“The following is a guest post by The Silver Screen Mage.”
“First to finish, last to die”
Kicking off my third movie review with the 2016 remake of the 1959 epic, Ben-Hur. A film about love, betrayal, revenge, and redemption hits its climax when a Jewish prince, Judah, is falsely accused of an assassination attempt on the King. Betrayed by his adopted brother, Messala, and forced into slavery for life, Judah finds himself back in his hometown to find his lost family and return the payment of death to his brother who is the pride of Rome. But getting to his brother won’t be easy until he is given the opportunity to compete in a deadly chariot race against him. Will Judah win his freedom back, and give what is owed to his treacherous brother? It’s up to you to find out!
I say go watch it! For me, the movie has a lot of heart and substance. The plot really stirs you from within because you sincerely find yourself torn between the two brothers! One brother, Messala, becomes right hand to the Roman King, Pontius Pilate.
While the other brother, Judah, lives a life of peace while attempting to keep the peace with the Jews.
The lack of peace comes from the fact that Romans were innocently slaughtering Jews, and in rebellion the Jews were conjuring up a resistance group to take down as many Romans as possible. I love the internal conflict for both Judah (a Jew) and Messala (a Roman). Both want peace, but both are apart of a “people of rage”.
Deep down Messala, though he works for the Jew killing King, does not want to kill Jews. And deep down Judah is a man of peace, but has a resistance group killing Romans on his hands. This wouldn’t be an issue if Messala was not adopted as a child into the home of Jews. And Judah probably would not have this heart of innocence towards the Romans had his very brother not been a descendant of one. But that’s what gives this movie so much emotional power that sways the audience back and forth. If you haven’t noticed already, we have a Moses and Rameses story on our hands.
So Messala tells Judah that he needs him to keep the peace in Jerusalem while Pontius Pilate travels through the town. Judah does his best to help his brother, but can’t make any promises since there is an uncontrolled resistance at hand. The day of anticipation comes when Pontius Pilate walks through the town. One thing leads to another and we find ourselves in a situation where Messala must make an example of his brother and family in order to remain the pride of Rome. This is where the movie takes off flying at a mind-blowing speed and an altitude of sheer excellence. This is the moment in the movie where you say, “this is what I’ve been waiting for”. Judah is sentenced to life as a slave with the crime of treason on his record. The scene in which Judah is a slave on a battle ship is hands down the most epic moment of the film! You’ve got these filthy, sweaty, spirit-less men who are sentenced to the galleys and forced to chain themselves to the rowing benches. The detail, intensity, and absolute rawness of this scene is so unbelievably believable! Hands down my favorite part of the film.
Somehow, Judah finds himself in the hands of an African trader who sees Judah as a great investment because of his skills with horses. Unfortunately, Africa, which is the name the trader is called throughout the film, didn’t quite hit it home for me. His character seemed as if it was thrown in there in order to provide an easy gap filler between Judah being a slave and eventually getting his chance for revenge against his brother. It seemed as if he had no obstacles for any of the situations thrown at him.
For instance, Judah wants to join a chariot race in attempt to kill his brother. Africa has the horses and a chariot. In order to get into the race, a large sum of money is needed. Africa has that. Lastly, why is Africa allowed to be in the center island as a coach for Judah, yet no one else is there? You’ll see when you watch the film. I loved the idea of Africa (yes this is weird saying this word and not referring to a continent) but he didn’t make an impact like I hoped he would. I think with more back story to him he could have been better, but his portion of the film seemed a little rushed.
So then we get to the main event we’ve all been waiting for ever since we watched the trailer. THE CHARIOT RACE! This is when the quote of all quotes is released: “First to finish, last to die”.
Personally, I loved the quote and I think it went smooth with the chariot race. My only, tiny, baby issue was the fact that it appeared to only be a shared quote between Judah and Africa when it should have been the theme of the race itself. I wanted to hear everyone using it. I wanted it announced on a loud instrument right before they opened the gates for the race. But that amazing quote was selfishly kept between two people. Such a shame.
Anyway, back to the race. You’ve got a group of racers ready to embark on this near death experience, and it went really well. The anticipation, and build up went really smooth for me. I also liked that they jumped right into the race with very little rule background, or announcements. The chariot race easily becomes the second best scene in the entire movie. Very much like the slave-battle scene, the race doesn’t hold back with its graphic, violent, intense detail. You find yourself moved and wide eyed through it all. I dare anyone to go to the restroom during this scene. There’s no way! I loved it, loved it, loved it!
