Ben-Hur: 50th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition (Blu-ray)


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Rating: G

Charlton Heston as Judah Ben-Hur
Jack Hawkins as Quintus Arrius
Haya Harareet as Esther
Stephen Boyd as Messala
Hugh Griffith as Sheik Ilderim
Martha Scott as Miriam
Cathy O’Donnell as Tirzah
Sam Jaffe as Simonides
Finlay Currie as Balthasar / Narrator
Frank Thring as Pontius Pilate
Terence Longdon as Drusus
George Relph as Tiberius Caesar
Andre Morell as Sextus

Directed by William Wyler

Special Features:
The 1959 Winner of a Record-Setting 11 Academy Awards – Including Best Picture, Actor (Charlton Heston) and Director (William Wyler) – Restored Frame by Frame from the Original 65MM Camera Negative and Remastered in Stunning 1080p High Definition for Maximum Picture and Audio Clarity

Commentary by Film Historian T. Gene Hatcher with Charlton Heston

Music-Only Track Showcasing Miklos Rozsa’s Award-Winning Score
Theatrical Trailers

Retrospective on the Ben-Hur Star Written and Directed by His Son Fraser C. Heston,Featuring Never-Before-Available Images and Footage from the Heston Family Archives

THE 1925 SILENT VERSION – Thames Television
Restoration with Stereophonic Orchestral Score by Carl Davis

Vintage Documentaries Ben-Hur: The Epic That Changed Cinema and Ben-Hur: The Making of an Epic

Ben-Hur: A Journey Through Pictures – Audiovisual Recreation Via Stills, Storyboards, Sketches, Music and Dialogue

Screen Tests

Highlights from the 1960 Academy Awards Telecast


Reproduction of Charlton Heston’s Personal and Insightful Diary from January 1958 to April 1960, Chronicling His Time Before Production Started Through the Academy Awards


Other Info:
Widescreen (2.76:1)
DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Sound
Spanish and French Subtitles
Spanish and French Language
Running Time: 222 Minutes

The Details:
The following is the official description of the film:

“High-definition Blu-ray hits greater heights with the arrival of the visual splendor, thundering action and towering drama of this record-setting winner of 11 Academy Awards including Best Picture. Charlton Heston brings a muscular physical and moral presence to his Best Actor Oscar-winning 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 chariot race and fateful encounters with Jesus Christ. Best Director Oscar winner William Wyler masterfully grips the reins of an enduring and spellbinding spectacular.”

“Ben-Hur” is rated G.

I’ve seen “Ben-Hur” several times over the years, but this is the first time I’ve really watched it with a critical eye. Several things really stuck out to me this time around.

First of all, the chariot race still stands out as one of the best action sequences ever made for film. It’s easily in the Top 10. It’s amazing because it tells a story as it progresses, it puts the main actors in actual chariots, and the stunts actually put the humans and horses in real jeopardy. These live, in-camera stunts are so much more impressive than CG stunts because there really is that element of danger in what they did and the audience consciously or subconsciously knows it. It helps that it takes place on a major, enormous set that’s impressive even by today’s standards. I actually sat my children down to watch it and they were as glued to the TV as they were with “Star Wars.” And while “Ben-Hur” is primarily known for its chariot race, the sea battle is also memorable. It features a fleet of miniature ships in battle, a full scale ship filled with fighting extras, and more. If you’re a fan of stunts, then “Ben-Hur” sets the bar for movie action scenes both in their choreography and epic scale.

With the chariot race such a centerpiece of the film, it’s very easy to forget another major aspect of the movie – it’s a Christian story. The movie starts out with a nativity scene that’s as big in scope as the rest of the movie. Later, we see Jesus (never seeing his face) as a carpenter, at the Sermon on the Mount, and at the crucifixion. While the massive sets and thousands of extras are something you’ll never see in Hollywood again, a movie so overtly Christian (without Mel Gibson at the helm) is equally unlikely. That makes “Ben-Hur” unique. But as a Christian and movie critic myself, I have to say that the scenes featuring Jesus are some of the weakest of the entire film. Jesus appears, Ben-Hur stares wordlessly at him, then the scene is over and we’re supposed to understand that some significant exchange took place. It doesn’t work very well. Jesus said all sorts of radical things for his time – love your enemy, pay your taxes to the Romans occupying the country, everyone is equal, everyone can be saved, etc. These were revolutionary thoughts for the time and if Jesus had said any of them to Ben-Hur, it would have been more meaningful than the blank stares and wordless scenes. Still, I give them credit for even featuring him at all.

The Blu-ray for this film is really impressive. The picture is amazingly bright and clear and you can see the detail of every costume and every extra in the stands. But what’s odd is that at several times in the movie, the picture skips or jumps as if frames were missing. I don’t know if it was a flaw in the original print, a skip in the playback on my PlayStation, or what, but it’s something I’ve never seen on a Blu-ray before. I’ll be interested to see if other people encounter these problems.

The Blu-ray set is actually a limited edition of 125,000 copies and they’re all numbered on the cover. It comes with a bonus disc filled with a ton of special features. Most notable is the 1925 silent version of “Ben-Hur.” I showed this to my kids and their minds were blown that it was almost 100 years old. I was personally struck by a number of things. First of all, the sets were enormous. From the cities to the circus for the chariot race, everything was epic in scale. I was also amazed by some of the violence. In the sea battle, we’re treated to a man kicking around while impaled on a spear. In the chariot race, some of the horses and humans have an spectacular crash that, I imagine, killed a couple of horses. I was also amazed to see a little nudity in it as some topless women lead a Roman parade. I was also surprised to see bits of the movie in color. Overall, the 1925 “Ben-Hur” is quite an experience on many levels and I would encourage any film buff to check it out.

Also included on the special features disc are three feature-length documentaries. “Charlton Heston & Ben-Hur: A Personal Journey” is part biography of Heston, part ‘making of’ documentary. It is told by Heston’s family, the family of director William Wyler, and others. They show home movies, photos, and a ton of other interesting things and tell the making of the movie from a very personal perspective. Also included is the 2005 documentary “Ben-Hur: The Epic That Changed Cinema.” George Lucas, Ridley Scott, Ben Burtt, and a bunch of other filmmakers discuss how that movie influenced their films over the years. The 1994 documentary “Ben-Hur: The Making of an Epic” is narrated by Christopher Plummer and actually starts at the writing of the original novel and works its way through the 1925 film all the way up to this “Ben-Hur.” I found this particularly interesting because it goes into detail about the making of the 1925 version and all of the amazing things that happened with it. You’ll also find some footage from the Academy Awards (with John Wayne presenting an Oscar), screen tests featuring a very young Leslie Nielsen as Messala, newsreels, and galleries.

Inside the Blu-ray box you’ll also find a hardcover book containing rare photographs and stills from the movie. There’s also a reproduction of Heston’s personal journal that he kept while making the movie. It’s accurate down to the photographs taped to the pages. If you’re a fan of “Ben-Hur” or Heston, you’ll really enjoy this.