Starting at the bottom of any “Best of” list presents the same issue no matter what topic the list tackles or who is responsible for its assembly. While many will argue about the order items on the top of the list should be in, there is very rarely a question of the items worthiness, but the closer you get to the bottom, the more compelling it is to claim certain items shouldn’t even be on the list. That is where I find myself after watching #100 on AFI’s list, Ben Hur. Granted, I had to watch the movie in pieces over a four month period, but that says something in itself. The story wasn’t that interesting, the acting was horrible, the movie was way too long. I could easily come up with a dozen other movies that are more deserving of a place in AFI’s top 100 countdown. I understand there’s a lot of sentimental value this movies brings with it, it harkens back to specific era of movie making, but sentiment doesn’t make a movie great.
The biggest problem I’ve had with all of AFI’s lists is they seem to be made by a bunch of 80 year old men. Movies from the early days of filmmaking always seem to be weighted heavier than more modern flicks. I have no doubt that Ben-Hur was an amazing movie when it came out. I find it incredibly interesting to watch something like the chariot race scene and think, they did all this with no CG and very simple special effects. And in all honesty, I found the movie to be pretty graphic by today’s standards, which makes me wonder how audiences in 1959 reacted to hands getting ripped off and people getting trampled by horses. But the fact remains that we’ve made giant strides in movie making since 1959 and a movie like this just doesn’t hold up to the best movies made today. The story, which felt like an ancient version of Forrest Gump with Judah Ben-Hur continuously stumbling into historic events, is bloated and over written. Every scene seemed to go on for three or four minutes longer then needed. And the acting was terrible. I’m not really sure how Charlton Heston became so revered other than being involved in a number of these big budgets movies. It would be like Keanu Reeves or Vin Diesel being considered great actors by people 50 years from now.
I do think that historical context should play some part in this list, but it can’t be the only reason a movie makes it. Ben-Hur needs to bring something else to the table other than a couple of scenes that were ahead of their time in 1959 if it wants to be on this list. Citizen Kane is still an interesting film even if its innovations are now commonplace. It Happened One Night is still funny and well acted even if its sense of romantic comedy has been updated and improved. Ben-Hur can’t claim any of this. It’s an old movie that feels dated, more a historic note than a great film. And in all fairness to AFI, Ben-Hur did drop twenty eight spots in the ten years between their two lists. I think it would be safe to say, if they come out with a 20 year list, Ben-Hur will be left off.
I give Ben-Hur 2 out of 5 bowls of vanilla ice cream. It’s a classic flavor but it just doesn’t hold up to the fancy Ben & Jerry stuff you can buy these days.
oh boy. what a place to start. I fear that if I write my true reaction to this movie (at least as I spoke it to family and friends) I’d brand myself useless and stupid in the commentaries that follow here. I am not used to writing about movies, and I have to say most of them disinterest me. That said, I’m kind of a blank slate in many ways, so that might be a reason to listen to me after all. I don’t have any preconceived notions that bias me other than, well, my opinions.
Without even knowing much about this movie, it’s the kind of film that would certainly have kept me from embarking on challenges such as this.
So, besides the parts where I wasn’t paying attention or had to ask Jon what just happened (if I happened to leave the room for a second) or felt so tense because of the brutal violence I was surprised they HAD in 1959 much less would SHOW in 1959. OK OK OK– it was actually 26 AD not 1959 so I concede that things were pretty damn violent back then. I mean, you say “Ben-Hur” to anyone and he says “Oh, the chariot race scene” back. I think I pretty much could have just watched that scene to have claimed to watch the movie. But no, I was present for all 3 hours and 44 minutes. Did I enjoy this movie? Not really. Do I understand why it’s on the list? Yes.
I did enjoy the part where I got to see Jesus. He was easy to recognize, even though it was just from the back. I also learned that this was a book before it was a movie, and I own the book. If anyone wants to borrow it, let me know and I’ll dust it real good for you. I don’t think I’ll be reading it anytime soon.
I give Ben-Hur 3.44 bowls of ice cream for being impressive, like an exploding volcano, but slow, like the lava that takes 3 hours and 44 minutes to finish consuming you.