Experience the visual splendor, thundering action, and towering drama of this record-setting Academy Award®-winning film. Charlton Heston, in his Best Actor Oscar®-winning role, is 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. Best Director Oscar-winner William Wyler masterfully grips the reins of an enduring and spellbinding spectacle. (Tricia Spears)
The Ben-Hur 50th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition features a spectacular boxed set, which includes a 65-page hardbound book that is filled with rare photographs, production art, and reproductions from the original theatrical press book, as well as a reproduction of the Personal Journal Of Charlton Heston on the set of Ben-Hur, from January 1958 through April 1960. Disc One is Part 1 of the film, and special features include commentary by Film Historian T. Gene Hatcher with scene specific comments from Charlton Heston, trailers, and a music-only track. Disc Two is Part 2 of the film and includes commentary by Hatcher with scene specific comments from Heston and a music-only track. Disc Three includes the following special features—"Behind The Scenes": Charlton Heston & "Ben-Hur": A Personal Journey (HD 01:18:06), "Ben-Hur": The Epic That Changed Cinema (SD 57:46), "Ben-Hur": The Making Of An Epic (SD 58:15), and "Ben-Hur": A Journey Through Pictures (SD 05:09); and the silent film "Ben-Hur" 1925 Version (SD 02:23:06). And under "Additional Footage" there are four screen tests (SD 29:18), six vintage newsreels (SD 09:45), and Highlights From The 4/4/1960 Academy Awards® Ceremony (SD 09:47).
First reviewed in the LaserDisc format in Issues 01 and 09, the two special editions preserved the entire picture area as originally projected. These first optical disc releases were a superb record of the era of the large format picture. The transfer's picture quality was generally good and rich in the color spectrum. The cinematography and musical score were magnificent. The anamorphically enhanced 2.70:1 DVD reviewed in Issue 48 exhibited a gorgeous picture. For the film's age, images exhibited excellent clarity and definition, despite the obvious sets appearing rather "flat." Contrast and shadow delineation were rather impressive for the DVD format. Colors were rich and bold, though, at times, blacks appeared a bit weak. Fleshtones were nicely balanced throughout the film, with infrequently orange overtones. Source element artifacts were noticed throughout, such as film grain, but neither created much of a distraction. Edge enhancement was apparent, but not obtrusive, and minor pixelization was detected occasionally. Overall, the picture was superior to the previously released LaserDiscs. One blemish on an otherwise excellent disc was that it appeared that this new transfer was cropped on all four sides when compared to 70 mm film frames from a 1959 print. This suggests that, like the previously issued widescreen LaserDiscs, the DVD was transferred from a 35mm reduction element and that the super wide aspect ratio was achieved by needlessly masking the image. (Gary Reber)
Compared to the previously released DVD reviewed in Issue 48, the latest new anamorphically enhanced 2.73:1 DVD looked gorgeous. For the film's age, images exhibited excellent clarity and definition, despite the obvious sets appearing rather "flat." Contrast and shadow delineation were rather impressive. Colors were rich and bold, though, at times, blacks could appear a bit weak. Fleshtones were nicely balanced throughout the film, with infrequent orange overtones. Source element artifacts were noticed throughout as well but did not create much of a distraction. Edge enhancement was apparent, but not obtrusive, and minor pixelization was detected occasionally. This newest DVD did not appear to be cropped, as previous releases had been. (Suzanne Hodges)
The new re-mastered 50th Anniversary Edition 1080p AVC Blu-ray Disc™ is absolutely the best that this classic film has ever looked on home media. The reason is that Warner has returned to the original M-G-M Camera 65 negative (a 70mm format) to source new high-resolution scans, along with a frame-by-frame restoration, the with three-hour-plus film spread across two BD-50s. As a result, the picture is virtually damage-free, pristine, and artifact-free. Resolution is top-notch, with every nuance detail perfectly captured with precision and accuracy. As a result, the set pieces appear quite fake, as do the gold-painted Roman spears and the miniatures and matte work. The color palette is robust and strongly saturated with Technicolor hues that are rich and warm. Blacks are no longer weak but are deep and solid, and shadow delineation is no longer murky but revealing of fine nuances. Robert L. Surtees' cinematography fully exploits the panoramic 2.76:1 widescreen process. This is a fabulous restoration that pays due homage to the classic filmmaking accomplishments of Director William Wyler. (Gary Reber)
The soundtrack on the LaserDisc presentations were matrixed to Dolby Surround® stereo from the original master tracks with Miklos Rozsa's grandiose musical score isolated on the analog stereo tracks. The DVDs featured a re-mastered 5.1-channel Dolby® Digital soundtrack that brought the listener closer than ever to the original multichannel magnetic sound. The 5.1 soundtrack creation reportedly incorporated new Foley and effects, in addition to the vintage audio. The restoration was quite remarkable, with the presence of background tape hiss in quiescent scenes and occasional distortion being the primary limitations. The music's dynamics and sparkle shined through, as did its expansiveness and envelopment. There seemed to have been some dimensional processing with the music to derive ambiance in the surrounds, as activity with the split surrounds was substantial in the presence of the music (surround activity with vintage mag stereo films tends to be rather subtle). Voices, which were directionalized, were presented with reasonable clarity, and their natural tonality was limited, of course, by the dated recording. Deep bass was appropriately conservative, with some low-end enhancement (and .1 LFE activity) incorporated to give a bit more depth to the music and some effects (such as the chariot race). Other than the music, the surrounds were rather quiescent throughout, and the frontal soundstage was acceptable but didn't measure up to the expansiveness offered by the music. Nonetheless, this was a very nicely restored soundtrack that offered the unprecedented capability to get closer than ever to the original stereophonic sound. (Perry Sun/Danny Richelieu)
The original stems and mag tracks were used to create the newly re-mastered DTS-HD Master Audio™ 5.1-channel soundtrack. The sound is dramatically fuller and richer sounding, with subtle but noticeable enhancements to the surround envelopment. Miklos Rozsa's lush orchestral music score is wonderfully expansive, with a much deeper low-frequency presence that sounds so much fuller and dynamic. Instrumental timbre is discernible, from horns to strings to percussion. Dialogue is perfectly directionalized and intelligible throughout, though, not always spatially integrated well. There is not noticeable background hiss or other sonic disturbances, though, at times slight distortion can be heard at loud SPL. Overall, this is a considerable improvement and the definitive sonic statement for this classic soundtrack and celebrated music score. (Gary Reber)