on 28 June 2013
BEN-HUR  [3-Disc Ultimate 50th Anniversary Collector's Edition] [Blu-ray] The Entertainment Experience of a Lifetime!
Meticulously restored frame by frame and digitally remastered. This High-definition Blu-ray 3-disc masterpiece, hits greater heights with the arrival of this stunning visual splendour, thundering action and towering drama of this record-setting winner of 11 Academy Awards® including Best Picture. Charlton Heston brings physical and moral presence to his Best Actor Oscar® winning his role of Judah Ben-Hur, a Jewish nobleman in Palestine, whose heroic odyssey includes enslavement by the Romans, vengeance against his tormentors during a furious arena spectacular chariot race and the fateful encounters with Jesus Christ, Best Director Oscar ® winner William Wyler masterfully grips the reign of an enduring and spellbinding spectacular. Narrated by Finlay Currie.
FILM FACT: Awards and Nominations: 32nd Academy Awards® for Best Picture for Sam Zimbalist (posthumous award). Academy Awards® for Best Director for William Wyler. Academy Awards® for Best Actor in a Leading Role for Charlton Heston. Academy Awards® for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Hugh Griffith. Academy Awards® for Best Art Direction for Set Decoration, Color, Edward C. Carfagno and William A. Horning (posthumous award) (art direction); Hugh Hunt (set decoration). Academy Awards® for Best Cinematography, Color, Robert L. Surtees. Academy Awards® for Best Costume Design, Color, Elizabeth Haffenden. Academy Awards® for Best Special Effects for A. Arnold Gillespie, Robert MacDonald and Milo Lory. Academy Awards® for Best Film Editing for John D. Dunning and Ralph E. Winters. Academy Awards® for Best Music for Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture, Miklós Rózsa. Academy Awards® for Best Sound Recording for Franklin Milton for M-G-M Studio Sound Department. Andrew Marton received a Special Achievement Award for directing the chariot race sequence. Charlton Heston was nominated for a Golden Globe® Awards in the Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture and Drama category. The picture also won the BAFTA Award for Best Film, the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Film, and the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in a Motion Picture for William Wyler's masterful direction.
Cast: Charlton Heston, Jack Hawkins, Haya Harareet, Stephen Boyd, Hugh Griffith, Martha Scott, Cathy O'Donnell, Sam Jaffe, Finlay Currie, Frank Thring, Terence Longdon, George Relph, André Morell, Claude Heater, Les Ballets Africains (uncredited), Ady Berber (uncredited), Marina Berti (uncredited), Hugh Billingsley (uncredited), Jerry Brown (uncredited), Robert Brown (uncredited), Joe Canutt (uncredited), Otello Capanna (uncredited), Richard Coleman (uncredited), Antonio Corevi (uncredited), Michael Cosmo (uncredited), Alfredo Danesi (uncredited), David Davies (uncredited), Princess Carmen de Hohenlohe (uncredited), Victor De La Fosse (uncredited), Liana Del Balzo (uncredited), Mino Doro (uncredited), Franco Fantasia (uncredited), Dino Fazio (uncredited), José Greci Richard Hale (uncredited), Claude Heater (Jesus uncredited), John Horsley (uncredited), Eddie Juaregui (uncredited), Duncan Lamont Howard Lang (uncredited), Lord Layton (uncredited), John Le Mesurier (uncredited), Cliff Lyons (uncredited), Luigi Marra (uncredited), Ferdy Mayne (uncredited), Aldo Mozele (uncredited), Remington Olmsted (uncredited), Laurence Payne (uncredited), Stella Rho (uncredited), Count Mario Rivoltella (uncredited), Noel Sheldon (uncredited), Ralph Truman (uncredited), Raimondo Van Riel (uncredited), Irina Wassilchikoff (uncredited), Joe Yrigoyen (uncredited) and Nazzareno Zamperla (uncredited)
Director: William Wyler
Producers: Sam Zimbalist, Joseph Vogel (uncredited), Sol C. Siegel (uncredited) and William Wyler (uncredited)
Screenplay: Christopher Fry, Gore Vidal, Karl Tunberg, Maxwell Anderson and S. N. Behrman
Composer: Miklós Rózsa
Cinematography: Robert L. Surtees
Video Resolution: 1080p [Technicolor]
Aspect Ratio: 2.76:1 [Ultra Panavision 70 and MGM Camera 65]
