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4.8 out of 5 stars
Ben-Hur (50th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition) [Blu-ray]
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433 of 451 people found the following review helpful
William Wyler's Oscar-winning BEN-HUR (1959), produced by Sam Zimbalist (who died of a heart attack near the end of filming) and based on a best-selling late 19th Century novel by Lew Wallace, is one hell of a movie experience. Watching a brand-new, pristine camera negative copy, I could not believe that the opening Nativity scene and the Resurrection finale were the same movie. There is just so much here. This remake of the 1925 silent epic, runs 3 hours and 45 minutes, including powerful roadshow bookend music by Miklos Rozsa. It takes its leisurely time in telling the story of a Jew (Charlton Heston) and a Roman (Stephen Boyd), raised as best friends, who become bitter enemies in the Holy Land of Jesus Christ's life. Director Wyler was always known as a painstaking perfectionist who would exhaust cast and crew by doing take after take after take of every scene. But the result for the audience is enthralling.

Wyler had never made a Biblical epic before and wanted to work in every genre; his BEN-HUR is the one with a literate brain. It is hard to believe it had major writing problems, multiple writers, and scenes written the night before they would be filmed. It flows beautifully and is continually engrossing, despite its near four hour length. The cast is impeccable, including Martha Scott, Cathy O'Donnell, Jack Hawkins, lovely Haya Harareet, and Oscar winner Hugh Griffith.

If you are looking for the sea battle (directed by Andrew Marton), it is about 70 minutes into part one. If you are seeking out the greatest chariot race in movie history (choreographed and directed by Yakima Canutt), it is about ten minutes after the intermission. The Christ scenes are handled with taste and subtlety; we see only his back or his hand and never hear his voice. In fact, non-Christians might have a difficult time understanding what is going on in those scenes with Jesus, including an impressive Sermon on the Mount near the movie's end. The art direction and costumes are absolutely gorgeous, and Robert Surtees' use of ultra wide-screen Camera 65 is masterful. Most of all, Miklos Rozsa contributes the music score of a lifetime. Everyone won Oscars for their distinguished work. No wonder this BEN-HUR won eleven Oscars the same year as SOME LIKE IT HOT, NORTH BY NORTHWEST, and ANATOMY OF A MURDER. It is a masterpiece. The audio commentary, by scholar and author Gene Hatcher and Mr. Heston, is thoughtful and insightful.

The 1925 silent version, starring Ramon Novarro as Ben-Hur and Francis X. Bushman as Messala, is on disk three of the new and magnificent four disk set. In some ways it is even more impressive than the remake. Novarro and Bushman give performances of a lifetime, the 143 minute length is a good 75 minutes shorter than the 1959 version, the color tinting is very beautiful, the sea battle and chariot race are sensationally good by any standards, and the silent version has far more Jesus Christ scenes and in two-color Technicolor. Carl Davis' orchestra score is outstanding, as always.

The disk four bonuses include two major documentaries, one for the 1994 tape version and one brand-new for this 2005 DVD restoration. We also get "BEN-HUR: A JOURNEY THROUGH PICTURES", several 1959 movie theatrical trailers, and a gallery of vintage newsreels heralding the arrival and covering the premiere of the lavish remake in 1959. This $40 DVD set is a work of art and deserves a place in every library, even if it takes you a while to see all four disks of material. has it for $30, not much more than the cost of a family of four going out to a new movie at night. With both the 1925 and 1959 versions included in flawless prints, this DVD set gets my highest recommendation.
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223 of 239 people found the following review helpful
I WOULD GIVE THIS RELEASE 10 STARS if Amazon allowed me to!

Ben-Hur is one of my all time favorite films. It is probably the single greatest performance ever given by Charlton Heston and the greatest epic ever filmed until the Lord of the Rings trilogy came along but still it holds it's head high and remains a timeless classic, just as good as it ever was, maybe better today!

Much has been written about the film itself, so my review will just cover the actual Blu Ray presentation and the included extras.

Many sets have been released with much ballyhoo and assorted trinkets and swag included in the box. Much of it is useless stuff you look at once, then put away and never see again. This is NOT the case with the Ben-Hur boxed set. Everything you get in this box set is of high quality and compliments the film itself. Speaking of the box itself, it is a very VERY nice embossed keepsake box that is protected by an outer covering and when opened reveals the film along with two books. The three included discs are housed in a nice glossy fold out container with full color high quality printed photographs both inside and outside. The presentation is gorgeous, a real head turner.

