Film Review: Ben-Hur – 8/10

‘Hate keeps a man alive. It gives him strength...’

Ben-Hur has been looming on my watchlist forever. Another of my cinematic white whales. We all know why I haven’t watched it until now despite its legendary status. Nobody could miss the elephant in the room. It’s the length, isn’t it. Three hours and forty-two minutes are too much of anyone’s time. Even though, as I write this, the clocks have gone back and I’ve gained an hour, I’m still almost three hours down on my overall life clock from watching Ben-Hur, and honestly? It’s not worth it…

Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston) is betrayed and sent to slavery against the backdrop of the birth of Jesus Christ. Determined to have his revenge, Ben-Hur gains his freedom and sets off on an epic adventure.

Look, I get it. William Wyler’s classic looks absolutely incredible. This film undoubtedly contains some of the greatest set pieces ever committed to film. The boat sequences are incredible, as is the chariot race (the latter should be required viewing even if the rest of the film isn’t). Heston, an actor whose work I’ve largely ignored over the years, is genuinely wonderful throughout, carrying the film on his muscular back for large sections. Miklós Rózsa’s sweeping majestic score is one for the ages. The use of location and set design is awe-inspiring. The costumes are astonishing also (although this is diminished somewhat by the fact that many of the extras forgot to take off their wristwatches). Heck, the film won 11 Oscars, and it no doubt deserved at least some of them. The problem is the punishing running time. There is just no need for this film to be so long. Especially when taking into account the fact that many scenes are made up of two characters talking softly in a darkened room. It’s too much.

Pithy observations aside, I’m glad I watched Ben-Hur. It is undoubtedly a milestone in the history of cinema, and the sheer scope and imagination of the film are still inspiring. But will I ever watch it again? Absolutely not.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *