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

 

Soul Surfer (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Ad avid surfer living the dream in Hawaii, Bethany Hamilton always sought to know God better and to improve her technique on the waves.  She had her life planned out fairly well: surf and compete.  What she least expected was having her arm horrifically bitten off by an unforeseen shark one day while surfing with friends.  After being rushed to emergency care, Bethany began a slow recovery process, but in the midst of this, she discovered that her life would never be the same again, for her passion—surfing—was suddenly next to impossible for her.  She is forced is come to grips with both her faith and her dreams and discover what her true purpose in life is.

Production Quality (2 points)

With an obviously large budget and professional production teams at work, Soul Surfer looks great on the surface.  Its marketing campaign was backed up by beloved Hawaiian scenery, captured by professional camera work and clear video quality.  There is no question that the sets and locations are professional, and the scenery is diverse.  Sound quality is excellent, especially in the many outside scenes.  The soundtrack is intriguing and attempts to capture the local culture.  The biggest issue with this production is the one that plagues the entire film: poor editing, which is coupled with a blurry and confusing storyline.  With this level of professional production crews, the editing should be far better than it is.  Scenes are largely understated and meaningful segments are cut short to jump to more Hawaii landscapes.  The editing makes it hard to follow the actual purpose of this film.  There are too many time jumps and wasted scenes.  Overall, the production is clearly professional, but the editing unfortunately holds this movie back from being all that it could be.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Based on a great true story of Bethany Hamilton, whom we maintain is an excellent Christian role model, Soul Surfer falls short of capturing the depth and meaning of the true story.  Realistic events obviously happen throughout, but we cannot help but think this movie would have been less realistic were it not bound by real life events.  In the midst of Hawaiian beaches, surfing lingo, wave scenery, and surfing competitions, the characters are left shallow and wooden.  The audience cannot connect with them as real people—they are just characters that are swept along by the plot.  Dialogue is stiff and procedural, leaving much to be desired.  The plot ebbs and flows, sometimes hitting high points and missing them other times.  The Christian message is vague at first, then becomes very clear and meaningful, and then fades away again.  The ending is interesting enough, but it just ends up washing away like the tide (pun intended).  The audience is left thinking that they should like the movie because it’s a Christian movie based on a true story, but Soul Surfer is actually quite forgettable and disappointing.  True stories are usually undiscovered treasures when it comes to the big screen, but Soul Surfer is just another average film.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Someone thought that putting together a collection of semi-big-name actors and actresses would make this movie work, and there is really nothing glaringly wrong with this cast, but like the rest of the movie, they leave much to be desired.  Their professionalism only carries them so far—they needed to perform better.  Line delivery is mostly good, but emotions are hard to connect with.  A lot of the acting comes off as stiff and procedural, just collecting a paycheck.  With big name talent comes big responsibility.

Conclusion

As we have mentioned before, true stories should be among the best of Christian movies.  Whether viewers or creators realize it or not, audiences everywhere connect better with a movie that’s about real people like them who experience real stuff.  But after experiencing Soul Surfer, the audience doesn’t really learn anything else about Bethany Hamilton except that she surfed and stuff.  This is no discredit to her as a person, since she is likely a nicer person than we are.  But we remain opinionated as always: while still an average movie, Soul Surfer disappoints expectations.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points