scooped an unprecedented 11 Academy Awards in 1959 and, unlike some later rivals to this record-breaking win, richly deserved every single one. This is epic filmmaking on a scale that had not been seen before, and is unlikely ever to be seen again. It cost a staggering 15 million dollars and was one of the largest film productions ever undertaken: the Circus Maximus set alone covered 18 acres and was filled with 40,000 tons of Mediterranean sand. But it's not just running time or a cast of thousands that makes an epic, it's the subject-matter that counts and in Ben-Hur
the subject is rich, detailed and sensitively handled. Despite both the original novel
's and the film's subtitle, "A Tale of the Christ", this is really a parallel life, that of Prince Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston) and his estrangement from old Roman pal Messala (Stephen Boyd). The eponymous character's journey of self-discovery through bitterness and hate to eventual redemption has many deliberate echoes of Christ's life (at one point, Judah is mistaken for Jesus, much as Brian would be later in Monty Python's masterful satire), and the multi-layered script from (uncredited) literary titans Gore Vidal and Christopher Fry wrings out every nuance and every possible shade of meaning.
Director William Wyler, who had been a junior assistant on MGM's original silent version back in 1925, never sacrifices the human focus of the story in favour of spectacle (he had the good sense to leave the great chariot race to second-unit director and experienced stuntman Yakima Canutt), and it is his concentration on human drama and fully rounded characters that gives Wyler's epic its heart. In this he is aided immeasurably by Miklós Rózsa's majestic musical score, arguably the greatest ever written for a Hollywood picture, in which the development of character-driven leitmotifs produces the effect of grand opera. The Christian theme concentrates on the central character's love and compassion for his family (evoked by the discovery of their leprosy) rather than any heavy-handed sermonising (the figure of Christ is seen but never heard--his presence signalled by a serene musical motif instead).
On the DVD: this long-awaited release presents the film's original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.76:1 in a glorious anamorphic print, complete with remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. The music sounds fresher than ever, and both the theatrical "Overture" and "Entracte" are included (civilised times the 1950s: they had specially composed intermission music to enjoy while topping up on ice cream and popcorn!). There's an extensive and enjoyable documentary tracing the history of the story from Lew Wallace through stage productions to the first MGM version in 1925 and then to the 1959 production. Charlton Heston provides an intermittent commentary, evidently enjoying the experience of watching the film again, and his comments are usefully indexed so you can skip to the next bit without having to sit through chunks of silence (during the chariot race he voiced his concern to second-unit director Yakima Canutt that the stuntmen were better drivers. Replied Canutt: "Chuck, just drive the damn chariot and I guarantee that you'll win"). There's also a couple of screen tests, one with Leslie Nielsen in pre-Naked Gun days as Messala and a photo gallery and theatrical trailers complete an epic DVD package. --Mark Walker
This 1959 version of Lew Wallace's best-selling novel, which had already seen screen versions in 1907 and 1926, went on to win 11 Academy Awards. Adapted by Karl Tunberg and a raft of uncredited writers including Gore Vidal and Maxwell Anderson, the film once more recounts the tale of Jewish prince Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston), who lives in Judea with his family during the time that Jesus Christ was becoming known for his "radical" teachings.
Ben-Hur's childhood friend Messala (Stephen Boyd) is now an ambitious Roman tribune; when Ben-Hur refuses to help Messala round up local dissidents on behalf of the emperor, Messala pounces on the first opportunity to exact revenge on his onetime friend. Tried on a trumped-up charge of attempting to kill the provincial governor (whose head was accidentally hit by a falling tile), Ben-Hur is condemned to the Roman galleys, while his mother (Martha Scott) and sister (Cathy O'Donnell) are imprisoned. But during a sea battle, Ben-Hur saves the life of commander Quintus Arrius (Jack Hawkins), who, in gratitude, adopts Ben-Hur as his son and gives him full control over his stable of racing horses. Ben-Hur never gives up trying to find his family or exact revenge on Messala. At crucial junctures in his life, he also crosses the path of Jesus, and each time he benefits from it. The highlight of the film's 212 minutes is its now-legendary chariot race, staged largely by stunt expert Yakima Canutt. Ben-Hur's Oscar haul included Best Picture, Best Director for the legendary William Wyler, Best Actor for Heston, and Best Supporting Actor for Welsh actor Hugh Griffith as an Arab sheik.ContentDisc One & Two: The Movie
• Newly remastered and restored from original 65mm film elements
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio
• Commentary by film historian T. Gene Hatcher with scene specific comments from Charlton Heston
• Music-only track showcasing Miklos Rozsa's score Disc Three: Special Features
• Charlton Heston: A Personal Journey
(78 min) [HD]
: 1925 silent version, from the Thames Television restoration with stereophonic orchestral score by composer Carl Davis (143 min)
• 2005 Documentary: Ben-Hur: The Epic That Changed Cinema
--Current filmmakers such as Ridley Scott reflect on the importance and influence of the film on modern epics (58 min)
• 1994 Documentary: Ben-Hur: The Making of an Epic
, hosted by Christopher Plummer (58 min)
• Ben-Hur: A Journey Through Pictures--
Audiovisual recreation of the film via stills, storyboards, sketches, music and dialogue
• Screen tests (30 min)
• Vintage newsreels gallery
• Highlights from the 1960 Academy Awards ® ceremony
• Theatrical trailer gallery NOTE: This product does not come with a slip case. It includes 3 discs only.