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Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ

Updated on September 5, 2016
Stevennix2001 profile image

Steven Escareno is an amateur film critic that writes about movies in his spare time.

Stevennix2001's Rating:

6 / 10

Pros:

  • Acting was great. I loved the memorable performances by the actors in this film, as it was broad and expressive.
  • The music in this film was great
  • Cinematography was great for it's time period. I especially loved how all the religious scenes were shot in technicolor, as it definitely seems to highlight the significance of those moments quite well.
  • The choreography during the racing scene was very well done. Even by today's standards, the chariot race still holds up rather well.
  • The story had a lot interesting ideas, and concepts.

Cons:

  • Some of the dialogue, in the text boxes between scenes, was corny
  • There was a lot of pointless scenes that didn't add anything to the overall story.
  • A lot of uneven pacing, as it feels like the entire film literally has to stop whenever it shows part of Jesus' journey.
  • The overall tone of this film seems a bit uneven because it feels like the movie is trying to combine two different stories into one that really have nothing to do with each other; hence making it suffer from a lack of focus on what it's trying to be.

WARNING: This entire review will contain spoilers. Do not read if you do not like spoilers. If you don't mind spoilers, or if you've seen the film already, then read on at your own discretion.

Ben-Hur, you are the richest man in the world!

While "Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ" had it's moments, it's also suffers from a lot of uneven pacing issues, some corny dialogue, and pointless scenes that add nothing to overall story. Now before any of you bash me by saying how I shouldn't be so harsh because silent movies are obviously dated by today's standards, I would like to point a few things out. Take in mind, this isn't the first silent film that I've ever reviewed, or seen in my life. For those of you who have followed me for ages, you would know that I've written reviews for various silent films in the past like "Birth of a Nation", "The Bat", and quite a few silent movies based on the "Wizard of Oz" franchise.

Hell, I've even seen silent films that I haven't reviewed like "Son of the Shiek" and "Modern Times", to name a few. Therefore, I think I have a general idea of what I'm talking about, when it comes to judging silent films.

"Ben Hur" is essentially about a young Jew named Judah Ben-Hur, who's falsely imprisoned over a crime that he did not mean to commit, but rather it was an accident through no fault of his own. Needless to say, his childhood friend, Messala, who knows he's innocent and happens to be Roman, doesn't show him any mercy. He decides to make an example out of him, so he sentences him into slavery aboard a military vessel, while his mother and sister are taken away into custody. After serving three years on a Roman ship, Ben-Hur is finally able to escape through a series of events, while bringing the ship's captain with him.

He saves the captain's life, even though he tries to kill himself. However, the captain becomes touched by Judah's kindness that he adopts him as his son. Earning him great influence within the Roman empire, as Judah even manages to become one of Rome's best chariot racers.

But still stricken with anger and guilt over his sister and mother, while vowing revenge against Massala for what happened, Judah tells his new father that he's ready to find the rest of his family. He travels back to his old home in hopes of finding them, but only to discover that his family is presumed dead, even though they're actually suffering from leprosy.

And, it seems everyone in his old neighborhood think he's dead. He eventually becomes reunited with one of his old servants and his daughter, as he finds out that his family's inheritance somehow makes him the richest man in the world. I'm not kidding either. That's literally what his servant tells him, as according to his records, Judah Ben-Hur is the richest man in the world. Not sure how to interpret that, but whatever.

Messala:  I must break you.....
Messala: I must break you.....
A
rome:
Rome, Italy

get directions

Of course, Messala hears how Judah is allegedly alive, but thinks it's a hoax. But when he sees the large bet that Judah placed on himself to win the chariot race, it soon becomes clear that this next race has become a literal and figurative fight to death. I won't go into detail on what happens next, but I will say this much.

The story also ties into the birth and death of Jesus Christ himself, as Judah's quest for vengeance does intersect with Jesus' journey, at various points in the film. For example. When Judah was sentenced to slavery, he was forced to march along a heated desert. And when he craved sustenance, the Roman guards teased him, and refused to give him any water. It was from there that Jesus went out of his way to give him water, during his time of need.

