Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The remake that shouldn't have

They really shouldn't have made a remake of Ben-Hur.

Not because the material is so sacrosanct that it should never be remade. As a matter of fact, the Ben-Hur you think of as BEN-HUR -- the 1959 version directed by William Wyler -- is actually the third version, after a short in 1907 and a feature in 1925. I'd say the weirder thing, within the spectrum of film history, is how long it took to make another version, except there was actually a 2003 version, and also a miniseries in 2010. I guess the Hur-less period between 1959 and 2003 was the really weird period.

No, it shouldn't have been remade just because it just doesn't feel all that relevant to today.

We don't need to get into a discussion of religion. I'll concede that any story in which Christ appears as a character has a kind of eternal timeliness. There's always a way to tie in the themes to things happening today.

Rather, it just feels like a bit of a cinematic outlier. Like, "Where the hell did this new version of Ben-Hur come from?"

Learning that Timur Bekmambetov was the director, I had high hopes. Or rather, I knew there was at least a possibility there would be something cartoonishly stupendous about it. Bekmambetov's cartoonish stupendousness cuts both ways, but when it's on, it's on. It's not on in Wanted, but boy is it ever on in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

So that was the most disappointing thing about this new Ben-Hur. It actually doesn't have a lot of the outrageous awesomeness of AL: VH. In fact, it's played completely straight.

The next most disappointing thing?

Not a lot, actually.

If you want me to complete the thought in the subject of this post, it would be "The remake that shouldn't have ... worked. But somehow did."

That's right, I actually sort of liked this movie, and not even for the only reasons I figured I could like it.

Is it necessary? Hardly. Is it memorable? No, not really.

Is it sort of fun in the moment, and sort of poignant, and sort of good?

Yes, all those things.

The natural resistances anyone would feel toward a 2016 version of Ben-Hur kind of fell away as I was watching it, and I found myself liking the performances, and the grandiose production design, and the story itself.

I even liked Morgan Freeman and his awesome/ridiculous dreadlocks.

One nice thing about Ben-Hur was that it was not obviously the product of someone's digital playground. I'm sure there were plenty of digital effects in it -- one doesn't make a period appropriate epic set in the Roman Empire without some digital help -- but they were pretty seamless. And part of that comes from the fact that there was not some monstrous hydra or other creature that escaped from Clash of the Titans and into this movie. It was just a fairly straightforward telling of the story, with some changes to the plot to give it a happier ending. (But, spoiler alert: Jesus still dies.)

I don't know, maybe there's no good reason to like this movie. But I did sort of like it. And I don't really see a reason to talk myself out of that.

Does that mean you should go out and see it?



Wendell Ottley said...

Where did it come from is right. I had no clue this was coming out until I saw a poster for it in a movie theater a couple months. Glad you liked it, but the trailer I eventually saw for it looked so terrible, I'm debating whether or not I'll bother with it.

Derek Armstrong said...

You don't need to bother with it. Even a few more days removed from it I am almost forgetting I saw it. I feel like its tone should be somewhere between what it is and Gods of Egypt, but Gods of Egypt might almost be more worth watching even though it's clearly a much worse film. It's more memorable than this Ben-Hur, anyway.