Ben-Hur appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The picture looked positive.
Sharpness was always strong. Virtually no softness emerged in this tight, concise presentation. The majority of the movie looked accurate and concise. I noticed no jaggies or moiré effects, and edge enhancement never manifested itself. In addition, the film failed to display any print defects.
Given the setting, the film went with an emphasis on an arid, yellow look, but a fair amount of teal came into the image as well. Within those constraints, the colors seemed fine; they showed appropriate range. Blacks were dark and full, and shadows showed good range. This was a consistently strong presentation.
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Ben-Hur suited the story, which meant it came to life on occasion. Battle scenes and the chariot race offered the most pizzazz, but a lot of the film stayed with general atmosphere.
In that regard, the mix worked fine. The soundscape opened up matters in a satisfying manner and created a natural setting. While it lacked a slew of standout auditory segments, the overall impact remained positive.
Audio quality pleased. Speech was concise and natural, without edginess or other issues. Music showed good range and vivacity, while effects worked nicely. Again, these elements didn’t get a ton to do through much of the film, but they displayed good clarity and punch. This added up to a satisfactory mix.
As we shift to extras, we find a handful of featurettes. The Legacy runs 10 minutes, 37 seconds and involves executive producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, producers Joni Levin and Sean Daniel, the author’s great-great-granddaughter Carol Wallace, and executive producers/co-screenwriters John Ridley and Keith Clarke.
“Legacy” offers notes about author General Lew Wallace and the creation/success of his novel, the 2016 version’s development and adaptation, and story/character/thematic areas. Wallace’s comments offer interesting thoughts about her ancestor, but the rest of the piece seems superficial.
Next comes The Epic Cast. It lasts 12 minutes, 10 seconds a features Daniel, Burnett, Levin, Downey, Ridley, director Timor Bekmambetov, and actors Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell, Morgan Freeman, Ayelet Zurer, Sofia Black D’Elia, Rodrigo Santoro, Moises Arias, Haluk Bilginer and Nazanin Boniadi.
As expected, “Epic” discusses cast, characters and performances. It mixes some good notes with fluff.
With the 15-minute, 25-second A Tale For Our Times, we find info from Daniel, Bekmambetov, Ridley, Burnett, Levin, Freeman, Huston, Downey, Bilginer, Zurer, Kebbell, production designer Naomi Shohan, producer Duncan Henderson, and costume designer Varya Avdyushko. “Times” covers Bekmambetov’s approach to the project, sets and locations, costumes, and some action elements. Despite some of the usual happy talk, “Times” comes with a nice mix of details.
Lastly, The Chariot Race spans 10 minutes, 37 seconds and offers comments from Daniel, Ridley, Downey, Freeman, Burnett, Bekmambetov, Henderson, Levin, Huston, Kebbell, stunt coordinator/horse master Steve Dent, veterinarian Nicholas Snookes, visual effects supervisor Jim Rygiel, 2nd unit director Phil Neilson, animation supervisor Kevin Scott, and chariots art director Massimo Pauletto. Like its title implies, this piece looks at elements connected to the film’s chariot race sequence. It follows the same path as its predecessors, which means a mix of information and puffery.
Seven Deleted and Extended Scenes take up a total of 10 minutes, 23 seconds. Of these, “Permission” offers the longest piece, as it develops family relationships in the Ben-Hur clan and Judah’s love for Esther. “Goodbye” and “Reunion” connect to this theme as well. Even though these would’ve padded out the already sluggish first act, both add some much needed emotion to the tale and probably should’ve made the final cut.
The other four sequences seem less useful. They deliver some minor extensions but nothing memorable or significant.
Three Music Videos complete the set. We see “The Only Way Out” by Andra Day, “Ceasefire” by For King and Country, and “Back to You” by Mary Mary.
As videos, these fail to excite. For the most part, they just mix lip-synch shots with movie clips. “Ceasefire” places the band in an incongruous industrial setting – this adds literal sparks but the video itself bores.
We also get two featurettes related to the videos. One goes “Behind the Scenes” for “The Only Way Out” (0:50) while the other looks at “Ceasefire” (1:00). In the first, Audra Day gives us a few thoughts about the song and video, while “Ceasefire” features bandmembers who give similar notes about their tune. Both clips seem pretty useless.
A second disc provides a DVD copy of Ben-Hur. It includes none of the DVD’s extras.
An attempt to update a tale of religion and redemption, 2016’s Ben-Hur flops. Despite good intentions, the movie lacks compelling characters, vivid action, or real emotion. The Blu-ray offers terrific picture along with satisfactory audio and a few decent supplements. Though I can’t claim I love the 1959 Ben-Hur, it remains superior to this lackluster reinvention.