19 May 2008

Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ

Here's the trailer. Watch it or else.

So this month we honor the passing of our friend Charlton Heston by watching and discussing Ben Hur: A tale of the Christ. I hope everyone enjoyed it. So here we go.

Ben Hur was made in the day when huge epics with elaborate sets and thousands of extras were the norm. Back then people had no problem going to the theater and having an intermission. Can you even imagine that today? What would you do for 15 minutes? Probably steal someones seat while they are in the bathroom. So in an age of Epics, to me this was the Epic film. Ben Hur tells the tale of Judah Ben Hur, a Jewish prince. His childhood friend Messala returns from Rome to be the tribune in Judea. He asks Judah to help him put down local unrest. Judah refuses and loses Messala's friendship. The new Roman governor, while entering town, is struck by a loose tile from the roof of Ben Hur. Ben Hur is condemned to be a galley slave. En route to his ship Ben Hur is given water by a man that he does not know but who is obviously Jesus. Then, while at sea his ship is lost but he saves the life of Quintas Arrius who adopts him as a son and teaches him to be a great chariot driver - 5 time champion at the Roman Circus. Judah returns to Jerusalem to find his mother and sister and to exact revenge on Messala who could have freed all of them. Judah teams up with an Arab horse owner to race against Messala. In this race Messala is defeated and mortally injured. Ben Hur visits him on his death bed and declares to Messala "I see no enemy." Messalla with his last breath reveals that Ben Hur's mother and sister are lepers who live in the valley of the lepers. Judah finds them. He brings them into Jerusalem in the hope of finding Jesus who is known to heal the sick. they come too late and find Jesus just as he is being led away to his crucifixion. It is only then that Judah realises that this is the same man who offered him water while he was a slave. Later, while reflecting on who Jesus was, Ben Hur's mother and sister find themselves healed.

One of the first things I want to bring up is the title of the film: Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ. I really wanna hear your comments on this. Why go with that title when we only see Jesus (and never his face) for more then 2 minutes in the entire film? The most important scenes are the ones that mirror each other: As Judah is dying of thirst Jesus gives him water to drink. Then as Jesus collapses under the weight of the cross he is bearing Judah returns the favor and offers him a drink. The other times we see him from behind as he preaches to a crowd but he seems to follow Judah with his eyes as Judah walks away. We also see him lifted up on the cross. So why call it A Tale of the Christ? Why not call it Ben Hur: Chariot Racing Barrel-Chested Hunk? My own take is that story of Jesus is perhaps best told on the role he plays in the lives of those who benefit from His great gift. Judah's life is touched several times as his life is sustained by miracle after miracle, but perhaps the greatest miracle is that Ben Hur learns to forgive. There is also a great image in the end where the rain washes away from the crosses and (it may just be my poor quality copy) but there seems to be blood washing away with the rain. How appropriate since it is the blood of Christ that washes us clean from our sins, as rain washes the earth. Anyway, let me know what you all think.

Charlton Heston won Best Actor for this role. Deservedly so. This is probably his best acting work. He kinda get's John Wayney in his later films where he just plays Charlton Heston no mater the role (which is fine with me), but he really pours himself into this role and it shows.
Ben Hur won 10 other academy awards. So, good for it. I also learned that despite what I had always held to be true, no one was killed during the filming of the chariot race. In fact there was only one minor injury. The footage of Judah flipping over the front of his chariot and climbing back over wasn't supposed to happen, but it looked so good they kept it in. The stuntman got a cut on his chin. Anyway, great film.

On to June. The category, ala the Chapman Family, is series films. For example the Police Academy movies, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars. The way this is gonna work (sorry Monique but I'm about to take some licence) is that everyone will suggest a series. For example I am going to put forth the Jason Bourne movies. I will do a poll and one film series will win. From that series I will do a new poll with all movies from that series (Ex: Bourne Identity, Bourne Supremacy and Bourne Ultimatum) and we will choose the best one and watch it, perhaps commenting on it's place within the series as a whole. So suggest away.


Swint said...

Didn't watch Ben Hur this month, haven't seen it in a long, long time. However, re your question about the title including Christ. Marketing, Marketing, Marketing. By adding "a tale of Christ" you are guaranteed to get at least 1/2 of the American population out to watch it, especially back when it was made.

Now the real reason for my comment, my suggestions for series movies. I have two recommendations, first, the Naked Gun series (we need some good comedies) and Indiana Jones (I know it was mentioned in the post, but am not sure if it actually had to be recommended to make the list).

The Snows said...

Suggestions for the upcoming month - Well, I was going to do the Bourne Series, but you picked it. That being said, I have three: The Godfather (edited of course), Rocky (all four), and National Lampoons. I was going to suggest Star Wars, but if I had to include Episode 1-3, I do not think the arguement would be as strong. Lord of the Rings is great, I can't tell if that is three movies, or just one "epic" typical of the May movie.

I think Dad Snow will probably pick Karate Kid and Mom Snow will pick Anne of Green Gables. If that wins, I will never participate in your movie of the month again.

Anonymous said...

We did get to watching Ben Hur and let me tell you it sure beats watching Sparticus. Sparticus is a bunch of gay guys running around in togas and loin cloths. Ben Hur was still men that were running around in togas and loin cloths but not professedly gay. That made me feel better.
I would second the nay vote on Star Wars because we should not be forced to choose and they simply shouldn't be compared to other movies. Indiana Jones is a classic series that would be great when the first three can be compared to the last one.
LOVE - WIlly

jamirodana said...

I remember seeing this as a kid. I think my parents had it or something. I love this film.
Yes, it is very long, but it had to be.
I chose a Sunday, back when I was single and had a lot of time, and watched it from start to finish.
Epic film!

joN. said...

i popped ben-hur in to watch during my daily meal of a toasted bagel turkey sandwich. i actually finished the sandwich before the 'overture' ended.

it was spectacular, though. it didn't have as many great lines as 'ten commandments,' but it was spectacular. that chariot race... man. oh man.

i liked a lot how it showed the values the characters put their faith in. that pretty boy roman only valued power (like the evil romans in that star trek episode 'bread and circuses') while chuck valued a lot of pride for most of it. lots of the women understood the need for humility and charity initially.

btw, what's up with his girlfriend? why did she talk so much different than everyone else?

i want to nominate the james bond movies. perhaps one from each actor including the 60s version of 'casino royale' with woody allen.

Jake and Jessica Fillmore said...

That is so exciting that your 10 year is coming up so soon! Our two year is in a couple of weeks and jake said he would help me with the dishes on our anniversary. Yeeehaaa! Well we cant wait to see you all in Hawaii this November. we are really really really looking forward to it!

joN. said...

oh yeah, and while i'm at it i may as well say now that i never saw 'conquest of the planet of the apes' and 'battle for the planet of the apes' so if there's room we may as well watch a planet of the apes movie.

wfillmore said...

An excellent and thought-provoking commentary on Ben Hur, J.R. Clearly, it was Heston's greatest performance, and it remains one of my top 20 flicks (being admittedly biased towards older movies despite their technological defi ciencies). It is a tale of the Christ, though told obliquely via his effect on others, which is a poignant approach for me. - WLF

4 of 5 said...

Since no one has yet I will nominate the Star Trek Series, yes, all nine. Naturally we will only pick one to watch but I want to include the original cast and TNG cast.