46 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Monumental Achievement
Ben Hur is, quite simply, a lesson in filmmaking. Once you take a step back its hard to believe that, what is arguably one of the top ten greatest motion pictures of all time was produced over 50-years ago, and twelve-million dollars was breaking the bank of MGM. Yet it remains as epic as what it surely must have been when it was first released, and perhaps most...
Published on 9 Nov 2011 by Max Rebo
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Pioneer Warns About Dual Disc Format
I was about to purchase the DVD version of Ben Hur when I noticed it was described as 'Dual Disc Format' (double-sided DVD). I'd not heard of that before so checked it out.
Quote: "DualDisc" is a new two-sided playback-only disc media released by some music companies, which is similar in size to a DVD and CD disc. A DualDisc typically contains DVD content on...
Published 3 months ago by Heart of Gold 247
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46 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Monumental Achievement,
This is where Ben Hur strikes hot - the amount of heart that was put in to every single aspect of the production. The whole reason MGM were willing to spend so much when they were already in trouble was to create the "modern masterpiece", the film to which others could be judged beside. This testament holds true even now. When you watch the famous chariot race scene, you are completely aware that just about every Health and Safety procedure we know today is completely abandoned. So crucifying are some of the stunts and moves as thrown riders are dodging and trampled by horses that you can't help but gasp and cringe.
Equally, Heston's inspiring performance cannot help but bring a tear to the eyes of anyone watching as he is reunited with mother and sister at the end of the film, following the sacrifices of 'Jesus'. I'm far from a religious man, but it says a lot when a film can so artistically portray the wonders of biblical adventure, and make it worthy to sweep '11' Academy Awards.
The restoration for this Blu-ray is another achievement on its own, given the apparent state of the original negatives. It was an 8K scan (currently the highest resolution possible) on the original 65mm film, which itself is already a leap up from regular 35mm film stock. Aside from some very minor 'streak' issues now and again (which are barely noticeable to the untrained eye), it is a revitalisation to which others should be judged by. It is breathtaking. Natural grain is readily intact, and appears very filmic as it doesn't have the 'floaty' or smudged look that many studios compromise when cleaning up their films. The film shows absolutely no signs of digital enhancement or tampering in the cause of clean up. Detail is simply amazing for a film this old; I would say it easily surpasses any 'modern' film I've seen on Blu-ray. What I'm most intrigued by is how much of that detail fills the backgrounds, for you can see so far into the distance and everything is still defined. Even the colours have a natural Technicolor glow and show no signs over over-saturation which, again, can happen in some film restorations.
Of course, since the film has such a wide aspect ratio (2.76:1) you will certainly need at least a 32" TV to start appreciating the detail and scale of this movie. I'm pretty envious of those fortunate enough to have projectors/plasma displays!
Ben Hur's soundtrack also plays a major contribution to the enjoyment of the film, so fans will be pleased that this also has an excellent new reproduction. It sounds absolutely marvellous for its day, so you won't be afraid of cranking it up in all its uncompressed glory. Its like having an orchestra in your room.
Included are a modest variety of bonus features that do a great job of outlining the films production; the best being one dedicated to Charlton Heston's own diary, as narrated by his son, daughter, wife and many other people whom were a part of his life. This is a very fascinating documentary that, at almost one and a half hours long, cottons rare home film footage (16mm), pictures and accounts of his life.
The film is spread across 2 x Blu-ray discs, with a third being dedicated to the extras to ensure maximum quality of the film.
Less is probably more when reviewing a film like Ben Hur, as it has been documented so much already. All the customer needs to know with this release is that it represents ridiculously good value for money; you're getting one of the best films ever made, a restoration that has surely set a new standard and some excellent quality bonus features. Don't forget the posh slip-cover too!
80 of 85 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the greatest films ever made.,
By A Customer
The print has got to be seen to be believed,crisp sharp,colourful everything this classic deserves.
And what of the extras? WOW!!! First of all you get two documentaries-one from 1994 which was on the 2001 edition but the one made in 2005 is so impressive.
The best extra ever in this reviewers opinion has go to be disc 3 which features the entire 1925 silent version with a new score by Sir Carl Davis.
What more could you ask for? Superb,worth every penny.
41 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bye Bye DVD copy of Ben Hur, you served me well.,
If you're new to Blu ray and thinking about, and still unsure about how best to take advantage of your new investment and own the DVD copy of this film, then let me tell you, this release has been given a lot of TLC, newly restored and remastered from the original 65mm negative, then remastered to 1080p. Comparing Ben Hur on Blu ray to DVD is like comparing the DVD to VHS, the picture is outstanding.
