In a word: Epic. This is about as big as a movie can get. With three hundred sets, over one million props, full scale ships on water, the chariot race and Jesus, Ben Hur set the bar for all epics.
The story is about Judah Ben Hur (Charlton Heston), a Jewish prince in Jerusalem. His childhood friend, Messala, returns as a commanding officer for Rome and the two become enemies. In an accident, Judah’s mother and sister are wrongfully imprisoned and he becomes a galley slave. For three years he rows on Roman naval ships. After saving his captain from shipwreck he is no longer a slave and races chariots, where he will race Messala.
Wait, I thought this was a story about Jesus? Ah, well Jesus does intersect with Judah’s life a couple times, especially at his crucifixion. It’s just, I hate to be the spoiler for those who haven’t seen Ben Hur yet. Yes, this is a movie promoting Christianity, but it’s not all Jesus. It’s also a better story and much easier to stomach than anything my Mel Gibson.
But I will say this: lepers! *cue dramatic music* Growing up with this movie, the lepers always stayed in my head. The way they wrap themselves in tattered rags, hide their faces and wallow around in caves like such lowly creatures. They were so fascinating! I remember when my sister was little, she’d get scared and cry whenever the lepers came on. I don’t know if anyone else was freaked out by the lepers in Ben Hur, or even if they were meant to scare kids, but that’s how I’ll always remember them.
One of the greatest scenes in Ben Hur (in film history, in my opinion) is the chariot race. I can hear smug kids who grew up with Nascar and CGI scoffing. Horses on a dirt track? Boring. No. This race is one of the most adrenaline pumping, nail biting, pupil dilating action scenes ever made. And the most badass thing about it is that there was no CGI. They’re really driving chariots, really bumping into each other and really flipping over. In one close call, Heston’s stunt double was nearly thrown out of his chariot and had to climb back in. Director Wyler loved the accident so much he put in the film. Also, one of the few (and very expensive) 65mm cameras was destroyed while filming the chariot race. There’s no music, just the thundering of hooves, cracking of whips and the crowd cheering. With its quick style of editing, daring stunts and a bit of good ol’ cheating you’ll find yourself shouting and cheering like you’re sitting in the crowd.
If anything, see Ben Hur for the chariot race. See if you’re little ones are scared of lepers. And if I had to pick one day a year to watch Ben Hur, Good Friday seems appropriate.
“Once before, a man helped me. I didn’t know why then.”