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Ben-Hur review: The greatest disaster of the year... so far

Aleesha Matharu | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:48 IST

You'd think if someone was going to make a remake of a much beloved classic, the idea is to do a better job of telling the story using any and all advancements that have been introduced to filmmaking over the decades.

That's especially true considering the fact that the last time Ben-Hur appeared on a movie screen was in 1959 in the form of William Wyler's epic starring Charlton Heston - a movie that won 11 Oscars. That record was only broken in 1998 when Titanic tied with it.

Well, that's what one hopes for. But director Timur Bekmambetov's (Wanted and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) vision falls flat on its face completely. There's a moment at the end where you even have to hold yourself back from yelling at the screen thanks to the sickly sweet message that the movie tries to send you off with.

And really, what does it say about a movie if even Morgan Freeman's presence can't lift it? Every time he was on screen, I kept wondering how they had managed to rope him in for such a disastrous project.

But what it lacks most of all is a convincing reason to exist.

The soap opera of the year

The first half feels like you're watching a soap opera. A telenovela, to be exact.

They didn't even try to be historically accurate:

The pointlessness of this movie is almost indescribable. That's especially obnoxious because the story is actually a really good one: Judah Ben-Hur (Huston) is a rich Judean from a prominent family. He has an adopted Roman brother named Messala (Toby Kebbell) and the two have a slightly fractious relationship. Judah is a pacifist and Messala is ambitious, with dreams of winning a big name for himself in the exceptionally bloodthirsty Roman Empire.

Messala then runs off to join the Roman army, where he becomes the protege of Pontius Pilate (played by the amazing Danish actor Pilou Asbaek who plays Euron Greyjoy in GoT) who brings him along when he becomes ruler of Judea.

But during his absence, freedom fighters called zealots have become a force and thanks to them, Judah ends up imprisoned as galley slave No. 99 while his mother and sister just disappear completely.

Cue the quest of revenge

A few years of slavery and he ends up with Sheik Ilderim (Freeman), a chariot-racing entrepreneur who notices that he's got some skill when it comes to horses.

Now, you can never fault actors like Freeman and Christoph Waltz, but when they play the same character over and over again (with Freeman forever cast as the kindly, advice giver and Waltz the smooth-talking villain), it's tiresome beyond belief.

Freeman's Ilderim is a just little too modern - his flowing dreadlocks look so ridiculous that he would have probably better fit a role in Robin Hood: Men in Tights.

That final race though. You expect so much of that damn chariot race, but even that doesn't deliver the goods. Nothing to keep you on the edge of your seat at all.

The one positive in the whole thing is Huston's acting, particularly in the second half, is not bad. But that just might be the Stockholm Syndrome talking.

Otherwise, the casting is more or less bad. The acting is stiff. The costumes are bad. The sets look very cheap. The action is shaky and dim.

It's all crap. And the fact that it's 3D ensures that all that crap is flying towards you.

The verdict

This movie is garbage. Do yourself a favour and just go watch the original.

RATING: 0.5 out of 5

First published: 19 August 2016, 6:45 IST
Aleesha Matharu @almatharu

Born in Bihar, raised in Delhi and schooled in Dehradun, Aleesha writes on a range of subjects and worked at The Indian Express before joining Catch as a sub-editor. When not at work you can find her glued to the TV, trying to clear a backlog of shows, or reading her Kindle. Raised on a diet of rock 'n' roll, she's hit occasionally by wanderlust. After an eight-year stint at Welham Girls' School, Delhi University turned out to be an exercise in youthful rebellion before she finally trudged her way to J-school and got the best all-round student award. Now she takes each day as it comes, but isn't an eternal optimist.