Then there are the extras including the 1925 silent version on Disc 3, not seen it yet so unable to comment. I'm not expecting Metropolis type restoration for the 1925 silent film, so I won't be disappointed when I get round to having a butchers.
Buy this for the spectacular Blu ray version of Ben Hur, and you'll not be disappointed, the added 1925 film plus documentaries are just a bonus in my opinion.
********* UPDATE *********
The 1925 Silent version has been fully restored, is 2 Hours 23 Minutes in duration, and looks absolutely stunning, just like Metropolis. Is well worth watching ;-)
29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Long overdue movie classic gets the full treatment,
What can be said, that hasn't already been said about this epic?? Faultless performances from the likes of Hugh Griffiths, Glengormley born actor Stephen Boyd (Messala), and the excellent Charlton Heston in the lead role. Brilliant music score and breath-taking action (to name but a few!) It's the sort of film that shouldn't just be viewed on a Good Friday afternoon!
The real gem in this collection has to be the restored 1925 original silent version. It's amazing to watch this and to compare it to its more famous remake. The 1925 version seems to focus more on the "tale of the Christ." Scenes such as the nativity and the last supper are particularly memorable with it's beautiful use of colour. It's also quite a shocking film (for it's time) with images of semi nudity and quite grotesque scenes of violence (bodies and heads impaled on spikes and swords). But don't let that put you off. Despite its flaws, even the chariot race is as spectacular to watch. Carl Davis' musical score is superb, and also quite Wagnerian in style. (Any of you musical buffs might recognise the clever use of the 'Dresden Amen' used to symbolise Jesus).
This is a must buy! It deserved it's 11 oscars, and it deserves to be viewed over and over again. Even if, like me, you already have it on video, and the first DVD that was released. I'm still delighted that it has finally come out in a special edition.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the Quintessential Sword & Sandal Epic,
When I ordered this Blu-Ray set from Amazon.co.uk I was prepared to be disappointed as previous re-processed, re-mastered and re-anything else films I've ordered have fallen short of the mark to me. Not this one, I am happy to report!
This 3-disc set is packaged in a nice slipcover box containing the three BD discs (no booklets or other extras in this set). We get the 1959 film Ben-Hur spread over discs 1 & 2 for maximum quality (with minimum compression) and presented...finally....in it's original aspect ratio of 2.76:1. Filmed on 70mm stock utilizing 65mm for picture information and the remaining 5mm for its 6-channel stereo soundtrack, MGM called this amazing widescreen technology Camera 65. In general parlance this was Ultra-Panavision, the widest of the wide screen formats (it was used subsequently in the single-camera Cinerama releases which followed the triple-screen presentation How the West Was Won). Ergo: Ben-Hur was filmed in the widest format ever used! Note the attention to composition, scene-balance and lighting that the cinematographer (Surtees) and Director (Wyler) exhibited here. Great stuff!
Ben-Hur has been painstakingly restored. So painstakingly in fact, that the actual 50th Anniversary of this epic (2009) was missed by two full years in order for the restoration team not to have to compromise their objective of providing film buffs with the very best picture and sound possible with today's technology.
The colour quality and picture detail have to be seen to be believed. I spotted no artifacts, scratches or colour shifting at all. It was as if I was transported back to 1959 and was watching the original road-show release on brand new film in a state-of-the-art cinema (right down to the Overture at the beginning and filmed-in Intermission just before the famous Chariot Race).
I must state emphatically that I have never seen any Blu-Ray restoration come close to this presentation of Ben-Hur in quality and consistency. They have outdone themselves here (another viewer who sat through the close-to-four-hour presentation with me opined that the movie was so grain-free it almost looked like it had been filmed on hi-quality video tape rather than on film stock). The colour, contrast and absolute `snap' in the sharpness blew me away.
A quick word about the sound quality. There are no multiple choices for playback modes, just DTS-HD 5.1 Surround. A not-too-shabby sound format which gives more of a frontal soundstage effect as it probably sounded in the cinema (no head-spinning pseudo rear-channel fluff here). I actually didn't hear much rear speaker info save in the thunderstorm after the crucifixion. This particular segment near the end also had some very L-O-W frequency sound to exercise one's subwoofer. Very impressive albeit somewhat distorted. All in all the sound was a wee bit more `trebley' than in the more modern releases but this minor flaw was easily forgotten as I was enveloped in Miklos Rozsa's almost-symphonic score with each character having his or her own specific and identifiable theme woven throughout.
