436 of 454 people found the following review helpful
A Biblical masterpiece,
This review is from: Ben-Hur (Four-Disc Collector's Edition) (DVD)
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. Amazon.com 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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Showing 1-10 of 15 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 29, 2009 8:59:39 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 29, 2009 9:03:20 AM PST
D. Briny Deep says:
In reply to an earlier post on Feb 28, 2010 5:04:29 PM PST
Barry 46 Hoskings says:
To D. Briny Deep: Sheez, another self-serving "I am so stupid for screwing up I thought I'd take it out on a five star four year old movie review instead of asking Amazon if they'd maybe overlook my stupidity and still exchange it". Try growing up and acting like an adult first before you slam any more innocent bystanders.
Posted on Sep 20, 2010 9:31:19 AM PDT
Charles M. Strnad says:
Good job reviewing a movie that is probably not new to anyone, and rightfully considered one of the best movies of all time.
The scenes involving Christ (in the 1959 version) are examples of thoughtful, and profoundly masterful moviemaking. We never see the face of Christ, but we see the faces of many other human beings as THEY beheld His face. And their reactions to His presence, from the shamed looked on the Roman officer's face (as Juda is being led to the galley ships, when Christ gives him water to drink), to the recognition in Juda's face, as he sees Christ again, as He carries His cross to Calvary, to the look of knowing adoration on Esther's face, at the crucifixion scene- are simply perfect, both for their simplicity (no dialogue even needed) as well as their spiritual power. A 5 second shot of the dead Christ hanging from the Cross, with the camera angled upwards from below His feet, with torrents of rain falling against a blackened mid-day sky, is perhaps the single most moving depiction of that moment I've seen, in any art form.
As of 2010, 51 years after it's release, "Ben Hur" still resonates with a unique power and meaning. A timeless classic, and a very fine review, too.
In reply to an earlier post on Sep 13, 2011 6:13:59 PM PDT
I could not have describe the epic scenes of Christ any better Charles M. Decades later this movie still resonates with hunger for Jesus Christ,very powerful and spiritually uplifting,a majestic masterpiece!!!!!!!
Posted on Sep 30, 2011 2:03:51 PM PDT
Kathryn A. Matheny says:
Posted on Oct 1, 2011 10:56:28 PM PDT
In reply to an earlier post on Oct 4, 2011 11:58:10 AM PDT
D. Allen says:
You need only read the Title subscript, "A Tale of the Christ" before you trash a Hollywood masterpiece!
In reply to an earlier post on Oct 9, 2011 1:37:24 PM PDT
Nick R says:
Uh hello, it was never meant to be a documentary.
In reply to an earlier post on Nov 6, 2011 10:23:11 AM PST
Ron Hardcastle says:
Simply contact the home video department of the studio that released the film. Most of these departments are very accommodating. Like you, I often go long stretches without watching movies I have purchased, and had to contact the studio rather than Deep Discount (my usual retailer) or Amazon. (I presently own over 4,000 DVDs and 150 Blu-rays, but am TRYING not to re-buy all my favorite DVDs as they are released in Blu-ray!!!) Good luck.
In reply to an earlier post on Feb 27, 2012 3:24:24 PM PST
[Deleted by the author on Feb 27, 2012 3:26:39 PM PST]