This film decided to remake the film that (jointly) holds the records for the most Oscars ever won. Lets just let that sink in for a minute. Even if you manage your expectations, or if you haven’t even seen the 1959 version of the story, this rendition barely even qualifies as a decent picture.
Ben-Hur (2016) lacks the gravitas and epic feel needed for a sword and sandals tale of this stature. Instead it feels like a sub-standard TV movie that brings nothing to the table, instead rehashing and cutting down the old for a more reductionist telling.
The film is very slow to build up and the characters portrayed are so unengaging its hard to maintain focus. The acting and story telling lacks the human element required to give this story impact and heart. It is also filmed more like a mediocre TV movie, causing the film to be seriously restrained and lack the grandure an epic tale like this should arguably have. It also makes it look pretty out of place on the big screen. The lack of substance to the characters makes it difficult to really care from them and the little drama created on screen.
In order to fit a much smaller running time than its predecessor, the film is forced to skip out a lot of the story which results in a loss of the story’s complexity, making its overall impact a lot weaker. The film itself even seems to think that its so unmemorable that it assumes an ignorance in the audience by cramming in multiple mini flashbacks which should be unnecessary and, in fact, cause the film to undermine itself.
However, no matter how short the running time, a Ben-Hur remake could not skimp on the iconic chariot race, something which arrives with promise, and with stories of a strive for authenticity. However, despite its best efforts, it doesn’t measure up. A lot of what is missing comes from the lack of characterization earlier on in the film meaning that there is next to no emotional tension or investment in the race. The cinematography of the race also often takes away from it. There are odd ‘go-pro’-esque point of view shots, a starkly modern shot that will likely jar the audience and take them out of the film due to the contrast with the sword and sandals era (as does the sometimes questionable wardrobe). The race also follows predictable cues, making it less interesting. It is also served with a great big dollop of Hollywood cheese, complete with even a small chariot-training montage.
The film relies on CGI too much, something that does not achieve the impressiveness it desires, especially because its predecessor was so renowned for the feats of set-building and thousands of extras, feats that make CGI seem like a cop-out by comparison.
The film’s flaws all culminate in a weak and powerless ending where everything is tied up too nicely, and in slow motion, that simply looks ridiculous.
This is a remake not worth seeing, even out of curiosity. If you haven’t seen the 1959 version, you might think it is ok (still nowhere above mediocre), but in comparison it is a terrible attempt that proves the power of the ’59 version and the importance of story-telling over CGI, showing that it doesn’t necessarily guarantee visual awe or prowess.
The only improvement is that there is no black-face, at least.