Sony // 2010 // 192 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // May 9th, 2013
Rome made him a slave. Revenge set him free.
In 2010, the legendary story of Ben-Hur reappeared in mini-series form, starring Joseph Morgan, who may be best known as Klaus from CW's The Vampire Diaries as the man himself, Judah Ben-Hur.
Judah was born into a wealthy Jewish family, but a series of circumstances and encounters propel him on a varied path full of adventures and misadventures. Along the way, Judah runs afoul of his best friend Messala (Stephen Campbell Moore, Season of the Witch), gets himself tossed into a galley as a rowing salve, beds a powerful noblewoman, rocks it as a gladiator, and of course rides high on a chariot. He also crosses paths with a certain Jewish carpenter who turns out to be kind of a big deal.
While this telling of Ben-Hur may lack the spectacle and iconic nature of William Wyler and Charlton Heston's 1959 epic, it's not a bad slice of entertainment in its own right. There appears to be a moderate budget behind the production, as the design and the visuals are impressive. The New Testament springs to life adequately enough and although everyone speaks with a vaguely European accent, there's enough realism to maintain our suspension of disbelief.
The same came be said of the acting. Joseph Morgan handles the title role quite well. His Ben-Hur is fairly humorless, but to be fair, everyone is, which should come as no surprise seeing that people during those times were primarily consumed with starvation and leprosy. Morgan has the gravitas and furrowed brow down pat. Plus, when called upon, he's willing to shower in public.
Actually, since we're on the subject of nudity, here's one big complaint I have about Ben-Hur. Well, it's not so much a complaint as it is a flummoxed observation. There's some surprisingly erotic goings-on here. And I'm not sure why, especially since Ben-Hur's intersection with Jesus Christ himself is such a well-known aspect of the story. Give that there's very little other R-rated tomfoolery, the sex seems weirdly out of place and unnecessary.
Then again, it allows the marketers to put together a disc cover that looks like it was ripped straight from a Starz network Spartacus press event. (Hint: that's not Joseph Morgan on the cover, swinging his sword and screaming).
The specs: standard def 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, Dolby 5.1 Surround, English SDH subtitles, and a making-of featurette.
Oh yeah...the infamous chariot scene? Not nearly as visceral as Heston's, but fast, violent, and well-shot. Check it out.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 192 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated