Adaptation of a famous fictional novel by Lew Wallace about a first century wealthy Jew, Judah Ben-Hur, and his pursuit of revenge against an adopted Roman brother who betrays his family.
Chances are, you have heard of the classic movie of Ben-Hur with Charlton Heston in the lead role. But if you’re young, you probably haven’t seen it. Look, for those of us who have seen the “original,” it’s pretty hard to live up to the grandness of it because Heston was so legendary. But the truth is, when I watched the old one again some years ago, the actual quality of filmmaking and acting, even the famous chariot race, was not as good as my memory of it. Modern filmmaking is simply more sophisticated on many levels.
Enter, the modern reboot
Judah and his family live in Jerusalem, but his adopted Roman brother, Masala, never feels welcome with his pagan ideas and desire to make his own name in life. So Masala goes to Rome and becomes a highly placed military leader, who ends up at Jerusalem aiding Pontius Pilate at the time of Christ.
Judah begins the story as a Jew who scorns the extremes of both the Zealots, who seek to rise up against Rome, and of the way of love that he sees a young carpenter preaching to his followers. Judah seeks to protect his family and stay out of trouble. Self-preservation. And isn’t that really the desire of most of us, if we are honest? (Zealots were kind of like ancient “Social Justice Warriors” or terrorists)
The problem is that the family gets falsely accused of a Zealot crime, and is punished accordingly. Rather than execute Judah, Rome prefers to enjoy him dying slowly by putting him as a slave on a Roman galley ship. I have to say, this part of the movie was the most excellent surprise of the experience. I remember that part of the Heston movie as being a bit boring: guys rowing in dirty sweaty grunge with the quartermaster pounding the drum and the slaves getting whipped and yelled at.
But in this version, the experience of the sea battle by the oarsman from their perspective was a powerful action sequence. It captured the experience of what it might feel like to be there, helpless in those cramped quarters being bashed and battered around and sinking during a battle. And only being able to see what is going on through cracks and oar windows as they row. It reminded me of the D-Day scene in Saving Private Ryan, how it made you feel like the first time you ever really got a true sense of real battle in a movie from the individual’s perspective.