A Lesson of the ‘Ben-Hur’ Debacle: Movie Stars Still Matter

Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures

Up until recently, when a movie turned out to be a major bomb — not just a financial failure but a symbol of waste, a legend, a stink bomb — there was usually a movie star’s name imprinted on it. The star became part of the movie’s infamy, and he also took on some of the blame. Just think of a folly like “Ishtar” (1987), in which the combined star wallop of Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty couldn’t add up to a hill of beans in the desert, or “Battlefield Earth” (2000), which proved that John Travolta in the middle of the Travoltassance couldn’t sell a sci-fi epic that was really an obsequious vanity project. “Heaven’s Gate,” the movie that brought down a movie studio, was the exception that proved the rule: No one really thought of it as a Kris Kristofferson film, but that’s because there was a much bigger star in his midst, and that star was the director — Michael Cimino, the last auteur superhero of the New Hollywood. It was his name that adorned the legend.

These days, though, notorious movie bombs tend to arrive with an impersonal, disaster-by-committee feeling. For every picture like “The Lone Ranger,” which had Johnny Depp’s name all over it (though it’s worth pointing out that the film’s nominal star, Armie Hammer, wasn’t a star), there are one or two more like the $150 million fiasco “Mars Needs Moms” (2011), a motion-capture fantasy that no one remembers for its actors, or “John Carter,” the sci-fi trainwreck that starred Taylor Kitsch, a pleasant but recessive actor — he has his fans, but he’s about as far from a movie star as you can get — who had the sorry distinction of also starring in 2012’s other infamous debacle, “Battleship.” The disaster of a movie like “John Carter” isn’t hung around Taylor Kitsch’s neck, and it probably shouldn’t be, but in one sense he was connected to it: The way he played the title space traveler (anonymously), he was like a stand-in for the movie star who, theoretically, could have sold the movie.

Ditto for Jack Huston in the new “Ben-Hur.” Now that the film is an official debacle, we shouldn’t blame it on him; the movie is boring and inept on too many other levels. But perhaps the responsibility does lie, to a degree, with the filmmakers and executives who decided that they simply didn’t need a movie star. The ones who figured that Huston, with his handsome but slightly wimpy blue-eyed smiley okay-ness, was enough.

It’s that decision that makes “Ben-Hur,” like “John Carter” before it, a disaster that is so emblematic of its era. It reflects a strain of thinking in contemporary Hollywood that says, “We don’t need movie stars.” But why would anyone who wants to sell a big movie say that they don’t need a star? It all comes down to the logic of spectacle, to the notion that action and special effects and concept can carry the day. It comes down to the way that executives now invest themselves — literally — with an almost religious belief in the power of the package.

Now that we’ve seen what a mediocrity “Ben-Hur” is, a lot of people are wondering how it could have gotten made in the first place. But the context for it is everywhere around you, in every blah extravaganza like “The Legend of Hercules” or “Wrath of the Titans” or “Warcraft.” These movies will sometimes feature a “name” actor (addled producer: “Get me Sam Worthington!”), as well as venerable middle-aged supporting icons who show up for the paycheck (“Get me Liam Neeson!”), but essentially they are post-movie-star movies: spectacle for the global masses, ground out by the yard with showy and expensive digital anonymity.

“Ben-Hur,” by comparison, may look like an episode of “Masterpiece Theatre,” but let’s not kid ourselves about why this movie was made (or why they hired as a director the go-go visual stylist Timur Bekmambetov, who couldn’t stage a good “Masterpiece Theatre” scene if he tried — and in this movie, he tries). Sure, the faith-based demo was a factor, but the real draw was the chariot race, the ten-minute sequence that was the hair-raising action cornerstone of the 1959 version (and, before that, the silent 1925 version). The race was going to be the hook, the lure, the money shot. Remember the famous quote from Dino Di Laurentiis about his 1976 remake of “King Kong”? That movie was a proto entry in the packaging-is-everything era, and what Dino said about it was, “When my monkey die, everybody gonna cry.” The chariot race in “Ben-Hur” is this year’s monkey. Except that no one cared, because it’s the all-action era, when the eyeballs of moviegoers around the world are assaulted with kinetic amazements every week, so no one thinks twice about a bunch of dudes in horse-drawn vehicles trying to get all fast and furious the way Charlton Heston once did.