Audio: English: 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English: 5.1 Dolby Digital, 5.1 Castilian Spanish, 5.1 Czech, 5.1 French, 5.1 German, 5.1 Italian, 5.1 Brazilian, 1.0 Portuguese and 1.0 Hungarian
Subtitles: English, Brazilian Portuguese, Castilian, Spanish, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Icelandic, Italian, Korean, Latin Spanish, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Swedish and Thai
Region: All Regions
Number of discs: 3
Running Time: 212 minutes
Studio: Warner Home Video
Andrew's Blu-ray Review: ‘BEN-HUR’ is A Tale of the Christ is one of the most beloved literary classics of all time, and although it's seen numerous film iterations before, especially in 1907 and 1925, both of which were silent films, and it was William Wyler's retelling in 1959 that really made 'BEN-HUR' a household name, and there's a host of reasons for that. The first of which being a story that's epic in both concept and scope for Judah Ben-Hur, a wealthy prince in Jerusalem, seemingly has it all. His people are kind to him, and in turn, he's kind to his people. Not in a 'worship me or it's a thousand lashes' kind of way, but he genuinely treats the people who serve him as equals, friends even. However, things change when Judah Ben-Hur is visited by Messala, an old friend that now serves the Roman Empire as a military tribune. The two get along swimmingly just as if old times were upon them, but it isn't long before Messala lays out a terrifying ultimatum: Judah Ben-Hur must tell his people to roll over and be conquered, and if he doesn't, then Rome will take it by force. Judah insists he will do no such thing, and the two part ways. As promised, Rome's military marches into Judea with the understanding that their presence isn't welcome. Watching from a roof top is the Judah Ben-Hur family, where suddenly a roof tile slips and strikes the governor appointed by Rome. Although Messala knows Judah Ben-Hur is against violence and would never stoop low enough for such a stunt, he sees the situation as an opportunity. By turning on an old friend and his family, he could make the people of Judea fear him, so he promptly condemns Judah to the galleys and imprisons his mother and sister. Judah Ben-Hur vows to one day return and have his vengeance.
Personally, I went a really long time in my life without paying any attention to the likes of ‘The Ten Commandments’ or ‘BEN-HUR,’ as I thought them to be religious films and honestly, I'm not exactly the religious type. That being said, when I did decide to put my bias aside and give them a try, I fell in love. There's so much to appreciate in ‘BEN-HUR.’ Because of the massive set designs, insane amount of extras and wardrobe, and the finest details paid to the practical effects in the film, ‘BEN-HUR’ is impressively immersive for a film that's 50 years old. Despite a running time that one would expect to make a film feel like it's dragging on forever, ‘BEN-HUR’ is engaging from beginning to end for all of the reasons I've praised above. Even when the film isn't being 'busy' with a confrontation or action or anything else 'exciting', the character development is done well enough to ensure things move along at a very nice pace. More importantly, ‘BEN-HUR’ also seems to have quite a bit of replay value to it. I've seen it before, and now I've seen it again, for what seems like the first time thanks to the restoration on this stunning Blu-ray disc, but we'll get to that in a minute... yet I already feel like I want to schedule a little time to give it yet another screening. I don't care if you're 20 and have some kind of disposition that makes you think a film from the 1950's can't be good, or if you're 60 and have seen this film 15 times, then ‘BEN-HUR’ is a timeless classic and one that I personally believe can be enjoyed by most everyone. If you've been hesitant because of its age, don't be. When people praise films as being timeless, this is the kind of film they're talking about. If you've been hesitant because of a possible religious element at play, don't worry. The religious aspects aren't so in your face they're preachy. Trust me, put these typical and yet understandable, concerns aside and see what you've been missing.
