Saturday, August 20, 2016


Having anticipated the MGM big studio $100 million production of the Lew Wallace classic "Ben-
hur" all summer, it was quite an experience watching it in 3D on opening weekend at an AMC theater. This comes amid all kinds of doom and gloom estimates from the mainstream entertainment press as to the earning capacity of this remake of the Charlton Heston-powered 1959 classic.

As always, most of us in the evangelical Christian community with our own marketing culture, never pay attention to what the mainline media and its cultural offshoots say. In the past few years, atheists in Hollywood have tried to give us mega-productions like "Noah" and "Exodus", with screenplays written and performed by people who literally hate and do not believe in God. People who read the Bible obviously know when we are being conned. Hence, we do not support that stuff.

This is NOT the case with Ben-hur and therefore, slow beginnings do not necessarily mean box office disasters. Christians have showed that Word of Mouth in the Evangelical community means more than what's in the Hollywood Reporter or Entertainment Tonight, or today or whatever. It has been proven it with Passion of the Christ; Courageous; War Room and God's Not Dead. Therefore, as a ticket-buying viewer,  there is no pressure but objectivity to see if the great Mark Burnett and his producer wife Roma Downey (The Bible; Son of God etc.) did as great a job as hands on Christian producers in the 2016 remake of Ben-hur.

Right off the bat here is what is obvious to people who are immersed in the text, flavor and culture of the Bible:
        - The 2016 Ben-hur (with Jack Huston as Judah Ben-hur) appears on screen in all the color and feel of First century Jerusalem with it's location as a walled city and ancient homes hewed out of a craftsmanship which stands the time better than anything made today.  The producers created authenticity of location (filmed in Italy) so immediate that the viewer is transported into a land we only read about in the Bible and see in those grainy Bible stories late on Sunday nights on TBN (Trinity Broadcasting Network).
        - Because of the authentic backdrop, costuming and flavoring even down to the marketing of produce in the markets, there is a grittiness which tells me, as a viewer that this is indeed Bible times! We know from Scripture that there were those in the higher ups in Jerusalem, from the princes to the priests, who were more than peaceful and friendly to the occupying brutal Romans. It was from a wealthy princely family like this, from whence the movie's hero Judah Ben-hur comes. The contrast between his happy and well-fed family and the poor majority out there, confused by the Jewish zealots (where Judas the betrayer came from) could not be more evidence of the grit and grime of an occupied, oppressed people.
        - The pace is fast. From the opening scene of  Ben-hur and his Roman, former orphan half-brother Messala to the closing race, the two hours and 15 minutes of movie fly by so quickly, you do not need that $20 caffeinated soda to keep your eyes open! The chariot race is one of the best and most professionally filmed piece of camera work I have ever seen. Seeing it in 3D even makes it more thrilling!
What distinguishes this movie from its 1959 version is that Burnett and Downey had tremendous
influence on the screenplay. We know that Ben-hur is a fictional character created by Lew Wallace, the great Union Civil War General who wrote Ben-hur in1880 while searching for his own faith. What that search led him to was Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Who is the unspoken backdrop for this entire movie. In the 1959 version, Jesus was off in the background making a cameo appearance. In the 2016 version, He IS there first as a nondescript yet powerful carpenter....then a few more times during the 135 minute movie leading up to the final testimonial by the Morgan Freeman character who recited  2 Timothy 4:7.

While He is not the lead character in this film, Jesus' Words, teaching and influence undergird the entire message. All the talk of love, forgiveness, grace and mercy point to only One Person. The declaration by the Pontius Pilate character, after he observed the peacefully wise Jesus stop the stoning of a man, that "Jesus is more dangerous than all the zealots (combined)" is both priceless and true! Finally the closing scenes where miracles, healing, forgiveness and reconciliation are played out seamlessly, reflect the Savior's Message with simplicity and peace, without becoming soapy.

This may not have the same star quality of say the 1959 Heston epic, but it has more Gospel and Bible in it.  A new Christian-based movie release cannot be judged by its first weekends box offices, because the word takes a few weeks to go through the small groups, church social media and family connections or even little people like me, writing about it, before it has any noticeable impact.

Ben-hur is the story of Prince Judah Ben-hur of Jerusalem, who is unfortunately falsely accused by his adopted half-brother Messala, of treason against Roman in the Jerusalem of Jesus' time. His entire family is ruined as Ben-hur is sentenced to be a galley slave in Roman ship for the rest of his life. Freed during a sea battle with the Greeks, Ben-hur, full of hate and vengeance lands close to Judah's Meditterean coast where he runs into the Morgan Freeman wise old character, Ilderim. Given his skill with horses and Ilderim's ways of the world, knowing how to buy off Romans, Judah Ben-hur gets into the Chariot Race of all film history, which buys his freedom.  As a layman, I still give it Five Stars, for quality writing, acting, casting and cinematography.
(All photos and trailer credits: GOOGLE, YouTube)

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