You get the film, Ben-Hur spread over two BD 50GB discs for maximum quality and zero compression artifacts and presented in it's original aspect ratio of 2.76:1. This is basically the widest of the wide screen formats, filmed in luscious 70mm with 65mm used for picture information and the remaining 5% used for the original 6 track magnetic soundtrack. Ben-Hur was painstakingly restored, in fact it took them so much time that the actual 50th Anniversary of Ben-Hur was missed by a few years in order to provide us with the BEST picture and sound possible. Yes, we have all heard those words before, but in this case it is REALLY true!

I have owned Ben-Hur on VHS and then all the various DVD releases. It has always lacked in the video quality department and I am happy to say that is no longer the case. This Blu Ray release of Ben-Hur gives us Bold and Crisp NATURAL color (NO TEAL tint anyway in sight), NO signs of DNR, NO signs of edge enhancement , beautifully lush and focused cinematography that may even perhaps afford the home theater enthusiast with a better visual presentation than most theater goers got back in 1959.

It is a 1959 film to be sure, but is is ALSO reference quality in every sense of the word. This is what REAL film looks like, no digital enhanced crapola! This is a beautifully filmed epic and the Blu Ray transfer faithfully represents the finished product from 1959, looking more like something filmed recently. The investment in both money and time by Warner Home Video was well worth it, showing all of us what Blu Ray releases COULD look like, if the proper care was shown prepping and transferring the original film elements.

The time and money spent on restoring and rescanning Ben-Hur is obvious from the very beginning of the film. The resulting transfer is a singular achievement in home video entertainment. I have only a few negatives to mention, namely a few places that exhibit 'jump cuts' where a very small number of frames in a scene are missing or were damaged beyond repair and needed to be discarded to keep from spoiling the mostly pristine look of the rest of the film. At one point during the start of the big race I noticed a few white blips or print tear marks and an actual hair on the left side of the screen. I thought I imagined it so I went back and watched in slow motion. Yeah, they were there alright, but they were gone very quickly, never to return. Luckily the audio does NOT suffer in these instances and there are very few OF them. This is NOT a transfer that in any way requires an apology (such as The Godfather, pt.1) or needs to be prefaced by saying "It looks good for the films age". This IS a classic film from the tail end of Hollywood's Golden age, and as such has the look of a classic film. The color timing and lighting choices, the types of special effects used (no CGI back then) and the sometimes very noticeable dialogue looping are all byproducts of the way films were made then. I guess what I am trying to say is this is NOT 100% perfect, but then again, no film is or ever was. The only way Ben-Hur could look any better is to print this new scan at it's full resolution and then project it the old fashioned way.

Even with a few missing frames I easily give Ben-Hur on Blu Ray 10 stars for the video quality alone!!!!
As a nice bonus this disc is NOT Java encumbered and as such your 'disc resume' feature WILL work, which is a boon for a title of this length if you can't sit still for the entire run time and need a few breaks.

The audio is pretty much just as great as the picture. Presented in DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 , this might be the very best Ben-Hur has EVER sounded, then or now. Nothing gimmicky about the surrounds, the dialogue is perfectly rendered, no clicks, pops or blatant flaws, no screechy sounding music. During the big race the crowd sound effects coming from my rear surrounds were distorted a bit. This might have been how they were originally recorded but as the race progresses some elements of the audio mix suffer a bit, the louder things get, the more certain sounds break up. It isn't my system, I can blast the LOTR trilogy with no ill effects. You need a good ear and decent speakers to notice this, but for those that are picky I will admit that it is there.

Also, for those with 'Golden Ears' you WILL hear the occasional hiss that the digital noise reduction didn't get rid of and you will also hear a bit of low frequency hum and rumble at times which sounds mechanical in nature to me but it is on the track and on the disc. Most people will never notice it, but I tend to watch and listen with critical eyes and ears the first time around. All in all it is simply a stunning job of remixing and remastering the original magnetic sound elements. Put this together with almost perfectly restored picture quality and you have an epic presentation of an epic film. The good far outweighs the bad in regards to the sound.