Blu-ray Video Quality – For many of you, I'm sure this is the part of the review you're most curious about. Although the previous inferior NTSC DVD release looked okay, but has this 6K restoration and sourced from an 8K restoration. really served this film's justice, being superior in high-definition in every perceivable way. Oh boy it is totally awesome. The ‘BEN-HUR' 1080p encoded transfer and the awesome 2.76:1 aspect ratio is the most astonishing catalogue title I've ever seen. As I have said at the beginning of the review. Anybody out there that still clings such ignorant claims as 'old things can't look any better in HD and should watch this Blu-ray and educate themselves in what film looks like, no matter the era it came from. Yes, make no mistake about it folks; ‘BEN-HUR’ is the best looking release of 2011. Film enthusiasts everywhere have needed to rejoice. There are so many titles, and Warner Bros. is typically an offender here, that are a given a swift kick in the pants just so they can be pushed onto retail shelves, but ‘BEN-HUR’ is exactly what film enthusiasts crave. The image has been faithfully preserved to retain natural grain structure, while also faithfully reproducing every last detail and colour to perfection. I honestly wouldn't be surprised if this film looks better than it did during its theatrical debut. Not only does everything look immaculate up close and personal, but details in the distance look just as good as if you were looking out a window. I don't think I've ever written so much for a video portion of a review, but ‘BEN-HUR’ deserves every word. Simply put it, this release is a no brainer in terms of upgrading from your old horrible inferior NTSC DVD, as ‘BEN-HUR’ debut in high-definition is reference quality that every catalogue title should strive to achieve.
Blu-ray Audio Quality – Unsurprisingly, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track also achieves perfection. The previous inferior DVD's, although sounding quite good, didn't exactly sound natural. Sound effects were a little loud for the track, probably just for the sake of being so. The same can be said for the score, which to my ears sounded like it was a little harsh at its peak moments. This has been rectified for this Blu-ray release, as the sound effects sound natural and 'fit' better in the overall sound design, and the score now sounds majestic instead of just noisy. Dialogue is always clean and crisp, and never sounds tinny. A good chunk of the track overall comes through the front speakers, and the most sound envelopment you get for the most part is hearing dialogue fade from left to right. There are some sound effects that come from the rears for ambience though, which completely took me by surprise for a film that's 50+ years, and they actually don't sound 'tacked on'. They too, sound natural. The entire sound stage actually gets rather rowdy during the sea battle and chariot scenes though, and you'll be impressed just by how immersive those scenes can be. Honestly, any and all of the faults that can be found in the sound design is just that, a fault of the sound design, most likely of the time. However, this is the most faithful representation of ‘BEN-HUR’ I've ever experienced, and is likely to be the best we'll ever hear. More top notch marks for a stunning release!
Blu-ray Special Features and Extras:
Disc One and Two:
Newly re-mastered and restored from original 65mm film elements.
Audio Commentary: Commentary by Film Historian T. Gene Hatcher with scene specific comments from Charlton Heston: Commentary by T. Gene Hatcher with Charlton Heston is a little different than most commentary tracks we've accustomed to listening to, as T. Gene Hatcher and Charlton Heston were recorded separately. Charlton Heston provides commentary for nearly a third of the film in bits and pieces, whereas film historian T. Gene Hatcher fills in the rest of the time frame. Although you'd expect the commentary to be dry since the two people involved weren't in the same room to bounce off of one another, this couldn't be further from the truth. Heston remembers many details about his time filming ‘Ben-Hur’ and is able to provide discussion that has a wealth of information and just as much as heart. Hatcher is very knowledgeable about the film and provides a very factual, yet thoughtful account in regards to the history of ‘BEN-HUR’ and its production. It's a long movie, and a lengthy track, as is continued on Disc 2, but if you've seen this film numerous times, you'd be doing yourself a disservice by not listening to what these guys have to say, especially Charlton Heston. This really feels more like history than a commentary!
