Starring: Charlton Heston, Jack Hawkins, Stephen Boyd
Director: William Wyler
Running Time: 212 mins
Ben-Hur is an American film about a former Judean prince, Judah Ben-Hur, who is captured by the Romans and forced into slavery. However, after he saves the life of his commander, he is redeemed, and sets out to seek revenge on the man who ruined his life.
Much like the other epics of classic Hollywood, Ben-Hur is the very definition of the genre. It’s a film with a massive scope of time and geography, tells a fascinating story that keeps you hooked for well over three hours, and has some absolutely astonishing visual achievements the likes of which we just don’t see any more.
What does set this apart from its counterparts (i.e. Gone With The Wind, Lawrence Of Arabia, Cleopatra etc.) is that it’s a much faster-paced epic. The three and a half hours go by pretty quickly, and that’s thanks to the rapid progression of the plot. From Judah’s life in peacetime, through slavery and then in Rome, we’re given fascinating snapshots from these various periods, and that makes this film a whole lot more thrilling to watch.
And beyond that, this is definitely the most action-packed epic of the lot. Of course, the iconic chariot race sequence trumps everything, and it really is a triumph of practical effects and directing that really stood out at the time it was released, and is still pretty exhilarating now, but there are still some other brilliantly exciting sequences that add to the excitement of the film.
Ben-Hur also deserves huge praise for its production. It’s the perfect embodiment of why we deep down love real sets, the use of thousands of extras, and clearly real, tangible action. From start to finish, this film is absolutely mesmerising to look at, and even if its sets aren’t generally the most beautiful, given the nature of the story, they’re still hugely well-made and have a significant impact in making this film all the more convincing.
Also, Charlton Heston is excellent in the lead role. He plays by far the most interesting character, a man who’s definitely not perfect, given his thirst for revenge, but extremely relatable and likeable as he journeys through the world of the Romans in the biblical years, and Heston’s fantastic charisma and assurance really adds to your love of the character, and will to support him in everything he does.
Overall, Ben-Hur is a masterfully exciting and fascinating film, complete with a brilliant central performance, a fantastically set-out story as epic as the Bible itself, and stunning special effects, and that’s why it gets an 8.3 from me.