The first words heard in the new remake of Ben-Hur are delivered in voice-over by – wouldn’t ya know it? – Morgan Freeman, meaning that the quality of director Timur Bekmambetov’s biblically themed epic is up in the air from the start. Will this be another Shawshank Redemption? A Million Dollar Baby? A March of the Penguins? A War of the Worlds? A Love Guru? A Hillary Clinton DNC bio-video?
So it shouldn’t be surprising that the movie, like Freeman’s vocal-track record, is similarly all over the place – sometimes lugubrious and laughable, sometimes powerful and exhilarating, sometimes merely blah. It’s hardly a threat to the legacy of 1959’s Ben-Hur and its record-setting 11 Oscar wins. But on the rare occasions that Bekmambetov’s unnecessary outing works, it works thunderously well, and either way we’re spared the monolithic orating of Charlton Heston, which is a plus right there.