the heels of his mesmerizing performance as Moses in the equally successful film, The Ten Commandments. Heston's resounding voice bodes well for hero characters pulled from the myths of ancient times. His larger-than-life persona conjures images of Arnold Schwarzenegger, but without the accent. Heston's performance is complimented by a series of action sequences which set the tone for its designation as an epic film. One such series involves a battle between the slave ship on which Ben-Hur resides and another ship which attacks it. The other, and most memorable, scene from the film is when Ben-Hur engages Messala in a chariot race (even if you haven't seen the movie, you've probably seen this part).

Overall, Ben-Hur lives up to its hype as an Oscar Award-winning blockbuster (it still holds the record for most Academy Awards, although the record has since been tied). However, the film itself is beginning to show its age in that modern epics such as Gladiator are far better in terms of entertainment value. The length of Ben-Hur is probably an hour to an hour-and-a-half longer than it should be. The plot can be slow and droning at times. Nevertheless, Ben-Hur remains a Hollywood classic.

Britt's Rating: 8.9/10

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About Britt Gillette

  • Jaime Pimentel Oliveira

    Ben-Hur, with Charlton Heston was, in my opinion, and considering its time, the very best film ever made.
    It had an enourmous influence on me, when I saw it for the first time in 1962. It countains everything; one of the best directors, a marvelous cast and a wonderfull scenery. The message it transmits is fabulous; the love for a familly and for the real friends. A great sense of justice which gives the character the hope and the will to fight against adversities of life till the end.
    Charlton Heston, with the role of his life, in my opinior, from which he received an oscar, became for me at the time the hero of the screen. During the years I have been admiring his great work on the sreen and also as a writer. His autobiography “In the Arena” is one of the best books we can read.
    I am entirely thankful for his answers to my letters and I wish him all the best and hope God to provide him and his familly the strengh they always had.
    Jaime Pimentel Oliveira