The mother of all epics, winner of a record 11 Academy Awards, the true definition of the word ‘spectacle’ – Ben-Hur has certainly achieved a legendary reputation and even 50 years later, it’s still a must-see for movie fans everywhere. Is it a flawless classic? Certainly not but it provides a lot of fascinating moments and scenes.
The overall story of Ben-Hur seems to be the predecessor of Gladiator – the story of a man who seeks revenge for the sorrow brought to him and his family. Ben-Hur is mixed with various religious themes – in fact, people on imdb even ask if a non-religious person can enjoy this movie. Well, I have to say that the religious motives don’t bother me – until the end when it all becomes too much. The birth of Jesus at the beginning or Ben-Hur meeting him are done rather beautifully and somehow religion perfectly fits into this big epic without appearing to be propaganda. Only at the end, the screenplay and William Wyler exaggerated it – after the chariot race the whole movie develops a feeling of ‘should be over in 5 minutes’ but it goes on for over another hour and the crucifixion of Jesus and the sudden healing of Ben-Hur’s mother and sister seem to come from another movie altogether. This long, overdone ending period of the movie is also the reason why Ben-Hur didn’t get a higher position. But before this downfall, Ben-Hur is a pretty terrific epic.
The story works just fine and never feels unnecessarily long but instead all characters and the plot get their chances to develop themselves quite nicely. Charlton Heston may have not been aware of the gay undertones in the story but, to be honest, the only way to make his first scene with Stephen Boyd more gay would have been to let them have sex right on his desk. The later scenes on the galleys are also thrilling and the whole plot constantly flows along without any interruptions. Of course, the highlight of Ben-Hur is the famous chariot race – and it’s one of the few scenes in movie history that is as good as its reputation. From the magnificent opening score to the sensational race, this is a magnificently done action sequence that a movie like Gladiator could only dream of.
Overall, a strong and memorable epic that maybe won a few Oscars too many but entertains wonderfully.