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JulyDiaz

Ben Hur

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Strap on your death sandals, as Paul & Amy jump into 1959's Roman epic Ben Hur! They discuss the incredible scope of the film, how Star Wars ripped off the famous chariot race, and how many characters say the word "leper." Plus: Paul & Amy talk to stunt professional Christopher Leps about his career, and where Ben Hur ranks among the great stunt films.

For next week's episode, call the Unspooled voicemail line at 747-666-5824 and tell us how you would cast a modern Wizard Of Oz! Don’t forget to subscribe to us on your podcast app, and follow us on Twitter @Unspooled.

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I so agree with Paul that this movie could be 40 minutes shorter with nothing really lost. I've seen a few of longer movies than this but this really, really drags. There is no sequence that couldn't be shorter.

 

I know this seems kind of weird but I would probably trim out most of the scenes with Jesus. The movie is about Ben-Hur and then, occasionally, we check in with what's going on with Jesus. Without the religious stuff, you could basically end up with Spartacus or something.

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Its been a decade or so since I last saw Spartacus, but that would probably be my suggestion on what could replace Ben-Hur. It's similar in genre, similar-ish plot, time period, made around the same time. I remember liking it much more than this most recent viewing of Ben-Hur. Does Spartacus good up or is that nostalgia?

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Does Spartacus good up or is that nostalgia?

 

Spartacus probably also has its share of bloat, but definitely still holds up as a good movie.

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Spartacus probably also has its share of bloat, but definitely still holds up as a good movie.

 

Agreed! I watched Spartacus for the first time a few months ago and enjoyed it much more than Ben-Hur.

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I so agree with Paul that this movie could be 40 minutes shorter with nothing really lost. I've seen a few of longer movies than this but this really, really drags. There is no sequence that couldn't be shorter.

 

I know this seems kind of weird but I would probably trim out most of the scenes with Jesus. The movie is about Ben-Hur and then, occasionally, we check in with what's going on with Jesus. Without the religious stuff, you could basically end up with Spartacus or something.

 

I hate commenting before listening (because they probably already said this in the episode), but I felt like the filmmakers were just so pleased with the scale that they allowed shots to linger than they needed to. Kind of like, “Drink it in, plebs! Look at the detail!” And I’m sure, at the time, that probably worked. However, from a modern perspective, while I can respect the hard work that went into it, I still need the movie to move.

 

I mean, I hate to say it, but I watched the 2016 version last year and found it to be - not necessarily better - but a more enjoyable experience. It was also a full hour and fifteen minutes shorter and included a lot of what was in this movie. And, yes, it did cut a lot of the Jesus stuff and kept the focus more on Judah.

 

 

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I hate commenting before listening (because they probably already said this in the episode), but I felt like the filmmakers were just so pleased with the scale that they allowed shots to linger than they needed to. Kind of like, “Drink it in, plebs! Look at the detail!” And I’m sure, at the time, that probably worked. However, from a modern perspective, while I can respect the hard work that went into it, I still need the movie to move.

 

I mean, I hate to say it, but I watched the 2016 version last year and found it to be - not necessarily better - but a more enjoyable experience. It was also a full hour and fifteen minutes shorter and included a lot of what was in this movie. And, yes, it did cut a lot of the Jesus stuff and kept the focus more on Judah.

 

I was under the impression that the 2016 version was more religious. Maybe they marketed it to churches more? Or maybe I'm just wrong.

 

I think this movie just walks a weird line going back and forth between being a typical (but grander) swords and sandals movie and religious epic. It doesn't work because the movie separates the two so much that it's just off enough. I use this as a criticism a lot but I'd like a commitment to the genre (or merge them better).

 

I've never seen Ten Commandments but I think I might like it more. Or be equally bored. If they felt the need to include a religious epic, I remember liking DeMille's King Of Kings also.

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I was under the impression that the 2016 version was more religious. Maybe they marketed it to churches more? Or maybe I'm just wrong.

 

I think this movie just walks a weird line going back and forth between being a typical (but grander) swords and sandals movie and religious epic. It doesn't work because the movie separates the two so much that it's just off enough. I use this as a criticism a lot but I'd like a commitment to the genre (or merge them better).

 

I've never seen Ten Commandments but I think I might like it more. Or be equally bored. If they felt the need to include a religious epic, I remember liking DeMille's King Of Kings also.

 

I mean, Jesus is in it, but it’s not really about him. It doesn’t start with the nativity or anything. There’s also no Sermon on the Mount. It also cuts out Judah going to Rome. He goes right from escaping the galley to meeting Ilderim and learning how to race. Governor Gratus is also cut and just replaced with Pilate. Also, it was a legit attempt on Pilate’s life and not just rogue tiles bonking him on the head.

 

If anything, the movie probably needed *more* Jesus. It was adorable because some of the reviews I read had a problem with people being cured of leprosy - lol. I mean, Jesus is still in it. That was kind of his thing. Maybe they misunderstood who he was..?

