The bar is set high – and why ever not – because if you’re going to remake a film that is American canon, you need a very good reason to do so. And while it might not be too challenging to explain the failures of this classic motion-picture – that predominantly consist of a somewhat lackluster script and regrettably wooden performances – the real problem is almost spiritual. Because while the filmmakers of this retelling demonstrate superb technical prowess, they woefully fail at providing a good reason for why this story needs to be retold. And retold in a way that perhaps rivals if not exceeds the spectacular drama of the original.
For starters, the set-up is laborious and taxing, and I remember turning to my firstborn seated next to me to actually say, “this is taking forever…!” Imagine that. But John Huston as Judah is no Charlton Heston, and he unfortunately does not possess the emotional intensity nor the range to pull off the emotional transformation from wealthy Jewish citizen in Roman-governed Jerusalem to galley slave who beats the odds of survival and trains to ride the chariot to beat his nemesis, Messala.
And what of the chariot race, you ask? Well, it is what you’d expect, I suppose, only, it fails to overwhelm, which is what you’re hoping for. You’re hoping for the race to leave you breathless and speechless and exhausted, not to mention to propel you from your seats to cheer along with the crowds for Judah. But, alas, you sit there, waiting for what you know to be the inevitable end just around the corner which couldn’t come a moment sooner.
The only parts that truly moved me were the cameo appearances of Jesus who is true to character in appearing at all the right times to overwhelm and perplex you with his style and words. What manner of man is this? How can one forgive? What does he mean? Is this what love truly is?
And yet, despite these brief moments of satisfaction, the whole is not always a sum of its parts. If the casting and the script is lacking, so is the cinematography and the dialog. And in the overzealousness of the remaking, by altering certain fundamental pieces of the story, the filmmakers have done a disservice to the purist in the likes of yours truly who has read both the book and seen the original movie multiple times to deeply frown upon the license taken in this regard.
Final verdict: nice try, but I’m afraid I can’t give it a full thumbs-up. I guess you win some, and then you learn some…