The Bonus features are superlative. A keepsake quality book of glossy production photographs, an exact reproduction of Charlton Heston's personal production diary, two full length documentaries, screen tests, original movie trailers, a wonderful 'Music Only' track that highlights Miklos Rozsa's beautiful Oscar wining score , Newsreel footage and even Oscar Highlights from 1960 when Ben-Hur swept the awards with a record 11 Oscars, not topped EVER and not equaled until Titanic and then Lord of the Rings. Add to all this the original Silent version of Ben-Hur from 1925 and you have enough bonus features to fill all the chariots in the big race.

This Ben-Hur Boxed set totally exceeded any and all my highest expectations. The best presentation imaginable for one of the best films ever made. Ben-Hur (50th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition) is a MUST OWN for all classic film lovers and fans of Charlton Heston. I think it is THE BEST Blu Ray release of this year, easily outshining Star Wars and even the LOTR trilogy. I cannot recommend it highly enough!

WORD OF WARNING!!(contains spoilers)---- Make sure you hit the STOP button on your Blu Ray player IMMEDIATELY following the "The End" title card , otherwise you will be inexplicably treated to a censors approval screen from India and then directly into the FBI threatening to put you in prison if you bootleg or share your discs. It REALLY spoiled the mood I was in after such a wonderful movie and just a beautiful ending. Judah Ben-Hur has his Mother and Sister back and Leprosy free, he got the girl, Masala was ripped apart and Judah Ben-Hur has just been converted to Christianity by Jesus (In Person!!), The music swells to a crescendo and it says "The End" .. Great! Then less than 10 seconds later you get this other weird stuff and I can't for the life of me figure out how this got past the disc authoring stage and onto my disc! GRRR! ANYWAY, you might wish to avoid that mood killer by remembering to hit STOP as soon as the end title card fades out. Like Gilda Radner liked to say, "It's always SOMETHIN'" !!
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99 of 107 people found the following review helpful
on March 9, 2012
Great movie. My primary concern when I ordered was the movie would be cropped to 1.77:1. Based on information from other sources, I took a chance. Fortunately, the product details above are wrong. The back cover says the aspect ratio is 2.76:1, not 1.77:1. On my TV, it measures out around 2.65:1. It looks like this is discs 1 & 2 from the Ultimate Edition, so if you can forgo the books, nice case, and the special features on disc 3, this is a low cost alternative.
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129 of 145 people found the following review helpful
This film when it was released in 1959 saw it's studio MGM teetering on the edge of bankruptcy and the fact that this film cost in 1958 close to $15 Million dollars was most assuredly a make or break film for the studio.
William Wyler the film's director, in order to make this film unique as if a running time close to four hours was not enough, filmed it in an aspect ratio of 2.76:1 using what was called MGM Camera 65, an Ultra Panavision process.
This film was one of only two films that were filmed in that process which is the widest of processes used in film to date.
Filmed utilizing 8000 extras, 300 sets, and over 100,000 costume changes this film epitomizes the word grand and released a few years after the Ten Commandments, it helped quench the public thirst for Biblical films.
This new DVD release is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and the LFE channel(Low Frequency Effects) is apparent on two standout scenes, the Sea Battle scene, and the now infamous chariot scene which last close to 11 minutes.
There are quite a few special features on this DVD release most of which appear on side two of this disc including a documentary, Ben Hur: The Making Of An Epic, which is just under an hour long.
There was an open casting call for the lead role in this film and they have included on this DVD the original screen tests by Leslie Nielsen, and Cesare Danova which are interesting to see even though the quality of the audio and video are not up to the level of the film itself.
Also included are storyboard art and posters as well as film biographies of the cast with pictures of them in character from the film.
Overall this film is an incredible piece of work and presented in it's original aspect ratio with the enhanced sound combines to make an experience that should not be missed.
This film on the small screen does lose a little bit of it's lustre especially if your television is under 27 inches in size but this film begs to be seen in it's broad presentation, so even if you would normally shy away from widescreen presentations, this is the only way to view this film in my honest opinion.
On a rating scale of Bronze to Platinum...This film receives my highest rating.....Platinum!!!! Run don't walk to pick this DVD up!!!
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
OK, let me get my review of the film itself out of the way first. FLAWLESS in every aspect!!!! You just don't see films like this anymore. Enough said.

Now I will get down to the specifics of this Blu-ray edition:

Outer Box:
About the same size as Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind collections. You slide the slipcover off to reveal a GORGEOUS black box with the title in bronzed bas relief on the top. This is not a flip up case like Wiz and Gone, but a box with a removable lid. The artwork of the title is truly beautiful. It looks like bronze with the statues from the arena of the big chariot race bookending the title BEN HUR. You immediately get the feeling that what you're holding in your hands is something of high quality.

