New ‘Ben-Hur’ leads September streaming lineup

Perhaps we should get this out of the way first: It likely was a bad idea to remake the legendary movie Ben-Hur.

The Charlton Heston-led 1959 version cost $15 million to make, grossed $74 million and won 11 Oscars. Contrast that to the 2016 film which cost $100 million, finished in the red with a $26 million gross and was widely panned by critics.

It was — without a doubt — a financial disaster, a box-office flop and an easy target.

Mainstream reviewers

But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good movie. In fact the 2016 version of Ben-Hur was inspiring, entertaining and well-done. And despite the fact that only 25 percent of critics at Rotten Tomatoes liked it, it did get thumbs up from mainstream reviewers at CNN, Huffington Post and RogerEbert.com. Not bad for a film that has forgiveness at its core and features Christ.

The newest Ben-Hur (PG-13) — which began streaming Sept. 2 on Amazon and Hulu — differs slightly from the 1959 version. In the 2016 movie the main characters of Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston), a Jewish prince, and Messala (Toby Kebbell), who is Roman, are adoptive brothers. In the ’59 film, they’re simply friends.

But that change benefits the 2016 plot, which is set during the time of Jesus and highlights the brothers’ differences. They worship different gods and come from different cultures, and the gulf between them widens when Messala leaves the family to try and make it on his own.

Tragedy brings them back together when Judah is falsely accused of an assassination attempt on Pontius Pilate. Messala — now a Roman army officer — sentences Judah to work in the galley of a Roman slave ship where he will face a near-certain slow death.

Chariot race

Yet Judah survives and pledges payback against his brother. He will get his revenge in a chariot race — a dangerous sport that kills most who attempt it.

The chariot race by itself makes this one worth watching.

Ben-Hur features one of the most powerful examples of forgiveness you’ll ever see in a movie. It is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and disturbing images. It contains no coarse language or sexuality.

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Meet the reviewer — Michael Foust covers the intersection of faith and entertainment as a writer and podcast host for Heirloom Audio. He also is the husband of an amazing wife and the father of four small children.