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6 Degrees Entertainment

'Ben-Hur (50th Anniversary Collector's Edition)'
(Charlton Heston, Jack Hawkins, Stephen Boyd, Haya Harareet, Hugh Griffith, et al / 5-Disc DVD / NR / 2011 / Warner Bros.)

Overview: Charlton Heston brings a muscular physical and moral presence to his Best Actor Oscar®-winning role of Judah Ben-Hur, a Jewish nobleman in Palestine whose heroic odyssey includes enslavement by the Romans, vengeance against his tormentors during a furious arena chariot race and fateful encounters with Jesus Christ.

DVD Verdict: OK, and although you probably know this already, 'Ben Hur' is one of those movies where you don't have to be religious to enjoy a story with religious intentions! Far from it. Made in an era when all movies were 'epic,' here today in this box-set I have never-before-seen any home entertainment edition of this movie that comes near the dazzling perfection of those early Camera 65 screenings. What a joy to behold within this box-set.

The time and money spent on restoring and rescanning 'Ben-Hur' is obvious from the very beginning of the film. The resulting transfer is a singular achievement in home entertainment. I have only a few negatives to mention, namely a few places that exhibit 'jump cuts' where a very small number of frames in a scene are missing or were damaged beyond repair and needed to be discarded to keep from spoiling the mostly pristine look of the rest of the film.

At one point during the start of the big race I noticed a few white blips or print tear marks and an actual hair on the left side of the screen. I thought I imagined it so I went back and watched in slow motion. Yeah, they were there alright, but they were gone very quickly, never to return.

Luckily the audio does NOT suffer in these instances and there are very few OF them. This is NOT a transfer that in any way requires an apology or needs to be prefaced by saying "It looks good for the films age". This IS a classic film from the tail end of Hollywood's Golden age, and as such has the look of a classic film. The color timing and lighting choices, the types of special effects used (no CGI back then) and the sometimes very noticeable dialogue looping are all byproducts of the way films were made then.

I guess what I am trying to say is this is NOT 100% perfect, but then again, no film is or ever was. The only way 'Ben-Hur' could look any better is to print this new scan at it's full resolution and then project it the old fashioned way.

But, I digress ... based on Lew Wallace's best-selling novel, Karl Tunberg's screenplay presented flesh-and-blood characters and plenty of melodrama to keep viewers involved. Heston, who won the Best Actor Academy Award, dominates the three-and-a-half hour epic as Ben-Hur wins the love of Hebrew maiden Esther (Haya Harareet), is adopted by Roman consul Quintus Arrius (Jack Hawkins), and becomes a slave of a sheik (Hugh Griffith) who matches Ben-Hur in a chariot race against his former friend, now enemy - the cruel and ambitious Roman, Messala (Stephen Boyd).

'Ben-Hur' required 100,000 costumes, 15,000 extras and a $15 million budget - the costliest in MGM's history. The movie was filmed in a process known as MGM Camera 65, one of the widest prints ever made, with a width almost three times its height. This allowed for spectacular panoramic shots and exciting action sequences.

The chariot race sequence in the Circus Maximus is breathtaking. It was constructed on over 18 acres of backlot space at Cinecitta Studios outside Rome, and the filming took five weeks. With the exception of two of the most spectacular stunts, Charlton Heston and Stephen Boyd did all their own chariot driving in the meticulously choreographed sequence.

For the record, the book is great as well and different from the movie. However both cover what all great stories are about, glory and tragedy and the fall and rise in between. If anything, watch the movie for Charlton Heston's performance. If you want to see a man and a man with all of his emotions (rage, sorrow, revengeful, unable to comprehend), than there is no better place to see one than Heston's Judah Ben Hur.

Once you delve inside this beautiful box, you will discover a hardcover book with a black ribbon underneath - to help lift it out of the box. The book also has the title in bronzed raised text with a wonderful picture of Heston in the iconic chariot race. The book itself is filled with gorgeous quality images where the colors just pop off the page. The gold background on some of the pages adds a touch of class to this book, for sure.

An exact reproduction of Charlton Heston's personal production diary, two full length documentaries, screen tests, original movie trailers, a wonderful 'Music Only' track that highlights Miklos Rozsa's beautiful Oscar wining score, Newsreel footage and even Oscar Highlights from 1960 when 'Ben-Hur' swept the awards with a record 11 Oscars (not topped EVER and not equaled until 'Titanic' and then 'Lord of the Rings') are also included.

Add to all this the original Silent version of Ben-Hur from 1925 and you have enough bonus features to fill all the chariots in the big race! This is a Full Screen Presentation (1.33:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:

DISCS 1 AND 2: The Movie
The 1959 Winner of a Record-Setting 11 Academy Awards®* – Including Best Picture, Actor (Charlton Heston) and Director (William Wyler) – Restored Frame by Frame from the Original 65MM Camera Negative and Remastered for Maximum Picture and Audio Clarity
Commentary by Film Historian T. Gene Hatcher with Charlton Heston
Music-Only Track Showcasing Miklos Rozsa’s Award-Winning Score
Retrospective on the Ben-Hur Star Written and Directed by His Son Fraser C. Heston, Featuring Never-Before-Available Images and Footage from the Heston Family Archives
DISC 4: The 1925 Silent Version
Thames Television (UK) Restoration with Stereophonic Orchestral Score by Carl Davis
DISC 5: Vintage Special Features
Documentaries Ben-Hur: The Epic That Changed Cinema and Ben-Hur: The Making of an Epic
Ben-Hur: A Journey Through Pictures – Audiovisual Recreation Via Stills, Storyboards, Sketches, Music and Dialogue
Screen Tests
Highlights from the 1960 Academy Awards® Telecast
Newsreels and Trailers
Reproduction of Charlton Heston’s Personal and Insightful Diary from January 1958 to April 1960, Chronicling His Time Before Production Started Through the Academy Awards