Inside the Box:
Lift the lid off the box and you see the hardcover book with a black ribbon underneath to help lift it out of the box. The book also has the title in bronzed raised text with a wonderful picture of Heston in the iconic chariot race. The book itself is filled with gorgeous quality images where the colors just pop off the page. The gold background on some of the pages adds a touch of class to this book.

The Discs:
The three Blu-ray discs are housed in a very study try-fold disc holder that is very similar to that used in the recent Taxi Driver Blu-ray. Each disc is very sparse in its presentation. The background of the try-fold is a color image of Heston in the chariot race. The discs themselves are very classy with solid black and the text on the discs in a dusty gold. Nothing flashy here, which adds to the ambience of class that oozes from this set. What's on the discs is just breathtaking. Warner Bros. has outdone themselves with the restoration of Ben Hur on Blu-ray. The image is so crisp and clear that I noticed things in the far distance of some scenes that I had never noticed before. e.g.) In the opening of the film when we see a Roman garrison walking across the landscape, I now notice a tiny line of red capes in the far distance moving. I have never seen them before, because I never saw the red robes that are easy to spot now. While Blu-ray could easily hold the full content of this epic on one disc, it was a wise decision to spread it over two discs. Thus allowing the film to be presented in the most pristine image and sound ever!! The bonus disc has the original silent version of the film, along with tons of extras. One of the new extras is a documentary of Heston as he was filming Ben Hur. This documentary is worth the purchase alone. The Heston family has allowed the inclusion of family films and pictures, which really present Heston as a truly loving family man. While the silent version does not seem to have received any major restoration, it is still an upgrade to the image of the previous DVD version.

Heston Journal:
Have you ever bought a collector's edition of a movie and thought, "Why would they include this in the box???" There are no cheap chachkis here. I really wasn't really enthused about this journal, until I actually read it. First of all the journal is a beautiful reproduction of Heston's personal daily journal as he worked on this film. It opens with an introduction from his son Fraser, and then you turn the page and see Heston's personal daily journal pages that have been reproduced so that you actually feel like you're looking at the real thing. The hardcover is designed to look like a stitched leather journal with the bas-relief image of one of the arena statues from the chariot races on the cover. The name Charlton Heston is stamped in gold at the bottom. it is really interesting to see what Heston was thinking on a daily basis of filming one of the greatest films of all time. There are some reproductions of photos, tickets, and other items that are actually taped into the journal to make it seem more realistic. At the end of the journal, we are presented with some personal photos showing Heston with his family around Rome and the movie set. The last image of him walking away on the ancient streets of Rome dressed in a suit while holding his sons hand who happens to be dressed in Roman soldier garb is truly touching. To my surprise, we are also treated to some of Heston's sketches from the movie set. I had no idea he was such an artist! Finally, the journal closes with a brief biography of Heston. This journal is captivating, and engaging to read. What a wonderful extra to put in this collection. No collectible watches, no stacks of cheaply produced post cards, just simple memorabilia of this historic film.

I previously had the 4-disc collector's edition DVD, and I was quite happy with it. However, seeing the love and attention that Warner Bros. has put into this edition, I can strongly urge you to upgrade to this new Blu-ray edition. The sound and image is better than you've ever seen before, and the extra items in the box are well worth keeping. Oh, and did I mention you can get all of this for a fraction of the price you may have paid for previous collector's editions??? This is a no-brainer.......Add it to your cart right now!!
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon November 10, 2004
With the record number of Oscars won by the William Wyler 1959 version of BEN-HUR, there is a tendency to overlook the monumental 1925 production, which established MGM as a studio to be reckoned with. Well, if you've never seen the earlier version, you may be in for a is as enjoyable in nearly every way!

Certainly, some of the performances (particularly Francis X. Bushman's scenery-chewing Messala) are cartoonish, the film lacks the widescreen splendor and scope of it's successor, and the 'Wyler Touch', the infinite care the legendary director poured over every detail, is sorely missed. But the 1925 production, beset by so many problems that it became the most expensive film ever made, brought new production head Irving Thalberg into the limelight, and his first decision was brilliant, firing the current director, and bringing in veteran director Fred Niblo to take charge. Niblo brought an energy and sense of intimacy to the silent "Ben-Hur" that is actually often lacking in the later version. The finished film, as a whole, is far closer in spirit to General Lew Wallace's novel, and young leading man Ramon Novarro (with a sexy intensity reminiscent of Tyrone Power), makes a far more charismatic and sympathetic Ben-Hur than Charlton Heston's more iconic portrayal.