So one important part I wanted to mention was that this era in time is also shared with that of the Messiah Himself, Jesus Christ. This movie touches quite a bit on what was going on with Jesus as well. He jumps in for a few scenes and gets a pretty long scene toward the end when he is carrying the cross and being crucified. The reason Jesus is shown throughout the movie is the fact that in the original story from the late 1950’s, Jesus is the reason for the life-changing ending in the film we have today. Of course I want to spoil the ending, but I will say it was one of the most disapproving endings I’ve seen in a long time. I’ll leave it at that, because to say anything else would spoil it. But let’s just say that I loved the idea of the ending, but wow, was it distastefully made.
The 8-Bit Review
Personally, I thought the special effects were close to flawless! The slavery, galley scene couldn’t have been made better. The rowing benches, the cold, filthy, claustrophobic surrounding, and the ill taste of death really made you feel for Judah.They did an incredible job portraying that scene.
Also, a beautiful job of the scenic view of Jerusalem! It was breathtaking to see this city on the edge of the cliff. Wonderful job with that also! Visually this movie nailed it!
I definitely enjoyed the motion picture album. I enjoyed several moments of it. The composer, Marco Beltrami, brought out a lot of emotions with this soundtrack which allowed you to feel the scenes very well. The only reason I didn’t give it a 10 was due to the ending song. I felt it overdid the scene and came off a little cliche. I’ve posted 2 songs I thought we Beltrami’s best. Enjoy!
Family Friendly: 5/10
Should you bring the family to see this? I think the rating of PG-13 is perfect. I recommend it for all ages above 13. It has a solid story that everyone can relate to from the teenager to the young adult, and a select few retirees. The only reason I wouldn’t bring the little ones or certain grams and gramps is due to a few violent scenes and a few dead bodies that are shown throughout the movie. The action/battle scenes are pretty intense and can be consider graphic in some viewpoints. There is no foul language or sexual content throughout the film. Isn’t it great how these film’s that take place in the BC and AD eras don’t have foul language? If you’re sensitive to curse words then stick with these movies.
I’ll tell you what the movie didn’t lack and that was a message! The message was very apparent and strong. You won’t walk away from the movie without contemplating a few grudges you’ve been holding on to in your life. The themes were very apparent, and consistent throughout the film. You experienced the betrayal, bondage, love, loss, redemption, and forgiveness considerably. Great job! The only reason it didn’t quite hit a 10 for me was the way they were so over-the-top smashed into multiple scenes. It came off a bit too cheesy for me. It made you want to say: “Oh come on!”. I enjoyed the message, just not the delivery.
As far as character development goes, I enjoyed it, but they didn’t quite hit it home for me. I thought they did a solid job of building the characters up for us, the audience. But as far as building the relationships between the characters, they missed it heavily for me. The bonding brotherhood was very minimal, along with the relationship between Messala and his adoptive mother. I wanted more! I wanted to feel the deepness and the stronghold of their relationships so much that it broke me when they were separated. And the worst of the worst is the fact that their were NO TEARS! Why were so many people crying throughout the movie, yet we never witnessed a single tear. How hard is it to toss some eye drops in a few times so I can get emotional too? I’m sorry but that really bugged and dissatisfied me. I think I would have bumped up the score had some tears been involved.
This rating was especially difficult for me. The question for me was;: Was there enough conflict and was that conflict solved with strain? Did I experience a battle for the conflict resolution? The answer was yes, but the battle/resolution bothered me immensely. The idea of a chariot race being used as a form of revenge, just seemed a little coincidental. The fact that the chariot race was right up Judah’s alley, made the challenge too easy and made the outcome a little predictable. As I stated above, I was very dissatisfied with the way this movie ended. I enjoyed that it was a miracle, but I believe it could have been so much better.
I loved, loved, loved the action aspects of the film. I haven’t seen a galley imprisonment battle quite like the one in this film. I was blown away. The chariot race was very, very detailed and exciting as well. Not to beat a dead horse but it was sincerely the cheesy ending that stole the movies uniqueness award away from them. I know this was a remake but I know it could have been done with more dignity. I don’t mean to come off like a professional critic, I was just sincerely saddened by the ending.
My Personal Score: 7/10
In my final opinion, I rate this movie a 7/high 6. As I stated throughout the review, there were several things I didn’t enjoy. The character development lacked more relational bonding, the lack of tears when someone cried, and the cliché ending all detached me. But they outweighed the majority of it with a phenomenal slave action scene and an intense, detailed chariot race. Those two scenes were incredibly memorable and have caused me to promote the movie. Not to mention it has a strong message about forgiveness that I believe we can all benefit from.
I sincerely hope you watch this film and take the whole family if they’re 13 and over. The message was way too valuable to miss out on. I always try to promote movies with substance and an informative message. I’m honored to be able to share my thoughts and opinions about this film. If this impacts one person then it was all worth it. Please stay tuned for more reviews I’ll be doing.
–Silver Screen Mage out
Aggregated Score: 6.1