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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Ben-Hur is a new version of the epic biblical-era tale, which was most notably brought to the big screen in the Oscar-winning 1959 Charlton Heston classic. This action-packed take follows Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston), a Jewish prince who's betrayed by his brother and forced into slavery, eventually seeking his revenge on the chariot track. Expect lots of graphic Biblical-era combat, with violent swordplay, people being shot with arrows and set on fire, and more. There are also harrowing scenes of galley slaves drowning when their ship sinks, an extended chariot-race sequence in which bodies are thrown into the air and trampled by horses, and a crucifixion. But helping to counterbalance that are the movie's clear themes of compassion and humility. It also has a strong spiritual component, as Ben-Hur repeatedly crosses paths with Jesus Christ, prompting the former to rethink his need for vengeance.
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What's the story?
Judah BEN-HUR (Jack Huston) is a wealthy Jewish prince. But then his brother, Messala (Toby Kebbell), betrays him to the Romans, and Ben-Hur is sent off to become a galley slave. When his ship sinks during a fierce battle, he escapes and is taken in by the wise Ilderim (Morgan Freeman), who's on his way to Jerusalem to participate in a grand chariot competition. Ben-Hur, a skilled horseman, agrees to ride the chariot once he learns he'll be competing against Messala in a dangerous race where the losers are often killed on the track.
Is it any good?
This movie is thrilling to watch, and the 21st-century production values definitely stand out when compared to the classic version (and the two will definitely be compared). The fight scenes are filled with mayhem and carnage, and the chariot race is exciting but grisly. But while the effects are strong, the acting is solid, and the themes tie into key aspects of the human experience (love, forgiveness, vengeance, jealousy), Ben-Hur is let down by a script that telegraphs plot points and has plenty of cliched writing.
In other words, there are no surprises here: You can see everything that's coming. It also sometimes feels like there are two different stories happening, one about Ben-Hur and one about a simple carpenter named Jesus with whom Ben-Hur continues to cross paths. And just when it seems like Ben-Hur's tale is about to end in triumph, it shifts gears completely in a more strongly religious section that feels bolted on and makes the movie feel overly long. To be fair, the same can be said of the 1959 version; balancing the two components may just be something that comes with the territory when you make a movie based on this story.
Talk to your kids about ...
Considering all of the violence in the movie, there's not that much blood or gore. Do you think that's realistic? Does it minimize the consequences of battles and fights? What effect can that have?
How does vengeance play out in the movie? Does Ben-Hur find solace when he has finally taken revenge on the man who betrayed him? What does he learn?
How does this version compare to the 1959 classic? Do you think one is better? Why do you think the filmmakers decided to remake an iconic movie?
- In theaters: August 19, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: December 13, 2016
- Cast: Jack Huston, Morgan Freeman, Rodrigo Santoro, Toby Kebbell
- Director: Timur Bekmambetov
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters, History
- Character strengths: Compassion, Humility
- Run time: 141 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: sequences of violence and disturbing images
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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