Special Feature: Music-only track showcasing Miklós Rózsa's score: The music-only track shines a beacon on Miklós Rózsa's glorious score, which could easily stand alone as a major symphonic work. The gifted composer brilliantly evokes the Biblical period with a majestic main theme, but his subtle underscoring of incidental moments lends the movie great warmth and fervour. Rarely does film music merit an isolated track, but Miklós Rózsa's exceptional, OSCAR® winning score deserves to be not only heard, but honoured, and thankfully Warner has done just that with this track.
Theatrical Trailers: 1959 Loew's Theater Teaser; 1959 Theatrical Trailer; 1961 General Release Trailer; 1961 General Release Trailer and the 1969 70mm Re-issue Trailer.
NEW! Special Feature: Charlton Heston & BEN-HUR: A Personal Journey  [1080p] [78:00] This is an all new, feature length documentary in 1080p, that chronicles Charlton Heston's life while filming the cinema changing ‘BEN-HUR.’ In 1958, Charlton Heston travelled with his family to Rome by steamship on a risky gamble in– the making of an epic film which would become known as one of the most successful and critically acclaimed films of all time, ‘BEN-HUR.’ It would eventually go on to win eleven Academy Awards® and including Best Actor for Charlton Heston, but no one knew that at the time. ‘BEN-HUR,’ directed by William Wyler, would either make or break not only the studio, M-G-M but also determine the fame, fortune and career of actor Charlton Heston. Charlton Heston and ‘BEN HUR’ incorporates never-before-seen 16mm footage and photographs taken on the set of ‘BEN-HUR’ by Charlton’s wife, photographer Lydia C. Heston, as well as interviews with Heston’s contemporaries, including Tom Selleck, director Mike Newell, producer Peter Snell and filmmaker (and son) Fraser C. Heston, his daughter Holly Rochell and his wife, Lydia Clarke Heston. The film shows the inside story of the making of ‘BEN-HUR’ from Heston’s perspective and how it formed him as an artist and actor in the years to follow. Directed by acclaimed documentary filmmaker Laurent Bouzereau and executive produced by Fraser C. Heston for the 50th Anniversary release and restoration of ‘BEN-HUR.’ It is a Warner Brothers Home Entertainment production, in association with Agamemnon Films and Blue Collar Productions.
Special Feature: BEN-HUR 1925 silent version, from the Thames Television restoration with stereophonic orchestral score by composer Carl Davis [143:00] Finally, out of the 'behind the scenes' sub-menu, we come to the silent film that preceded William Wyler's epic by 34 years. At nearly two and a half hours in length, the silent picture is interesting to see, although I admit it's not a style that I can really sit through entirely. What I did see was fairly impressive though - There were many more extras than I would have anticipated for a film this age, making the amount of costumes to be seen rather astonishing, and the picture quality is quite good considering. But, the rest is fairly typical for silent films of the era. Most of the physical acting and emoting are absolutely dreadful. Over-acted and almost comical to see, this really does destroy the epic-ness that this story deserved. I guess in 1925 though, you didn't have much choice! Still though, again, this is a great piece for such a historical collection contained within a box.
Special Feature Documentary: BEN-HUR: The Epic That Changed Cinema  [58:00] Current filmmakers such as Ridley Scott reflect on the importance and influence of the film on modern epics. This documentary appeared on the 2005 DVD release, and no expense seemed to be spared in order to deliver the goods. Contained within are interviews with William Wyler (archive footage) and Charlton Heston (2001 Interview archive footage), as well as some modern day filmmakers Ridley Scott and George Lucas and fans of the film alike. Whereas the previous documentary really goes as 'behind the scenes' as you can get, this one reflects mostly on the impact ‘BEN-HUR’ had on cinema as a whole. Other contributors to the special documentary are Bruce Crawford, Ben Burtt, Arnon Milchan, Fraser Clarke Heston, Robert Dalva, Ernest R. Dickerson, Arthur Max, Don Davis, Irvin Kershner, Anthony Pratt, Janusz Kaminski, Sharen Davis, Elia Cmiral, Joel Cox, Caleb Deschanel and Michael Douglas.
