Sunday, October 2, 2011

NYFF 2011: Ben Hur (1959) Restored

This is only going to be a few random comments and not a full scale review because Ben Hur is too well known a film to fit the main criteria of this blog... on the other hand it's not everyday you get to see one of the greatest spectacles ever made on a truly huge screen. Yesterday at 1030 in the morning I got that opportunity when the New York Film Festival ran the 50th Anniversary restoration of Ben Hur.

This is being called a 50th anniversary restoration because it was begun on the 50th anniversary of the films release. This edition has been just put out on DVD and Bluray and can be had from the unusual places.

What can't be had at the usual places is the chance to see the film on a big screen, which is why when it was announced I plunked down my money for a ticket immediately. This film is simply so wide a widescreen that unless you are seeing it properly projected the image has been tinkered with.

Seeing the film again for the first time I was blown away by the sense of scale that comes across on the big screen. Those were big sets and it the effects, done waaaaaay before digital effects often put some of the computer generated crap of today to shame.(Though to be fair the restoration is so good you know can see what is real and what isn't in several scenes). Trust me, unless you have seen this film on a big screen you've not seen this film.

I should also state that seeing the film on the big screen I noticed something that I never really noticed before when I have watched the film at home, namely that the first hour of the film, basically everything until Ben Hur is sent to the gallies, is really bad. Yes, I know it's set up, but damn if it isn't painful to watch. It's at the point where Hur meet Christ for the first time that the film jumps suddenly and magically to life (Its goes from 4 out of 10 to about 24 out of 10). I should state that the reason I haven't noticed it is that because I frequently don't just watch an old favorite film like this, I watch and do other things, and honestly I must have been really not paying attention for a really long time. If you've never seen this before just stick with it because it gets a whole lot better.

Sadly, but not fatally the screening of the wonderful restoration was marred by technical glitches. The digital file got out of sync so that through a chunk of the first half the sound and picture drifted apart. The picture quality also degraded to the point that I was wondering what was so special about this version...and then they fixed the problems and suddenly it was like magic, I could see what they had done.

If you've never seen this film before you should do so. If you ever get the chance to see it on a big screen you must do so, because it will knock your socks off...


  1. I'd love to see Ben Hur on the big screen, films always look better in the cinema. I was recently able to see Bladerunner on the big screen, and it was fantastic; though that could be an understatement.

  2. When really terrific high definition projectors became highly affordable, I couldn't resist utilizing one in a giant screen home theater. It was always in the back of my mind that if Wyler's "Ben-Hur" was released in the Blu Ray format, it would be one of the most thrilling features we could show in that facility. Small screen viewing of this movie profoundly diminishes its power and splendor. When we acquired the newly restored Blu Ray version and tried it out on our panoramic screen, it was absolutely breathtaking. It really must be seen this way!