Ben-Hur [2016] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Judah Ben-Hur was a prince of the Jews, and he was close with Messala, his adopted brother.  However, after Messala leaves to make a name for himself in the Roman army, their friendship was strained.  But disaster struck the Ben-Hur family when they were falsely accused of an assassination attempt against a Roman leader.  Messala refuses to acquit them and thus allows Judah Ben-Hur and his family to be taken captive by cruel Rome.  Years later, when given a second chance a life, Judah must decide how he is going to respond.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

The one thing you can say for Mark Burnett and Roma Downey is that they know what it takes to fund and create a top-notch production.  In this controversial remake, there are at least good on-set locations and realistic props.  Camera work is usually good in action and non-action scenes, but sometimes there is some dizzying and wild camera work.  Video quality is obviously clear and lighting is professional.  There are no audio errors, but the soundtrack sometimes does not fit the historical period.  Finally, the editing is quite poor as this previously three-and-a-half-hour film is shoved into a two-hour runtime.  But otherwise, this is the sort of production we need more of in Christian film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

When an original film is so iconic, there is little point in trying to remake it except to make money off of the name.  The original Ben-Hur was a ground-breaking classic for its time, which makes even more ridiculous the fact that this modern take on the story completely alters the original plot for no reason.  As Morgan Freeman tells you everything you need to know through narration, time rushes by at breakneck pace in an attempt to hit all the carbon-copy high point scenes of the original film.  Thus, as the film speeds along, there is no time to get to know the characters or connect with their struggles.  One minute they’re here, and the next minute they are there.  The presentation is so lazy and pandering that it’s laughable.  The writers do just enough to remind you of the old movie while at the same time turning the plot inside out for little reason.  The whole experience is overly dramatic and off-putting, thus making for a disappointing film.

Acting Quality (0 points)

As if changing the story wasn’t enough, Burnett and Downey had to drag a whole slew of BRITISH people to play Jewish and Roman characters again.  What would people have said if Morgan Freeman’s African character had been cast as a white British dude?  Besides cultural inconsistencies, the acting is simply too dramatic.  Though the costuming is historically realistic, it’s not enough to make up for the mistakes of this section.  This is another bust.

Conclusion

Burnett and Downey have perfected the model of lazily ripping off and ruining Biblical and historical plots in order to make money.  What they have not perfected is actually using the rare money and resources they are able to somehow acquire for their films for something good and effective.  They are one of the rare production teams that have the ability to actually make a respectable, well-marketed, and recognizable Christian movie, but they fail at it every time, even drawing criticism from mainstream outlets.  The question is, where do they go from here?

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

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The Young Messiah (Movie Review)

I’m British!

Plot Summary

According to some fake historical accounts written down in pseudepigraphical infancy gospels, while the British boy Jesus lived in British Egypt, he supposedly had no idea that He was God in the flesh as His family ‘concealed’ His true identity from Him.  Stalked by Satan, British Jesus accidentally raised people from the dead and healed them.  But when British Herod sent a British Centurion to kill the little British Messiah, young British Jesus must discover who He is before it’s too late.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Despite its glaring flaws, The Young Messiah does have good production merits, which is becoming the new baseline of Christian film.  Camera work and video quality are obviously professional, except for a few strange moments of weird camera angles.  The audio quality is fine but the soundtrack leaves something to be desired.  The sets and locations are mostly realistic.  However, there are some editing issues pertaining to useless scenes and generally confusing plot development.  Overall, this is a respectable effort and lends to the new normal of Christian film, which is quality productions.  However, it gets worse from here.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-1 points)

I don’t care what your theology is—if you believe that Jesus was fully God and fully man from birth, then there’s no way you can believe that the young Jesus had zero clue what He was supposed to do on earth or that Mary could conceal anything from Him.  What is the actual point of constructing an entire plot around keeping a ‘secret’ from God Himself?  Even without this issue, this plot is meandering, useless, and without focus as it jumps from one sensational scene to the next.  With tons of extra-Biblical, questionable, and even borderline explicit content, The Young Messiah has an overall dark feel to it and an unhealthy addiction to sadistic violence.  Bizarre spiritual elements are also present as this film has a typical obsession with Satan, who is mostly portrayed as smarter than Jesus.  Perhaps the entire motivation for making this mess should be reexamined.  With no truly redemptive qualities to speak of and an offensive portrayal of Christ, this plot warrants negative points.

Acting Quality (-1 points)

Obviously the standard for slapping together a Bible film is to put out a casting call for people who sound like they stepped out of a Charles Dickens novel.  There’s nothing wrong with cockney British accents, mind you, as long as they are kept in their proper place, like Jane Austen movies and such.  But why, can anyone tell me, do movie creators feel the need to endlessly cast Roman and Middle Eastern figures as WHITE BRITISH PEOPLE?!  It effects everything—not just the accents—but even the out-of-place culture-specific references like ‘hubbub’.  Besides this, costuming and makeup is generally weird and line delivery is overly dramatic.  Any good hidden here is totally overshadowed by all things BRITISH.

Conclusion

If you’re going to make a Biblical movie, first why do you feel the need to cast an entirely and extremely BRITISH cast?  Second, why not portray a clearly written story from Scripture rather than some made up garbage from a false historical source (see pseudepigrapha and Infancy Gospels)?  It’s not like we’re running out of Bible stories to choose from for movies.  And we’re certainly not at an international shortage for Middle Eastern cast members as some have shown.  Even if you’re not going to cast totally Middle Eastern people, can’t you at least have them learn different accents?  Some actors conceal their accents for some roles because that’s their job.  Can’t we respect the Bible enough, at least as a historical document, and attempt some authenticity?  Finally, if you don’t care to portray Jesus and Satan properly, don’t make a movie about them, KTHXBYE.

 

Final Rating: 1 out of 10 points