There is a generous quantity of amazing Bonus features to be found on disc 3 including newsreels, trailers, screen tests, a music-only soundtrack AND an amazing film chronicle, Charlton Heston & Ben-Hur: A Personal Journey; lovingly compiled and presented by the star's filmmaker son, Fraser. As if all these extra features are not enough, the original 1925 silent version of Ben Hur is also included (this segment I have not viewed yet).
This 3-disc 50th Anniversary set coupled with Amazon's speedy delivery and generous pricing make one hungry for more of these classic epics to be released in BluRay HiDef format and with the same attention to detail as this team achieved (perhaps a region-free BluRay version of El Cid is coming soon?).
I cannot recommend this BluRay Ben-Hur Anniversary set highly enough! If you are a lover of classic films and appreciate technical excellence, you must own this release. I give it an unequivocal 5+ stars!
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best film ever made,
This review is from: Ben Hur - 50th Anniversary Edition [DVD]  (DVD)Not much to add to the title really.
Why is this the best? Well, the flim score. Unquestionably the best ever. Superbly matching emotions to the moment.
And the general high quality of the lead actors.
All of the characters have such power and depth - think of Stephen Boyd's superbly rounded performance as the coldly ruthless Massala, Frank Thring as Pilate and Jack Hawkins whose initially cynical but then hopeful Quintus Arrius is a masterclass in characterisation.
But the best supporting actor is a woman - Haya Harareet. It's remarkable that a fairly unknown Israeli actress should put in one of the greatest female performances ever seen on screen but that's the case here. It shows Wyler's ability to get the very best out of his actors and to pull out truly moving performances.
And finally of course, there's Heston himself. Always a very powerful actor full of emotion, he pulls out an absolutely breath-taking performance full of power, energy, despair, hatred and finally love. Never has an actor portrayed so convincingly all the range of emotions a man can go through.
Everyone knows the spectacle of the galley sequences and the chariot race but for me it is the final sequences on Heston's return to Jerusalem that are so powerful and moving.
I'm not ashamed to admit that, although I'm a 44-year old man, I still cry every time I see Heston's return to Harareet in the garden after his return from Rome and also with his final redemption and realisation of the futility of vengeance and of his love for her. There has never been a more moving sequence filmed in the history of cinema.
I can't see another film of this calibre being made, certainly not in my lifetime.
Modern films may have the spectacle and technology (ie Titanic and Avatar) but they simply cannot match the range of raw emotion that you experience during this film.
43 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars DVD Box Set of The Year?,
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The greatest roadshow epic of them all - and a spectacular Blu-ray transfer,
This review is from: Ben Hur - 50th Anniversary Edition [DVD]  (DVD)NB: As is Anmazon's wont, the reviews for various different editions of this title have all been lumped together. This review attempts to specify whch extras are on which edition, including the 50th anniversary Blu-ray set, but may not apply to future editions.
The film that has become a by-word for the genre and the biggest of the roadshow movies of the fifties and sixties, 1959's Ben-Hur: A Tale of The Christ is from an audience point-of-view still a great movie, and considerably more intelligent than many modern critics would like to believe.
The best of the redemption epics of the Fifties, where suffering in the likes of The Robe or Quo Vadis makes their protagonists better in the creepily smug way that passes for movie righteousness, it turns its hero, Judah Ben-Hur, into a right s**t. Corrupted by revenge, he rejects Christ and turns away from passive resistance. Mistaken for Christ, he is himself betrayed by a friend and returns from his certain death (in this case the galleys) "like a returning faith," in the words of one of his faithful servants, but he has no faith himself. Having initially rejected Messala's overtures to "look to the west, look to Rome", indirectly the cause of his misfortunes, he becomes Romanised and a mirror image of his betrayer. The character exists in a constant state of flux and torment, journeying from slave-owning Jew to Roman slave to Roman citizen to symbol of resistance, never regaining his peace until the finale. It doen't hurt that Gore Vidal and Christopher Fry's uncredited but much publicised rewrite of Karl Tunberg's script gives the journey some fine dialogue, strong characterisation and real dramatic meat to work with.
There was never an actor more at home in the genre than Heston, and he is in strong form here, although much of his thunder is stolen by Stephen Boyd as Messala (the role Heston was pencilled in for before Rock Hudson turned down the lead) whose intelligent portrayal of ambition is far more Oscar-worthy than Hugh Griffiths' hammily enjoyable Sheik Ilderim. Jack Hawkins and the remainder of the cast perfectly judge their roles, with Wyler's adept direction achieving a perfect balance between the religious, political and human elements of the story.