The 1959 version is remembered today primarily for the chariot race, one of the most spectacular action sequences ever filmed. But what of the other 'set piece', the gigantic sea battle between the Roman and pirate fleets? The scene is patently artificial, obviously comprised of model ships in a tank and rear projections (watch the tiny toy seamen jiggle as ships collide!) The 1925 version's chariot race is fast-paced and certainly exciting, and the sea battle is astonishing, using full-sized ships and hundreds of extras (shot in Italy, where an actual fire broke out on the ships during the battle...the extras' panic onscreen was NOT acting...)

With an early two-strip Technicolor to emphasize key scenes (the Nativity, the new Roman Consul's arrival in Jerusalem...yes, those ARE topless women leading the procession!), and a wonderful, stirring new musical score by Carl Davis, Fred Niblo's BEN-HUR is a treasure, a film certainly worthy to stand beside the 1959 version!
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on September 16, 1999
I first saw this l926 classic at the old Regency Theater in Manhattan during the late eighties and never forgot how at the end, the entire packed theater stood up and screamed and cheered and stomped the floor for at least fifteen minutes. A live symphony orchestra provided the powerful music and on the big screen, the magnificent, restored version simply blew everyone away. It was easy to imagine its initial impact on Jazz Age audiences. Ramon Navarro gives the role of a lifetime. May McAvoy, whose career was destroyed by the "talkies", is perfect and beautiful. Even now, I get goose-bumps when I remember how everyone in the theater that night all shared a powerful, never-to-be-forgotten experience. And when I looked around, everyone was weeping just as much as myself. Oh, just to see other forgotten classics of the silent screen as they were meant to be seen: crystal clear, beautifully restored and with a live, symphonic orchestra. Instead, we have ear-blasting garbage like "Armageddon" and "Godzilla."
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on August 28, 2006
This 4-disc set is loaded with extras including the 1925 silent version, but the real bonus is the flawless new transfer of what is definitely one of the best motion pictures ever made. By going back to original 65mm materials, the picture quality is simply stunning revealing color depth and a contrast range never before seen in any of the previous tape, laser disc or DVD versions. The subtlety and mastery that earned Robert Surtees ASC the academy award for best cinematography is clearly revealed in every frame of this bench mark film. If you ever have the opportunity of seeing a 70mm print of this film on a huge screen; jump at the chance! Until then, this new DVD version is a terrific alternative. There are movies and there are motion pictures; William Wyler's production of Ben-Hur defines the term "motion picture."
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Although it has its failings--most notably a very "grand manner" performance by Francis X. Bushman as Messala--this silent epic holds up extremely well, and viewers familiar with only the later Heston version will be amazed at how much the remake borrowed (sometimes shot for shot) from the original. This is particularly true of the famous chariot race scene, of which the sound version offers a rather tame version in comparison.
Bushman aside (it would be his last major film), and with a few exceptions in various scenes scattered through the movie, the cast generally plays with considerable restraint; consequently, BEN-HUR is a silent movie very accessible to those who have had little experience with silent film. Ramon Navorro is particularly effective in the title role, and unlike the remake gives us a youthful, handsome, and curiously innocent portrait of Juda Ben-Hur. The sets and big-scale action sequences are expertly done. An excellent choice for a silent-movie fan or any one looking to begin an exploration of this period in cinema.
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31 of 36 people found the following review helpful
I have been waiting for Ben-Hur on Blu ray for a long time and there have been many various versions ranging from $35 version to ultimate collectors edition for $60. When I saw this for $14, I immediately ordered it (now it is just $10.99 when I wrote the review; I guess I should have waited for another week).

Blu ray transfer is excellent. Picture and sound quality could not have been possibly better. They really did a great job with restoring this masterpiece. This movie is a must-have for all fans. It's hard to believe this movie was made in 1959. The final chariot race scene is amazing even in today's standard. Film making at its best.

If you don't want to spend $35 or $60, I highly recommend this cheaper edition as you will still get the best out of Blu ray.
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