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I mean, Jesus is in it, but it’s not really about him. It doesn’t start with the nativity or anything. There’s also no Sermon on the Mount. It also cuts out Judah going to Rome. He goes right from escaping the galley to meeting Ilderim and learning how to race. Governor Gratus is also cut and just replaced with Pilate. Also, it was a legit attempt on Pilate’s life and not just rogue tiles bonking him on the head.

 

If anything, the movie probably needed *more* Jesus. It was adorable because some of the reviews I read had a problem with people being cured of leprosy - lol. I mean, Jesus is still in it. That was kind of his thing. Maybe they misunderstood who he was..?

I never read the book, but according to Wikipedia, it seems like the 1959 followed the book closer than the 2016. So, I'm bout sure why update it? It sounds like the 2016 is following my suggestions though. So, maybe I'm not the film critic genius I think I am lol.

 

This is making me wonder why there haven't been more big movies about Jesus. Not necessarily big budget but just wide release movies. I know interpretation of his appearance and manner can be "controversial" but we've only had two (I think?) released in my lifetime.

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Another thing, since Ben-Hur is a vey long movie and that's touched on by Paul, what is the longest film everyone has seen?

 

I watched Shoah once over the course of a few days. If we're taking one sitting, I managed The Best Of Youth with bathroom and food breaks.

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Another thing, since Ben-Hur is a vey long movie and that's touched on by Paul, what is the longest film everyone has seen?

 

I watched Shoah once over the course of a few days. If we're taking one sitting, I managed The Best Of Youth with bathroom and food breaks.

Scenes from a Marriage? That's a miniseries although it is filmed like a movie.
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This is making me wonder why there haven't been more big movies about Jesus. Not necessarily big budget but just wide release movies. I know interpretation of his appearance and manner can be "controversial" but we've only had two (I think?) released in my lifetime.

I'm guessing it's because the people responsible for producing wide release movies are not typically members of a Christian faith. There are of course explicitly Christian movies but it seems like their focus is more conventionally social and/or political.
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It sounds like the 2016 is following my suggestions though. So, maybe I'm not the film critic genius I think I am lol.

 

I don’t think you’re wrong. It was definitely dumbed down, but it moved surprisingly well. Like I said above, in the 2016 version, it’s an actual zealot, that Judah has brought into his house, that tries to kill Pilate - which is a little more exciting than “Oops, dry rot...” It also helps as a kind of shorthand to illustrate (quickly) the political climate in Judea at the time and makes Messala’s turn a little more understandable (i.e. “The assassin shot at the governor from *your* house, Jude!”)

 

My biggest complaint about the new one was that Messala survives and he and Judah fully reconcile! If I’m remembering correctly, this is after the movie has implied that, not only were Miriam and Tirzah imprisoned and lepercized, but that they were raped and torture, as well. It’s just such a big ask to forgive Messala after all of that. Maaaaaaybe a person might be at peace with it, but total forgiveness? I don’t know... I feel like the movie even ends with them leaving Jerusalem together as one big, happy family! I guess you could say that Ben-Hur forgiving Messala is the big “Christian” moment of the movie. Essentially stating that a good Christian forgives a penitent man, no matter how heinous his crimes, can you? (Spoiler Alert: I can not.)

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This was discussed in the episode, but seriously, was Charlton Heston good?

 

I think I’m of the same opinion as Paul in that Heston wasn’t exactly “good,” but I couldn’t really look away either. I’ve watched quite a few Elvis movies lately and it’s kind of the same thing. It’s this crazy, ineffable star quality that some people just seem to possess. It’s pretty amazing really.

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Scenes from a Marriage? That's a miniseries although it is filmed like a movie.

This is great. If you haven't seen it, I'd recommend Saraband. It's a sequel to Scenes From A Marriage. It's not as good, but it's also only 2 hours long.

This was discussed in the episode, but seriously, was Charlton Heston good?

 

I think I’m of the same opinion as Paul in that Heston wasn’t exactly “good,” but I couldn’t really look away either. I’ve watched quite a few Elvis movies lately and it’s kind of the same thing. It’s this crazy, ineffable star quality that some people just seem to possess. It’s pretty amazing really.

This is kind of how I feel about almost every Charlton Heston movie I've seen. I think he is miscast here, which is definitely part of the problem, but he often gives kind of the same general performance. It seems like he's always overacting a little bit no matter how big or small the scene is. Just bring it down one notch.

 

I know they went over some possible alternate stars. I'm wracking my brain over who would have been a star in the 1950s that would have been a better choice. I keep coming back to Burt Lancaster but I'd say he has a similar problem of not being remotely convincing as a Jewish man. We'd probably get a better performance but still not the right actor.

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This was discussed in the episode, but seriously, was Charlton Heston good?

 

I think I’m of the same opinion as Paul in that Heston wasn’t exactly “good,” but I couldn’t really look away either. I’ve watched quite a few Elvis movies lately and it’s kind of the same thing. It’s this crazy, ineffable star quality that some people just seem to possess. It’s pretty amazing really.

 

I thought the best usage of Charlton Heston was in Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet, when he plays an actor in the play-within-a-play. His stagy presence works perfectly there.