What they might have cared about, however, is an actor who could summon the contempo equivalent of Heston’s sinew and heart and wrath. Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator” is a superlatively well-made movie, but if you took Russell Crowe out of it, you wouldn’t have the movie. His feral, eyebrow-knitted ferocity infuses every frame. “Ben-Hur” needed an actor like that. But in our era, stardom, more and more, has been cut out of the equation, and that’s partly because it’s been devalued by a culture of 24/7 pinup-gazing. Anyone who’s got the face and the body is potentially a “star,” and there are so many of these smoldering would-be demigods out there — hunks with a modicum of talent — that the people who make movies are forgetting how to tell the difference. He pops on camera. He can act (at least, without embarrassing himself). He looks hot in Zegna on the red carpet. He’s a star!

But that’s not what a movie star is. A movie star — Russell Crowe, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts — has a quality of soul. He or she has character, and the rare ability to project it. Hollywood is still mining true stars (Ryan Gosling is one), but when it comes to the movies that genuinely make the money, more and more of the energy is consumed with putting together packages that transcend stardom. The new interwoven superhero movies, in which every film seems to be a sequel to every other film, are connect-the-dots matrixes that, to an increasing degree, are bigger than anyone in them. How many different actors can play Batman (there have been four since Michael Keaton) before we forget who Batman is? That’s the thing about movie stardom: It’s not just something out there, beyond us. It’s our mirror — it shows us who we are. It does no one any favors (not the audience, not the industry) when a movie like “Ben-Hur” bombs, but in this case there may be a valuable lesson (beyond the obvious one of don’t make lousy movies). The lesson is that movie stars still matter. Because without them, we’re just staring up at movies that are big glittering empty shells.

10 Worst Movie Remakes of All Time

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  1. Leah says:

    As you have heard the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,”
    Don’t judge a movie by its actors, whether they look good or act good or not.

  2. Leah says:

    Of course this movie is going to be critiqued because of multiple reasons, but I think that people should not have a bias about how good or bad a movie is whether it is a remake or not. I personally think that the new Ben Hur movie is quite good and know others that feel the same way. The reason is because it has a very good theme about forgiveness which many people lack; so in a non-preachy way it gives viewers a chance to look at themselves and forgive those who may have wronged them in the past; may it be just this morning, or decades ago.

  3. David says:

    Maybe it is just that people are tired of unnecessary remakes of classics and the endless barrage of unoriginal nostalgia films. I don’t think a big name actor would have got me to watch this movie. Gladiator had a new, original, and well-written script in addition to a great lead actor. How come the article fails to mention that? Hollywood has zero creativity and won’t take any risks doing original or unique films, why should I watch something that has already been done better?

  4. NMac says:

    Stars have to be made somewhere, so why not from a starless movie? Battleship is an awesome movie. Unabashedly over-the-top alien superiority vs human ingeniuity, but played straight. My younger and grown kids love to watch it whenever it appears on one of the movie network channels.

  5. xfiler93 says:

    And the feeling of a “spectacle” and the strong inclusion of the Almighty never hurt either. The original is still epic and a very worthwhile watch even after all these years.

  6. Sonja says:

    They should have casted Scott Eastwood. Clint Eastwoods son. He might have had more screen presence.

  7. The problem being outside his makeup job induced acting on Boardwalk Empire, Huston is a dud, his bulgy eyes and sleazy oily look is not very appealing. His being cast was just one of the fatal mistakes in the film. Putting someone on the screen who can actually act would have been nice, his is weak and his characterizaton of Judah was pitiful, total miscast. Morgan was the only one worth watching, and even he was only there for a pay check. Stars do matter, at least good looking ones who can actually act.

