Thursday, June 28, 2007


I saw the film, Ben Hur, when I was in the fifth grade. Totally blew me away and I immediately went to the library and checked out the book. I don’t think I realized at the time that it had been written in the late 1800’s. I had a lot more patience then. A lot more patience.  I actually managed to read the whole thing. I got a kick out of a review of the novel when I checked it out on Amazon. The story is written very much in the Victorian style and Lew Wallace never used one or two words when he could use a dozen or even two.

And I think I shocked the heck out of my folks. When most kids were perfectly happy with Nancy Drew, I was hauling home hardbacks from the library that you could use for lethal weapons. Sometimes I think I’m not only marching to a different drummer, but she’s in the parade one county over.

I would love to see this film on the big screen as an adult. Even on the small screen, when the late Stephen Boyd and Charlton Heston are in the same scene the combined personalities blast right off the screen. And watching the Roman commander testing his galley’s rowers for weaknesses is absolutely chilling. He’s probing, testing, pushing them past their limits, and he’s ice cold. They’re tools, not human beings.

For a film that runs over three hours, it moves. It really moves. It’s like, “it’s over?”

It’s a shame, but I don’t believe this film could be made today. And not just because the “cast of thousands” would cost a mint. So does CGI. I’m glad that relationships between couples can be shown more realistically. But I also think it’s allowed writers to get lazy. When in doubt, or if you can’t really write, show some skin, throw in a sex sceneor use the F word a few times.

I adore the Lord of the Rings films. They actually ended up shooting all three films at once, thanks to modern communications and the ability to use computers to keep everything reasonably straight. But, they were writing the script while they were shooting and the holes do show at times. Sometimes I believe being able to keep doing things over makes us a little lazy. I don’t have to get it perfectly the first time because it’s so easy to correct it.

And I’d really hate to see anyone try to use CGI to recreate the famous chariot race. And the arena set was a full size stadium. A stadium large enough for nine chariots with teams of four horses each. Even on a TV screen, there is a different feel knowing that each four team and driver are real. It’s real people screaming in the seats and hitting the dust of the stadium when the race is over.

I suspect that some of the modern film makers would try to make the villain, Messala, as ugly on the outside as he turns out to be on the inside. He is devilishly handsome, arrogant, fatally ambitious, cruel and manipulative , but you almost like the guy to start with. Roman, through and through, in the worst sense of the word. And maybe that’s why this probably can’t be repeated now. The film was made in the late fifties. <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />America had become a world power, but in some ways didn’t realize it yet. When Messala tries to convince his child hood friend to see the world through his eyes and embrace the Roman way at his side, I find myself thinking; “hey, who died and made you God?” And so is his old friend. Their friendship ends, badly. But, of course if they didn’t quarrel the film would have set a record for shortness instead of length. When an accident gives the Roman the chance to prove how strong and unyielding he can be by condemning his childhood friend to the galleys and his family to prison, he takes it, and apparently never looks back.

So, Judah survives the galleys, wins the race and sees his enemy crushed only to find the victory hollow. The mother and sister he thought were dead are alive, and lepers. Empty and full of hatred he plans to use his hidden fortune to raise a rebellion. The woman he loves tries to tell him of the young rabbi she’s heard teach. That hatred and violence aren’t the answer.

“I know there is a law in life. Blood begets blood as dog begets dog. Death generates death as the vulture breeds the vulture.” When he tries to tell her that he knows what he plans will only hurt her and it’s better for her to get out now, he gets this reply. “It was Judah Ben Hur I loved…………………hatred is turning you to stone. It is as though you had become Messala!”

I’m not sure how many of our “war is good, get the bad guys” fellow citizens would sit through a retelling of the Sermon on the Mount. Especially some our fellow Christians.

In the end the good guys do win, at least temporarily. The family is reunited. There are tears and smiles all around. Even from the man of the family. How long has it been since we’ve seen a manly man cry on screen? Or at even seriously puddle up? Too long, I think.


tenyearnap said...

I don't think I've ever watched this movie all the way through in one sitting, but I think I have seen most of it in bits and pieces. No, I guess they couldn't make this movie today. CGI just doesn't do it for me, either. --Cin

toonguykc said...

Not long ago I told everybody that CGI ruined movies for me -- but it's getting better and better.   If technology can make a screenwriter's vision come to life -- well.....


mlraminiak said...

I don't have much opinion on Computer Graphics, because I watch very few of those kinds of movies.  I'm into romantic comedies, not special effects.  Which is funny, because I was one of the original Trekkies...

Good ole Chuck Heston!  Too bad he turned out to be a Republican!  ;P