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Ben Hur (The 50th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition) blu ray...an epic with a breathtaking video to behold...
on September 28, 2011
MGM originally filmed the movie in Camera 65. Video resolution now is 1080p with 2.76:1 aspect ratio. The film has been spread across the set's first two discs (BD-50) with the break coming at the film's intermission. The work on this release began several years ago and has involved a $1 million restoration frame by frame from an 8k scan of the original 65mm camera negative. It had been hoped to have the work completed in time for a 2009 release (hence the 50th anniversary designation that still appears in the release title), but the meticulous process took longer than expected and to Warners' credit, they did not rush it to meet an artificial marketing deadline.
The extreme width (2.76:1) is requisite to convey the breadth and grandeur of the settings, and when you see the Roman legions marching from one end of the screen to the other, you know it's wide. And all those spectators in the stand are not digital artifacts, but real people.
To complement the screen's vast dimensions, the colour and definition are superb. Indeed, the high-definition image is spectacular, beautifully restored and remastered from 65 mm elements, remarkably detailed, always sharp, always brilliantly in focus, and more clearly delineated than ever before. Grain is handled extraordinarily well. Colours look vividly deep, particularly reds and blacks, accompanied by pinpoint definition, and have been treated with utmost care: even the skin tones (typically a trouble spot for films from the 50s and 60s) come off cleanly and accurately. Black levels are also rock-solid. The halos and edge enhancement that marred the earlier 4-disc DVD editions have been erased completely. The picture quality is so rich, and the dimension so vast, the resultant picture on my 12 foot wide screen using anamorphic lens is simply breathtaking. (5/5)
The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is a force of nature - it's a perfect way to enjoy Ben-Hur's original sound design. This mix is decidedly front-heavy - as it was originally intended - but opens up in action sequences in order to augment an already exciting stereo mix. Dialogue sounds spit-shined perfect. Miklos Rozsa's score is placed into the soup with clarity and robust, dynamic punch, and the action scenes literally sizzle with exemplary exploitation of atmospherics and sound effects. (4/5)
I always enjoy the music of Miklos Rozsa. He is always regarded today as one of the greatest film score composers of all time. In a career that spanned over fifty years, he composed music for nearly 100 films, including Spellbound (1945), Quo Vadis (1951), Ivanhoe (1952), El Cid (1961), and King of Kings (1961). In Ben Hur, he won an Oscar for Best Music Score. His original long-case 2 CD box set of the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack of Ben Hur, released in 1996 by Rhino, is a nice complement to this movie.
Ben Hur is considered as an epic movie. At the time, it was the most-expensive movie ever made, and its rewards were not only to become a box-office smash but to earn a record-breaking eleven Academy Awards, including Best Picture (Sam Zimbalist died during filming due to stress, and his wife accepted the award on his behalf), Best Director (Wyler), Best Actor (Charlton Heston), Best Supporting Actor (Hugh Griffin) and Best Cinematography (Robert Surtee, who had also won in King Solomon's Mines, and The Bad And The Beautiful). This record was not equalled until the arrival of Titanic!
The film's major drawback, its extreme length, may also be for many viewers among its chief strengths. I found much of the middle portion of the film flagging, but the length enables a good deal of character growth, and it gives extended time for the chariot race. Legendary stunt man Yakima Canutt was second-unit director on "Ben-Hur," and he was responsible for staging the action and training Heston to do much of his own chariot driving.
In addition to William Wyler's 1959 remake of "Ben-Hur," the Blu-ray set includes the original 1925 silent version as well, directed by Fred Niblo and starring Ramon Novarro as Judah Ben-Hur and Francis X. Bushman as Messala. The movie is 143 minutes long, mostly in black-and-white. This "Ultimate Collector's Edition" also contains a 128-page replica of Charlton Heston's journal and sketches (he avidly kept notes on each of his movies), and a 64-page hardbound book of text and rare photos. They are housed in a handsome box, all of which I will treasure.
This Ultimate Collector's Edition's package is similar in size to that of The Sound Of Music, Wizard Of Oz, Gone With The Wind and The Ten Commandments. Putting them next to each other in one place forms a nice way to display all these beautiful box sets.
As noted before, this monstrous epic took home eleven Academy Awards and almost single-handedly made Charlton Heston a superstar. It's required viewing for anyone who even slightly cares about what big-budget epics from the olden days of Hollywood looked like. If you don't care about the extra goodies (thus higher price), I am sure that movie-only blu ray disc will be eventually released next year (just like movie-only discs for Wizard Of Oz and Gone With The Wind, being released now). With the state-of-the-art video and Miklos Rozsa's music, this is definitely The Ultimate version of Ben Hur. This box set is also a Limited Edition of 125,000, with each set numbered (mine 64,402), Lastly, thank you to Warner for spending time and money to restore this epic film to its original glory and splendor. This "52th" Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition is definitely worth the wait and is very highly recommended.