Sunday, November 15, 2009

"BEN-HUR" - An Epic say the least

Wow...I know that I am 50 years late on this one, but I just finished the 1959 version of "Ben-Hur". I am still trying to get over the fact that this film is #100 on the AFI TOP 100 list (the 2007 updated list).

To be completely honest, I was dreading the fact that I had to sit through a 3 hour and 40 minute film on a Sunday night. Since Josh and I are counting down from 100 to 1, we had to get this one "out of the way." Well, I can't think of a better film to kick off this countdown. There were times where my brain actually thought I was watching a modern day film because the effects, editing and score were so ahead of it's time.

Let me start off with the effects. I saw a film earlier this week entitles "2012", which was a $250 million epic directed by Roland Emmerich. Emmerich has yet to master green screen effects. Anytime he has a human being on screen and there is a disaster behind that person, it looks absolutely fake. So, I am sitting here watching "Ben-Hur", which was made 50 years prior, and thinking about how amazing the green effects looked. There was one particular scene where Ben-Hur (played by Charlton Heston) is floating on a piece of wood after a battle that took place while he was aboard the Roman ship. He dove in the water to save one of the Roman higher up's and there is a shot of both of them sitting on the wood while the ships are being destructed in the background. This shot looked absolutely EPIC and better than any green screen that I saw in "2012."

Let's talk about one of the film scores I have ever heard. Miklos Rozsa created one of the most memorable scores I have heard and I just listened to it less than 15 minutes ago. I walked up my stairs and into my room, humming the score. The particular scene when I realized it's true genius was the scene where Heston is on the Roman ship as one on the oar men. He had dozens of other men were operating the oars by hand. There was man at the head of the men, beating a drum which told Ben-Hur and the dozens of men how quickly to move their arms. This drum was synced with the film score and it just flowed perfectly. That stuck with me the rest of the film.

Being that the film took home 11 Academy Awards, it is known to be one of the best films of all time. I know that I am not breaking any ground here but I was truly blown away by how epic the story was. Even though the film was three hours and forty minutes long, I was not bored for one moment. There were just so many details to the plot that kept my mind interested. The film's major drama comes from Ben-Hur and Mesalla (played brilliantly by Stephen Boyd). Ben-Hur and Mesalla used to be child friends but when Mesalla went off to Rome, he came back with the task to take over Jerusalem. He asks his best friend Ben-Hur if he will help, but Ben-Hur politely declines, which begins the downfall of their friendship and the start of the film's story.

What made the film feel so epic was, while this story is happening between Ben-Hur and Mesalla, we are also learning the story of Jesus Christ. The film's plot takes place during Jesus' birth and death. All of the films plot points happen in between those two events and have effects on every character in the film. It is rather genius if you think about it. I also noticed many parallels between Jesus and Ben-Hur's character.

I am sorry that this blog post is going on forever but I want to point a few more things that I enjoyed about the film. I liked how the writers did not feel that the audience was dumb. In most modern day films, we get a text on screen that says that so many years have passed by, i.e. Ten Years Later. In this film, time passes and the audience figures this out by the character's dialogue and actions. There were moments where three years had passed in a simple cut. The filmmakers didn't have to explicitly tell us this, which was refreshing.

The film is RATED G. There is no chance this film would pass for less than a PG-13 in today's standards. There were definite moments of horrific violence, especially during the famous chariot race scene. There was some rather disturbing images during the scenes that took place aboard the Roman ship as well.

Finally, I can't blog about "Ben-Hur" and not bring up the chariot racing scene. Could that scene have been directed better? Not a chance! That was one the most riveting chase scenes I have seen in a film to date. Not only was it well directed, but the set design was perfect. The director, William Wyler, kept showing this shot from above that had a piece of statue in the frame. Wyler shows it each time the chariots rounded this one particular corner. Even the green screen/blue screen effects looked fantastic here. Roland Emmerich needs to take lessons from William Wyler.

In short, I am so happy to be counting down these films from 100 to 1. I have truly been missing out on some of the best films in history and "Ben-Hur" is one that I am ashamed to have not seen until now. I actually now feel bad for anyone who has not seen this movie.

-Kevin McCarthy

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