Even after the chariot race is over, the entire third act of the film is literally about Jesus' crucifixion, while Judah takes on a minor supporting role. Since Judah is now the "richest man in the world", he builds an army to serve Jesus, and even vows to have the Romans crucifying him be punished tenfold for their actions upon their arrival. But god literally speaks from the sky, as he tells Judah not to go through with it because it's all part of his divine plan.

Meanwhile, Jesus waves his hand a few times while being crucified, and Judah's family is cured of their leprosy; hence they live happily ever after knowing that Jesus will always be alive in their hearts.

While I've never read the novel this movie was based on, I will say that the entire film suffers from being unevenly paced, and a general lack of focus. Granted, I know there's not a lot you can do to stray away from a source material, but even the 1959 version was able to weave the Jesus' story into Judah's story arc a helluva a lot better than the 1926 version was able to by comparison.

Every single time this film cuts away to show what Jesus is up to, it literally feels like you're watching a different movie, which in turn makes the film seem unevenly paced because it feels like Judah's story always comes to a complete stop whenever this happens.

Not to mention some of the scenes about Jesus really didn't have anything to do with the main story, in the way it was presented. For example. At one point in the film, it tells us about the last supper, and what it meant for Jesus Christ himself. That's all well and good, but here's the problem. If you had taken out that scene, then it never would've changed the outcome of the film itself. The movie still would've been exactly the same if not better because it's a pointless scene that adds nothing to the overall story.

The dialogue for this movie was beyond corny, and there was a lot of plot holes that didn't make any sense. Yes, I'm aware there's no talking in silent movies, but the text boxes they showed during the film showed dialogue, whenever the film needed the characters to speak.

When Judah was told he was "the richest man in the world", I couldn't help but laugh at the thought of it. Seriously, how the hell would his servant even know that? Yeah, I get that he's been keeping records of his family's fortune over the years, but still.

And even after he forms an army to serve Jesus, my biggest question was where the hell were they to save Jesus from being crucified? Yeah, he's shown in the crowd saying how his army will avenge him upon their arrival, but Judah himself doesn't do anything? And then god's voice comes out of nowhere to say it's all part of his divine plan?

in fact, it almost seems like the movie isn't sure if it wants to be about Ben-Hur, or Jesus Christ himself. Unlike the 1959 version that weaves these elements together more seamlessly to fit as one cohesive story, while keeping the focus purely from Judah Ben-Hur's perspective, the 1926 version struggles with that, which makes the direction and tone of this film seem a bit strange.

Don't get me wrong, that's not to say that I outright hated this film, as there are aspects to it that I enjoyed very much. For starters. Let's talk about the cinematography, and color scheme for some of the moments in the film.

In various parts of the film, the religious elements are shot in technicolor, while most of the film isn't. This is rather clever in a sense because during the religious moments, when the film is in color, it implies the broad significance of the scene itself. Like the last supper for instance, or the birth of Jesus himself. It's a nice subtle touch that I have to admit does add a bit of gravitas to the scenes themselves, even if they weren't written in well to fit with Judah's story.

As for the acting, I thought everyone played their parts rather well. Granted, the script left a lot to be desired, as it did seem a bit too corny at times for my tastes. But for the most part, the acting was done rather well. I especially enjoyed the chariot race, as the choreography for that scene could still rival any of today's modern action sequences.

Plus, the musical orchestration for the film was excellent. Each song fit the tone of each scene perfectly.

Overall, I would have to say that "Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ" was OK. It's not the best silent film that I've ever seen, but it's entertaining for the most part, with a lot of great thematic elements to it. But like I said before, it suffers from a lot of pacing issues, and lack of focus as to what kind of film it's trying to be. However, if you're just looking for an uplifting tale about a man seeking redemption, then it's certainly worth checking out if you're into silent films.

© 2016 Steven Escareno

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    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      12 months ago

      I enjoyed your review and comparison to the 1959 version. I remember watching another silent movie about Christ's passion and resurrection. In that film the resurrection scene was in color. Was using color for significance a common practice in the silent film days? Could the term "richest man in the world" be hyperbole? Are there any specific allowances that should be made when reviewing silent movies?

    • CYong74 profile image

      Kuan Leong Yong 

      2 years ago from Singapore

      Personally, I feel Ben Hur is very in-your-face when it comes to blending the story of Christ and Judah together. But that also exemplifies why the '59 version was great. It managed to gel the two tales perfectly.

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