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Its been a decade or so since I last saw Spartacus, but that would probably be my suggestion on what could replace Ben-Hur. It's similar in genre, similar-ish plot, time period, made around the same time. I remember liking it much more than this most recent viewing of Ben-Hur. Does Spartacus good up or is that nostalgia?

 

I’m going with Cleopatra. It’s a dumpster fire that almost bankrupted 20th Century Fox, but it’s the most epic dumpster fire.

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I completely agree with Paul that Heston looked to old to play the “young Ben-Hur.” I’ve been trying to think of someone I’d like better, and I think I would have maybe liked Rock Hudson. I know he’s only two years younger than Heston, but I think he would have been pretty good...

 

176%2BRock%2BHudson.jpg

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My mom attended a school in Indiana that was named after Lew Wallace. I ran across him when I was reading Civil War history.

 

I'm only a third of the way into the podcast, but the opening scene of Ben Hur reminds me of the opening scene of the Life of Brian. I swear it's even the same soundtrack?

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I so agree with Paul that this movie could be 40 minutes shorter with nothing really lost. I've seen a few of longer movies than this but this really, really drags. There is no sequence that couldn't be shorter.

 

I know this seems kind of weird but I would probably trim out most of the scenes with Jesus. The movie is about Ben-Hur and then, occasionally, we check in with what's going on with Jesus. Without the religious stuff, you could basically end up with Spartacus or something.

I agree completely with this. There are some nice moments to it all, like him giving him water, but after the epic nature of the race it just feels so slow. You're also asking the audience to care about his mom and sister who had what? 5 minutes maybe of screen time prior. I understand it is his motivation and all but I felt nothing for them. Given the fact that he is so motivated by revenge I think like Amy mentioned the shot of him looking out at the vast emptiness of the arena is more fitting and instead of rewarding his path of revenge you see the hollowness of it. You could have some scenes after that but the 40 forced B story is not the way to go.

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I'm also very glad that they brought up the homosexual undertones of that first scene between Ben-Hur and Messala. When I was watching it felt so clear that these were two men who were in love that couldn't be together or had been separated. It is a shame that this aspect of it was so quickly abandoned. He just seemed so indifferent to him in other scenes rather than conflicted. It is odd to me that they allowed it to play that way in the first scene but then not in the others.

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I completely agree with Paul that Heston looked to old to play the “young Ben-Hur.” I’ve been trying to think of someone I’d like better, and I think I would have maybe liked Rock Hudson. I know he’s only two years younger than Heston, but I think he would have been pretty good...

 

176%2BRock%2BHudson.jpg

For some reason, I'm largely unfamiliar with Rock Hudson. I know him from reputation but I've seen almost nothing he's been in. I couldn't have even told you he was in the movies I've seen with him even though he's a major character. The only movie I would have sworn he was in (From Here To Eternity), he wasn't in at all. Looks like I have a major gap in my film knowledge that I need to rectify.

 

From this picture, he's definitely a better choice on looks alone.

My mom attended a school in Indiana that was named after Lew Wallace. I ran across him when I was reading Civil War history.

 

I'm only a third of the way into the podcast, but the opening scene of Ben Her reminds me of the opening scene of the Life of Brian. I swear it's even the same soundtrack?

Isn't Life of Brian inspired a bit by Ben-Hur? I can't imagine the Pythons missed Ben-Hur completely when they came up with the idea of "movie where some other guy keeps running into Jesus".

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For some reason, I'm largely unfamiliar with Rock Hudson. I know him from reputation but I've seen almost nothing he's been in. I couldn't have even told you he was in the movies I've seen with him even though he's a major character. The only movie I would have sworn he was in (From Here To Eternity), he wasn't in at all. Looks like I have a major gap in my film knowledge that I need to rectify.

 

From this picture, he's definitely a better choice on looks alone.

 

Isn't Life of Brian inspired a bit by Ben-Hur? I can't imagine the Pythons missed Ben-Hur completely when they came up with the idea of "movie where some other guy keeps running into Jesus".

I saw a making of Life of Brian a long time ago and they said they mocked storylines from all the big bible epics, so I'm sure Ben-Hur was included.

 

It looks like they're doing the 10th anniversary list for this podcast, not the original. -- if they were doing the other list you and I both might have had a reason to see Rock Hudson in Giant. Because they're doing the 10th anniversary list, I still have two movies on the list I haven't seen -- but now it's Intolerance and Shawshank Redemption.

 

I'm pretty sure that Rock Hudson's best work was McMillan and Wife, but that show is completely looney. The wife is pregnant but later there's no baby. His wife then dies off screen (and he gets a new maid) even though his "wife" is sort of named in the title of the show.

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This is completely unrelated to the film ( Ben Hur + The Ten Commandments were staples of Portuguese Religious Holidays television, i've seen them so many times as a kid that i don't think i can take them seriously anymore ), but Amy... you're pretty cool. I don't know if that was a throwaway line or something you really feel, but just because you don't smoke pot doesn't mean that you're not cool. You are a cool person.

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