My wife and I just finished watching Ben-Hur a week or so ago, and I am thankful that I've finally seen this film. Part of me wants to recommend it to the world if they have never seen it, because we found it quite enjoyable, but I think there is fear that our recommendation might be taken as pretentious and that some film viewers might find this hardly entertaining viewing.
With that in mind I present the pro-con list in the format of "Pretentious" and "Amazing."
Pretentious: Almost 4 hours long
Amazing: Such an epic film that it seems perfectly appropriate to watch as though it were a mini-series because every scene is entertaining independently.
Pretentious: Some scenes in this 1959 movie run far longer than modern films would have, and part of that relates to the wordy dialogue.
Amazing: This "wordy-dialogue" is pretty intriguing. The story that is set in the time of Jesus Christ's life warrants a rich a full dialogue. The power of many of the scenes and decisions made by the characters rest in the understanding (or teaching) of what it meant to be Jewish or Roman in this time in history. The film provides context in a wonderful way.
Pretentious: It's also long because the action scenes are center-stage and long.
Amazing: The "action oriented" scenes, namely those in the galley of the slave ship and the famous chariot race are so cinematic that it is no wonder that more than 50 years later these are some of the most famous scenes in film history. The chariot race is grand and deserves to be seen, and seen in the context of this film.
Pretentious: To place a story in the time of Christ and the use Jesus' birth and death as the end caps to your story.
Amazing: The opening scene with the birth of Christ has to be one of the greatest film versions of this ever. And I think it is amazing to tell this well known event through a cultural historic lens, mixed with the intrigue of action, romance, and epic story telling. Also, I love the fact that Jesus' character in this film does not speak, but instead we hear others interpreting and passing on what they have heard and how they relate to his teaching.
Pretentious: Some over-acted characters.
Amazing: For what at time's seems like stage acting, to not see Charlton Heston in this role is a tragedy.
I think you will see that I'm glad I sat down and took the time to watch this film and recommend to the patient and open film viewer.