Movie: Ben Hur
My Rating: 3 stars
I’ve been going back and watching a bunch of classic movies lately. It’s because I’ve just started listening to Unspooled, a new podcast that goes through all the movies on the AFI list of top 100 films. The show hosted by Amy Nicholson and Paul Scheer. Sheer is one of the guys from the How Did This Get Made podcast, which I also listen to. I guess he figured he’d punished himself enough with all the terrible movies he had to watch hosting that show, and decided to get himself a little culture. So, I’ve started watching all these films right along with them. What I like best about this idea is that these really aren’t films that I would have otherwise selected for myself. A lot of them look really boring. (And a few of them are, of course). But plenty of others are surprisingly delightful.
This movie, Ben Hur, is one that I ended up liking a lot more than I was expecting to. I’ve only ever known Charlton Heston as a bit of a punchline. He’s had some of the sillier and quotable lines of dialogue in cinematic history. But I had never actually sat through many of his movies. One of the best parts about this process is that I’m finally getting to see the original source material for a lot of the pop culture references visual tropes that have become a part of our cultural canon. And, somehow Heston is at the heart of a good amount of these. In this case, there’s the iconic chariot race scene, and also that image of our hero chained to the oars down in the galley of a slave ship. I found it super interesting to see. That’s not to say that I completely enjoyed the task of watching this film. This movie is incredibly long. And, the pacing is painfully slow. I think that’s one of the biggest things that distinguishes new movies from old. New movies are edited tighter, and move along and a good clip. Whereas, these old movies drag through scenes, linger on shots, and have a few too many long-winded speeches. Even that chariot race, this film’s most celebrated and exciting scene, unfolds in real time. It’s a bit of an ordeal. I suppose it adds to the sense of fatigue that the characters must be feeling after such a grueling race.
I think that watching through the AFI list of top 100 movies is a worthwhile exercise. And accordingly, this is a worthwhile movie to see (and not just because its “important”). I actually was surprised by how much of this movie I enjoyed. Of course, you’re not going to want to put on this movie to unwind after a long day. And, it’s definitely not a film you’re going to want to throw on for the kids with a bowl of popcorn. It remains a bit of a chore. So, maybe put it on if you have a lot of laundry to fold. Or if you want to do a bit of exercise in front of the TV. Or, watch it in installments. The film would definitely be a good companion to a repetitive or menial task. I feel a little bad for qualifying my recommendation so much. But, I’d rather you see it than not, so feel free to employ any tool necessary to help you get through it.