Ben-Hur: 50th Anniversary [Blu-Ray] William Wyler

Ben-Hur: 50th Anniversary [Blu-Ray] William Wyler
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Ben-Hur (William Wyler's three-and-a-half-hour, record-breaking, bloated epic and winner of 11 Academy Awards — a record until Titanic matched it in 1997) has been riddled with controversy and debate since its release. Most have interpreted the film as a commercial blockbuster of grandiose entertainment and spectacle, where others have used it as an argument against Wyler's worthiness as an auteur and debated the intricacies of the writing and production process. The story itself, A Tale of the Christ, is a modification of the source Lew Wallace novel, having more of an appreciation of the Jewish people — Israel had been founded by this time — than the original Christian sanctimony. Messala (Stephen Boyd), the commander of the Roman garrison, visits Jerusalem to extract the identities of Jewish naysayers from childhood friend Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston), believing strongly in Rome and its imperial power. When Ben-Hur refuses to cooperate, their friendship (or latent homosexual relationship, as asserted by Gore Vidal, who was forced to make an amendment to the script after being suspended for declining the job) fractures and the Jewish Prince is eventually condemned to the galleys while his wife and daughter are imprisoned. The rationale is bogus — a falling roof tile — but Messala sees it as a way to intimidate the populous, which sets Ben-Hur on the path of vengeance. Eventually, the lesson is that of forgiveness, with the crucifixion as backdrop, but what people remember are the superficial technical achievements, such as the chariot race. While this comprehensive panoramic sequence demonstrated what the medium was capable of at the time, it reflected the work of the second unit more so than Wyler. However, since the film is ostensibly a protracted Sunday school lesson, droning on with mostly strong acting (Heston is a little awkward) and impeccable art direction and visuals, the lack of direction and tendency towards broad commercialism is particularly evident. In part, this could be attributed to the multiple screenwriters revising an overlong script right into production, but since the works of Wyler all lack a signature vision, the deduction, save the understandable positive portrayal of Jews, is that the successful director was more driven by the demands of the job than creating art. Whether or not this is a bad thing, especially considering the film climate in the late '50s, is as debatable as the assertion that Stephen Boyd was deliberately playing his character as a scorned homosexual, while Heston — a noted Republican — remained oblivious to the subtext. Regardless, the HD Blu-Ray print of the movie is nearly flawless, free from grains, dirt and colour deterioration. A commentary track is included with this version, but it's also been included with the many other releases. And since this is basically the discount version of the Ultimate Collector's Edition, all of the interesting documentaries have been cut, leaving only the film as a selling feature. (Warner)