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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Ben Hur
Ben Hur
Warner Bros.
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted March 10, 2001 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
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The Movie:

Certainly one of the all-time classics, "Ben Hur" stars Charleton Heston in one of the biggest and most expensive epics of the period. Watching the film, there looks to have been no expense spared as costumes, sets and the production in general looks lavish and impressive in size. The film also took home 11 Oscars during that year, and still remains a remarkable achievement in cinema.

Heston stars as Judah Ben-Hur, a wealthy prince who greets his friend Messala (Stephen Boyd) after a long period apart. Soon enough though, politics (isn't it always politics?) make the two enemies, as Messala builds enough reason to send our hero off to slavery. Eventually he wins back his right to freedom and goes off on the trail towards revenge.

There are some things that I still find slightly flawed with the film. The over three hour running time still feels somehwat overly slow at times. Although the picture certainly has an epic look, I'm not sure that it had to feel epic in length. Heston's performance is excellent, but there's areas where his efforts aren't quite as engaging. Still, I can't help but be amazed at the sheer size of nearly every element of the picture, especially the stunning chariot race. One can't help but wonder how much all of this would cost today if done without the help of digital effects.

Warner Brothers, who recieved the rights from MGM, have put together a stellar DVD. Although 2 DVDs would have been nice instead of a dual-sided/dual-layered disc, the audio/video quality is excellent and there are several fine extras included. In terms of video quality, the film is thankfully presented in the film's original 2.76:1 aspect ratio, with very minimal flaws. You can tell which side of the disc is which by looking at the end of the numbers next to the title - one of which has an A at the end and the other side has...a B.


The DVD

VIDEO: "Ben-Hur" is wonderfully presented in its original 2.76:1 aspect ratio - which is definitely very wide. Like any other film, I always am very pleased to have the film in its original aspect ratio. And by the way - the image quality looks excellent. Sharpness and detail are quite fine. Although some scenes seem a little bit soft, I was impressed at how well-defined and crisp the image often looked.

And I was also very pleased that there were extremely few flaws with the image. Although one might expect some wear in an older film like this one, that expectation is proven wrong as there are suprisingly few print flaws. Yes, there are some minor speckles and little marks now and then, but the majority of the film is remarkably clean. Although it doesn't suffer from any pixelation, there is a bit of shimmering now and then. Nothing that caused much of a distraction, though. Grain is almost completely absent from the picture, as well.

Frankly, colors looked suprisingly good. The film often offers bright colors that showed through remarkably well here, still looking bold and vibrant after all of these years. Black level remained strong, as well. It's wonderful to not only have the film presented here in its original aspect ratio, but to have the picture quality be so uniformly excellent, presenting this magnificent film how it should be seen.

SOUND: This section of the review will contain elements that are positive and elements that may not please some folks, understandably. "Ben Hur" is presented in a new Dolby Digital 5.1 version that, in my opinion, sounded pretty impressive for a movie that's up there in years. Quality is generally strong, and there's some respectable activity. Some though may be displeased that, for whatever reason, the original mono soundtrack is not included.

But, to continue, I was quite pleased with the audio quality. The exciting and enjoyable score doesn't sound as full and crisp as newer films, of course, but it certainly tries its hardest in this presentation, often doing a nice job filling the listening space. And again, although it doesn't sound quite as full as some more modern pictures, I certainly didn't find the audio thin or distorted, and found it quite comfortable to listen to. Dialogue does sound somewhat flat, although not particularly harsh and still clear and easily understood. It's not going to rival any new movies, but for a film its age, "Ben Hur" sounds very good.

MENUS: Although the menus don't have any animation during the main menu or the transitions between menus, the film's score at least plays in the background of the main menu.

EXTRAS: .

Commentary: This is a commentary from actor Charleton Heston. Although it's not a full-length commentary, I was really impressed with the amount of information that the actor was able to recall about a picture that was produced so many years ago. Heston has many interesting stories to share, especially about the chariot race sequence and the preparation for it. When Heston is finished talking, thankfully, a little logo comes up to prompt you to skip to the next chapter - if you listen to the commentary, the next chapter is the next point at when Heston starts talking again. This is an excellent feature, as I don't think I'd want to have to search for the next comment in a movie of this length.

Screen Tests: 2 rare screen tests are included, one that actually features Leslie Neilsen(!).

Documentary: This is a fantastic and professional documentary that outlines the history behind the making of the film, taking us from the early presentations of the story to the one that we've just viewed on this disc. Interviews are included with many of those involved, and their thoughts prove insightful and informative. There's a remarkable amount of information covered in this documentary, and it's a nice compliment to Heston's commentary. Where that provided a very enjoyable and entertaining group of stories and production information, this takes the viewer through all of the details involved in getting this massive project to the screen.

Also: Photo gallery, theatrical and teaser trailer, cast and crew bios, awards text.

Final Thoughts:

Positive: "Ben Hur" remains an excellent film; a few flaws, but still a cinema classic in many ways. Video and audio quality are wonderful for a film of its age. Extras are also informative and very interesting.

Negative: I'd have liked a 2 DVD set instead of a dual-sided disc. Those who have multi-disc players would probably like this even more, as it means they wouldn't have to get up to flip the DVD over.

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