Special Feature Documentary: BEN-HUR: The Making of an Epic, hosted and narrated by Christopher Plummer  [58:00] Pretty much anything that wasn't mentioned in the detailed commentary or documentaries listed above is included here. This supplement details the path the story took from novelisation in 1880, to stage productions, to silent films in 1907 and 1925, to the 1959 epic featuring Charlton Heston. Interviews, behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with members of the cast and crew that were on the scene are all included here. Consider this an 'overall' look at ‘Ben-Hur' and its history through expressions and art. Appearing in the special documentary are Rudy Behlmer, Gore Vidal, J.J. Cohn, William Wyler (archive footage), Catherine Wyler, Ralph E. Winters, Edward Carfagno Jr., Richard Edlund (Special Effects Director), David Raksin (Composer), Joe Canutt (Stunt Man), Yakima Canutt (2nd Unit Director archive footage), Cesare Danova (archive footage uncredited), Haya Harareet (archive footage uncredited), Marc Klaw (archive footage uncredited), Benito Mussolini (archive footage uncredited), Irving Thalberg (archive footage uncredited) and Edward D. White (archive footage uncredited).
Special Feature BEN-HUR: A Journey Through Pictures  Audio-visual recreation of the film via stills, storyboards, sketches, music and dialogue: This is pretty much just a still gallery in motion, but it's worth taking a look at all the promo material that's here. This Blu-ray boxed set is seemingly very much geared towards those with an interest in cinematic history, so this shouldn't disappoint.
Special Feature: Screen Tests  [30:00] Leslie Nielsen and Cesare Danova / Leslie Nielsen and Yale Wexter (without sound) / George Baker and William Russell, Haya Harareet Hair and Makeup Test (without sound).
Special Feature: Vintage Newsreels Gallery: Costliest Film Makes Screen History / The Night BEN-HUR Comes to Broadway / West Coast Welcomes Ben-Hur / VIP Opening: Capital Welcome for Ben-Hur / Japan's Emperor Goes to the Movies / Oscar Likes Ben-Hur.
Special Feature: Highlights from the 4/4/1960 Academy Awards® Ceremony [10:00] This is a lengthier look at the 1960 Academy Awards® includes acceptance speeches from most of the 'BEN-HUR' winners. We see Janet Leigh, Tony Curtis, Haya Harareet, Charlton Heston, James Stewart, Elizabeth Taylor, and Eddie Fisher arriving at the gala, and such notable presenters as Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner, Olivia de Havilland, Gene Kelly, and John Wayne. Wyler accepts both his own Best Director award and Hugh Griffith's supporting Oscar, and Sam Zimbalist's widow takes home the Best Picture honour for her recently deceased husband.
Theatrical Trailer Gallery [14:00] A trailer gallery showcases a teaser and four theatrical previews, all of which trumpet the movie's drama, spectacle, and inspirational nature.
Finally, 'BEN-HUR' is the quintessential epic, and this spectacular 50th Anniversary Edition from Warner Home Video may just be the quintessential Blu-ray collector's set. Boasting arguably the finest 1080p transfer of any classic film, exceptional audio, supplements galore and classy packaging, this is without question one of the top Blu-ray releases of the year and a must-own for every film aficionado. So clear some shelf space and give this thrilling Academy Award® winning film a prominent spot in your library, and enjoy the passion, spectacle, and, above all, the eye-popping, fully restored image of one of Hollywood's grandest and greatest achievements. So all in all I am so proud to have this in my Blu-ray Collection. Highly Recommended!
Andrew C. Miller – Your Ultimate No.1 Film Fan
Le Cinema Paradiso
WARE, United Kingdom