While making the most of the spectacle, he also ensures that it is often the quieter moments that most impress. His sensitivity with actors ensures the film is driven more by emotions than events, and certainly the scenes dealing with his return to Judea are often genuinely moving without seeming so overtly manipulative as they doubtless would have in other hands.
Miklos Rozsa's score is one of the greatest ever written for any motion picture and is remarkably sensitive to the needs of the film (although Wyler did reputedly want to use Silent Night for the Nativity sequence!). The stunning ten-minute chariot race, played in real-time, has and needs no music, relying instead on the infinitely more effective roar of the crowd and thunder of hooves. The sequence also shows canny production design: the arena is suitably high-walled to limit the number of extras needed for the three-month shoot of the scene.
Ben-Hur is a film which still somewhat defies television in all its formats - the cinema is really the place to see this, the bigger the screen, the better. At an extra-wide 2.76:1 widescreen, it's not quite SuperTohoScope, but it's close, but the lack of picture area that was a major problem with definition and colour balance in the old letterboxed video releases is no problem for the DVD transfer, but it's the 2011 Blu-ray transfer that really excels. It's easily the very best the film has ever looked on home video and reveals a level of detail lost on the previous releases, though it's still not recommended viewing on a small-screen TV. The film is not paced for TV but for the giant screen, inevitably draining some of its effect. Nonetheless, this is a great value-for-money special edition that may not be able to replicate the cinema experience, but does a good job of reminding you of it.
Shot under huge pressure - MGM made it clear that the future of the studio depended on the picture - the resulting stress contributed to producer Sam Zimbalist's fatal heart attack before the film was completed, and the tortuous route to the screen is well documented in the Blu-ray extras carried over from previous DVD editions, including documentaries and even screen tests for Haya Hayareet, Cesare Danova and Leslie Nielson! Even the popular stage production, which ran throughout the US for a decade grossing an astonishing $10m. In case you're wondering, diagrams are provided of how the chariot race was staged with real horses and carts! Sadly, although extracts from the notorious unauthorised one-reel 1911 Kalem version are included on the 50-minute documentary about the making of the film, the full short - shot during a beach party, with the camera never straying from the finish line during the chariot race - is not included. But the make-or-break MGM 1925 silent version is included on both the four disc DVD edition and the 3-disc Blu-ray (but not on the 3-disc DVD edition) in the Thames Silents version lovingly restored by David Gill and Kevin Brownlow, and makes an interesting comparison.
The 1925 Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ easily dwarfs the 1959 version with its colossal spectacle, running through a then astonishing $4m in its troubled two-year production that saw original star George Walsh replaced by Ramon Navarro and original director Charles Brabin replaced by Fred Niblo, a sum so great it would take six years to show a profit despite doing huge business. It may have been more of a lavish calling card for the newly merged Metro Goldwyn Mayer than a hugely profitable investment, but the money really is up there on the screen in its thousands of extras and lavish sets, not to mention its huge setpieces and early two-strip Technicolor sequences. At times it's like two movies running almost concurrently, one very much a reverential devotional epic showing key moments in the life of Christ, the other an epic melodrama about the wronged idealistic Jewish prince seeking revenge on the Roman childhood friend who condemned him to the galleys and his mother and sister to the leper colony before he finds both retribution and redemption. It's a somewhat leaner film than the sound remake, but still comes in at nearly two-and-a-half hours.
Like many silents, it emphasises height to give the film its epic scale rather than the width of the roadshow extravaganzas of the CinemaScope era, constantly dwarfing its thousands of extras bustling like ants at the very bottom of the frame at the foot of giant walls, towering cities and giant palm trees. Yet it still manages to make them come alive, the extras not just reduced to well disciplined bystanders. Where Wyler's film tends to limit its characters to those who have direct impact on the story, Niblo's Jerusalem is a bustling metropolis filled with ordinary people who are glimpsed in vignettes that humanise the scene-setting a little - even Gratus' fateful entrance into Jerusalem focuses as much on the mockery and discontent of the populace as it does on the hero who really should have spent some of his vast wealth on making sure his tiles weren't loose. There's even some major talent among the extras, in the Hollywood part of the shoot at least, from stars who came to watch the chariot race like John and Lionel Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Gary Cooper, John Gilbert, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and the Gish sisters to then jobbing-actors like Myrna Loy, Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, Janet Gaynor and Fay Wray.
