DVD/Blu-ray Reviews

Ben-Hur - DVD Review


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</script></div>{/googleAds}Ben-Hur is, almost unquestionably, one of the greatest films ever made. As I sat down to watch this nearly four hour epic (I should get a prize for that, considering it was one sitting), I was surprised at how quickly I became re-absorbed into the sweeping story of Judas Ben-Hur. The running time is daunting to say the least, but if you have the stamina, you'll be rewarded with a magnificent film that will linger in your memory long after the credits roll.

For the un-initiated, Ben-Hur is the story of a Jewish nobleman (Charlton Heston) in Palestine who butts heads with the Roman politicians of the time when he has a (quite dramatic) falling out with his childhood friend Messala (Stephen Boyd), a Roman who is placed in command of Jerusalem's soldiers. Ben-Hur chronicles Judas' life before and after this falling out, complete with narrow escapes from slave ships, grand chariot races, (a highlight) and encounters with Jesus Christ himself.

At the time of its release, Ben-Hur scored an unbelievable 11 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director. Since then, many films have come close to, or tied, that record...but very few have deserved the honor quite so much as this film. Ben-Hur is truly an epic masterpiece in every sense of the word. I'm reminded of the tagline for American Beauty at the time of its release, â"Look Closer." You think you remember Ben-Hur from your childhood, and there's no reason to see it again? Look closer. You think that the running time is too much to take and the acting wooden? Look closer. You think that other films (cough *Gladiator* cough) have done it better since then? Look much closer. Buried within the running time of Ben-Hur is everything we go to the movies for. There is drama, peril, action, loss, character development, tear-jerking moments, religious subtext, and timeless parable... the works.

In 1959, Ben-Hur was the largest undertaking in film history. Thousands of extras, a monstrous budget which was the biggest in history at the time, and hundreds of elaborate sets that were constructed from scratch. In our current age of digital wonders, it is almost staggering to think of the scale and scope that went into a production of this magnitude. The most amazing thing is that it still shows on the screen as you watch it. You see all those little dots moving in the center of your screen? Those are real people, folks. A virtual army of actors and extras, assembled at a time when it was almost unprecedented to do so. Trust me; it will still give you chills.

Ben-Hur is one of those films that comes along just once...a jaw-dropping piece of entertainment tailor made for that new home theater projection system you've just installed. Put in the DVD, turn it up loud, and witness a one-of-a-kind film experience that will make you yearn for the pre-CGI good old days.


DVD

DVD Details:



Screen formats: Color, Widescreen 2.76:1

Subtitles: English; Spanish; French; Closed Captioned

Language and Sound: Available English (Dolby Digital 5.1); French (Dolby Digital 5.1)

Other Features: Color; interactive menus; scene access; remastered and restored film; audio commentary; music-only track; cast screen tests; newsreels gallery; Academy Awards highlights; trailer gallery.

* Discs 1&2:
o Audio commentary by film historian T. Gene Hatcher with scene-specific comments from Charlton Heston.
o New digital transfer from restored 65MM elements
o Music-only track
* Disc 3: The 1925 feature-length silent version of Ben-Hur Stereophonic orchestral by composer Carl Davis.
* Disc 4:
o 2005 Documentary: Ben-Hur: The Epic That Changed Cinema
o 1994 Documentary: Ben-Hur: The Making of an Epic hosted by Christopher Plummer
o Documentary featuring the last interview with Wyler before his death
o Ben-Hur: A Journey Through Pictures - New audiovisual recreation of the film via stills, storyboards, sketches, music and dialogue.
o Screen Tests: Leslie Nielson and Cesare Danova, Leslie Nielson and Yale Wexler, George Baker and William Russel.
o Highlights from the 5/4/1960 Academy Awards ceremony
o Vintage newsreels gallery.
o Theatrical trailer gallery.

The extras on this set contain everything (and more) you could ever hope for on a special edition disc, including the full length 1925 silent version of the film, Oscar moments, and cast interviews. While the 1994 Doc is a little dated, and not too enlightening (although I love Christopher Plummer), the 2005 documentary is one of the highlights of the set. Current filmmakers such as Ridley Scott and George Lucas chat about, and reflect on, the importance and influence of the film. It's especially enlightening to see modern masters of cinema looking back at this film with such reverence, especially since (in the opinion of this reviewer) they owe such a debt to it. Ben-Hur: A Journey Through Pictures is a new audio-visual recreation of the film via stills, storyboards, sketches, music and dialogue. It's fascinating, but one of those features that is for purists only...especially if you've just been viewing the film for fours hours (or over two days, depending on your staying power). The 5.1 surround sound is phenomenal and the digital transfer was flawless to these eyes. The only downside to the features would have to be the somewhat limited involvement of Heston on the commentary track. What he provides though, is well worth the listen. The commentary provided by Hatcher will speak to history buffs mostly, but are well-informed and jam-packed with information. In short, this 4-disc set will school you on Ben-Hur exhaustively, and you'll feel like you made the film yourself when it's all over. One thing's for sure. You'll never lose at a trivial pursuit question surrounding Ben-Hur ever again.

{pgomakase}

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