Tuesday, March 8, 2011

AFI Top 100 Countdown #100: Ben-Hur

Directed by: William Wyler
Written by: Lew Wallace, Karl Turnberg
Starring: Charlton Heston, Stephen Boyd, and Jack Hawkins

AFI Top 100 Criteria:

Critical Recognition: Formal commendation in print, television, and digital media.

-“A radical departure from the sword-and-sandal blueprint pioneered by DeMille, Ben-Hur is indebted to Wyler's elaboration of the chamber drama as a cinematic genre, and subsequent ability to reclaim naturalism from the most potentially theatrical tableaux.”
-Billy Stevenson, A Film Canon

-“Mr. Wyler and his money-free producers have smartly and effectively laid stress on the powerful and meaningful personal conflicts that are strong in this old heroic tale.”
-Bosley Crowther, New York Times

Major Award Winner: Recognition from competitive events including awards from peer groups, critics, guilds, and major film festivals.

-Academy: 12 nominations, 11 wins including Best Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor and Director.
-Golden Globes: 4 nominations, 3 wins including Best Picture
New York Critics Film Circle: Best Picture

Popularity Over Time: Includes success at the box office, television and cable airings, and DVD/VHS sales and rentals.
$15,900,000 (estimated)
$70,000,000 (USA)
$90,000,000 (Worldwide) ( January 1989)
$36,992,000 (USA)

Historical Significance: A film's mark on the history of the moving image through visionary narrative devices, technical innovation or other groundbreaking achievements

-Time Magazine: Ben-Hur, 1959, by MGM's statistics, is adorned with more than 400 speaking parts, about 10,000 extras, 100,000 costumes, at least 300 sets. One of them, the circus built for the chariot race in Rome's Cinecitta, was the largest ever made for any movie.
Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,825994,00.html#ixzz16dX9cjiW

Cultural Impact: A film's mark on American society in matters of style and substance.

-The Library of Congress added Ben-Hur for preservation into the National Film Registry in 2004.

Javi: When I watched this movie, I was amazed at the sheer scope of the story and its production. I couldn’t help but think about how difficult it must have been to use all of the set pieces and the extras without any sort of CGI help. It felt refreshing to see such great care and attention to detail that was paid to this movie. At the beginning of the movie before Ben-Hur’s luck turns to the worse, there is a scene where a Roman garrison is marching through the streets of Judea. Here the troops extend to the farthest part of the background, and I thought to myself that not even Peter Jackson would’ve bothered doing that. This movie definitely left an impression on me on a very technical level that just exemplifies the “magic of movies” concept. I really felt I was experiencing events from that particular time period.

With that said, I did enjoy the story a bit, even if it seems cliché now, thanks to all the movies that Ben-Hur has influenced. This movie’s running time is something that was very indicative of the time it was made. We rarely get epic movies with running times that match the scope of the movie. At 222 minutes, the movie does not feel boring or dragging for the most part, which is interesting considering that many movies nowadays have running times of 90 minutes and can feel too much. The only time I felt it dragged or it could have been shortened was the last 30 minute sequence dealing with the crucifixion, which is the biggest problem, plot wise, I have with the movie. Jesus, throughout the movie, appears as a silent, subtle, yet really important presence throughout Ben-Hur’s life. His biggest impact is giving Ben Hur a drink of water in the desert, and there are a couple of missed opportunities for them to meet such as when he’s preaching on top of a hill, and Esther goes to listen to him. The last bit of the movie is all spent focusing on the crucifixion and a very explicit involvement by Jesus with Ben-Hur. I understand that this sequence is meant to show Ben-Hur gaining his faith after enduring so many injustices, but still I can’t help but feel that there would have been a way to cut this down or change it to go with the way Jesus was established as a device in the movie.

Kudos go to Charlton Heston as Ben-Hur for making this virtuous but ultimately flawed character believable and memorable. The character went through so much, and while he was changed, you can tell he is still the same person, which requires a certain kind of subtlety that many actors lack. Stephen Boyd on the other hand is a bit on the campy side, and his performance ages the film for me a bit.
Overall this is a great movie that has appealed to me on a more technical level, and is an obvious must-watch for technical film buffs. The story is very much a familiar one, but it is nevertheless a compelling one that is carried entirely on Heston’s great acting. A recommended viewing if you have the time.

Jonesy: I first saw Ben-Hur in 6th grade Geography class. Now being 11 at the time, there was no way I could appreciate the magnitude of the movie. I do remember really enjoying the movie, the chariot scene, and how long the movie was. I guess you could say that was my first “epic” movie experience, and as a youngster, it made me realize that not all old movies are outdated and boring. Now, watching Ben-Hur as an adult, I still felt many of the same emotions that I remember feeling when I was younger.

Ben-Hur fits in that cliché saying, “They don’t make movies like this anymore”. Really, they don’t. Ben-Hur fits in the classic “epic” category of movies, but the difference the filmmakers didn’t have the luxuries of the modern world. So, when a scene calls for 15,000 spectators, they literally needed 15,000 extras all in period clothing. No CGI here folks. This is pure, raw movie making at its best.

While watching Ben-Hur, I noticed how much it has influenced modern-day epic movies. Gladiator pretty much copied the storyline and just added tigers instead of a chariot race. Just talking about the story itself, I would have to say that, at it’s core, it’s kind of boring. But thankfully, that’s not the point of the movie. Now the story has been told many times over, but I can still buy into it because of the pure magnitude of the movie.

The technical aspects of the movie is what is most impressive. It’s beautifully shot and executed, which is why it’s a top 100 AFI movie. A lot of older films that were “technical achievements” for their time can wear out their welcome, but not Ben-Hur. It was impressive then, and it’s still equally impressive now. I can’t even imagine the time, energy, and attention to detail it took to create and film this movie. It shows what true filmmaking use to be before the wonderful world of computers.

No comments:

Post a Comment