There are quite a few differences from the 1959 version: Simonides does not initially acknowledge Judah's identity because to do so would condemn his daughter to slavery while silence would assure her freedom; here it is Esther rather than Judah who brings his leprous mother and sister to Calvary to be cured; there's a lengthy scene where Messala's mistress tries to discover Judah's identity before the chariot race; and, least successfully, at the finale Judah rallies an army to ride to Jesus' rescue. It doesn't go so far as to rewrite scripture beyond adding a couple more miracles, but it is a bit silly.
Ramon Navarro doesn't dominate the film the way that Heston did (constantly putting him in tights and low-cut tunics doesn't help), but he does grow in stature as the film progresses, with one convincing moment of numbed anguish as he glimpses a galley slave through a porthole after being rescued by a Roman ship. As per Lew Wallace's novel, Messala's not much of a character in this version, more a plot device, so there's less impact when the two antagonists face off in the arena (it doesn't help that Francis X. Bushman, an actor almost as fond of overdoing the eyeliner as Richard Harris, plays him like an unnuanced oaf). The chariot race itself is a mixture of the genuinely spectacular slightly let down by the technology of the day. For all the 42 cameras used and the kinetic camera car work, at times it's severely reined in by the fullframe academy ratio that only allows part of the horses to be seen - this is the kind of setpiece that really cries out for widescreen, if only to keep the chariots in the frame. Still, it's impressively handled by second-unit director B. Reeves Eason (with one William Wyler numbered among its small army of assistant directors), who went on to a somewhat schizophrenic career co-directing many serials and doing second unit work on A-movie like the Land Rush in Cimarron and the burning of Atlanta in Gone with the Wind, though his cavalier 'breezy' attitude to safety that saw one stuntman and numerous horses killed is pretty reprehensible.
This time round it's the sea battle that makes the even bigger impression, the studio not content with building several huge fullscale warships the size of department stores but unleashing something far more violent and sadistic than the remake could dream of getting away with. Human battering rams, heads on swords, impaled pirates carried overhead on pikes, slaves hanging from their own chains, bottles of poisonous vipers thrown onto the decks, all given extra ferocity by some bright spark having the great idea of having the pirates and Romans played by rival gangs of Italian communists and fascists and descending into onscreen chaos by a real out of control fire on one of the ships that saw extras jumping for their lives. Even the star carried scars for the rest of his life after jumping through a burning sail. It's no wonder that for years later there were rumors that not all of the extras survived.
The Bluray uses the same master that was previously available on laserdisc and the 4-disc DVD set, and while it's still in standard definition it's a fine looking transfer. The early Two-strip Technicolor is generally surprisingly successful: mainly used for the scenes depicting the life of a constantly off-camera Christ that are the most storybook staged scenes in the film, although one of Judah's triumphs also gets the Technicolor treatment, complete with topless flower maidens (there's a surprising amount of nudity, both male and female, in the film). It's just a shame there's not more about the film on the disc - even the uncut newsreel footage of the location pre-production and the trailer that are glimpsed briefly in one of the documentaries would have been nice (though that documentary does include an interview with the film's production manager). Still, considering MGM tried to destroy all the existing prints in 1959 and even went so far as to initiate criminal proceedings against William K. Everson for screening the silent version until Lillian Gish came to his recue, that the film survives at all is a bit of a miracle.
The extras carried over from the three and four disc DVDs to the Blu-ray include an additional documentary with various filmmakers describing the film's influence on them, a selection of original and widescreen trailers that are splendid examples of the classic Hollywood selling technique, hyping the film in several languages, newsreel extracts from the film's release and extracts from the Academy Awards ceremony. The Blu-ray adds a few more features, including a screen test with George Baker and William Russell (best known as one of Doctor Who's first companions), a mute screen test with Leslie Nielson and Lyle Wexler and a new and rather good 78-minute documentary about the impact the film had on Heston's life and career, drawing on plentiful home movie footage, though the man himself is largely absent - there's only one brief interview extract where he tells the `rigged' chariot race story again. Also included in the region-free US boxed set that's not been released in the UK is a nicely produced 64-page hardback picture book and a hardback edition of Charlton Heston's personal journal covering the making and release of the film.
Even if none are quite as comprehensive as they could be, the 4-disc DVD set and, especially, the 3-disc Blu-ray edition come very highly recommended.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars BEN-HUR BLU-RAY REVIEW,
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Real Gem,
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Ben Hur [DVD]  [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] by William Wyler (DVD - 2005)