  8. Jack Monte says:

    The whole idea of being a star or celebrity is going away or at least blurring lines because of the Kardashians who are as famous as Brad Pitt for doing nothing. Their spawn is that regular people with no talent can be famous on social media for any number of reasons. So when you can feel famous because 200 people like or share a picture of your dinner and cocktail last night, then turn around and see a magazine that shows “Stars. They’re just like us” you start to believe it. And at that point the real problem how do you convince someone that thinks that way that way it’s hard to get their 13 dollars a ticket, but more importantly, their time. Much also comes down to these films mentioned mostly had no vision from their director. Ridley Scott made Gladiator what it was. John Carter and Ben hur have more in common with each other that they look flat, have pacing problems, and are miscast. Don’t forget that Russell Crowe wasn’t a star when Gladiator was released. If we had streaming back then maybe a cult following would have known his Australian work, but before it he had hadn’t supporting in Quick and the Dead and lead opposite Denzel Washington in Virtuosity but no one saw that film that summer. But when you saw Crowe in ads for it he seemed like a star and he can act, something missing from the titles mentioned in the article. If studios want to save these films and find new cheap talent to turn into stars and find the next great unknown they need to find actors with actual talent, not the current casting form of who you like at a party. And that goes double for the directors being hired. Whether they make money or not films like Gareth Edwards Godzilla Colin T’s Jurassic World have no vision, steal from their sources while adding little of their own, but are hired because the studio just needs a body on set and know they can cut the film how they want and it will look like everything else. Real actors and directors are what Hollywood needs now.

  9. Doug Mayfield says:

    Having not seen the movie, I can only ask. Was the script any good? I doubt it.

  10. cadavra says:

    You omitted the first part of Dino’s quote, which is what makes it all the more silly. The full remark is, “When the Jaws die, nobody cry. When my monkey die, everybody gonna cry.”

    • M-Wolverine says:

      Ha, not only funnier that way, but he really kept trying for that considering he made Orca just a year later, where you are supposed to be crying for the “jaws.”

  11. Variety.com exists for the commentary as much as its content on the industry. Comments here (and elsewhere) are cogent, salient and insightfully diverse. They provide a 360 perspective not available with any single authorship.

  12. adam says:

    Meh, I dont buy the premise of the article. This movie would have bombed even with Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt in the main role. Audiences care more about subject matter than individual actors.

  13. Mark says:

    I actually think this is a great article. He’s not saying, “Wow, let’s make bad movies and put stars in them.” He’s saying we’re losing the whole culture of stardom that makes for better movies.

  14. Bill says:

    Stars don’t really matter.

    An actual plot comprising a film people actually want to see does.

    Otherwise “Ghostbusters” would have been the runaway hit of the summer.

  15. Gagan Deep says:

    Good movie i like this very much.

  16. Gene says:

    The fact that this film got remade clearly demonstrates that film is dead.

    Who was the audience for this film?

    Young people? There hasn’t been a single “sword and sandals” film that’s been embraced by young people that wasn’t based on a comic book.

    Older people? Did they really think that people familiar with the Heston Ben-Hur would turn out to see this? The Heston version was pretty much perfect as is, and re-making it is downright insulting.

    Religious people? Hollywood, and the people associated with it, are pretty much the antithesis to religious people in the U.S., and they’ve done nothing but mock them for not sharing their leftist liberal views of the world. Why would they turn out for an obvious cash grab made by people that hate them?

    After the awful films released this year, and this summer, and the sheer volume of bombs, like Ben-Hur, perhaps Hollywood should remember that it’s a good idea to actually have an audience willing to see your film before you invest hundreds of millions in making one.

    See: The BFG, Ghostbusters, Ben-Hur

  17. Dylan says:

    Last comment on this – Mr. Gleiberman, take a look at Brent Lang’s (Variety’s senior film reporter) essay, ‘Ben Hur: 5 Reasons the Biblical Epic is summer’s Biggest Flop’ and you will find a very logical and well-reasoned article on this film. Not a trace of snark with each point so clearly researched – this is the essay that explains why this film failed on several fronts. Kudos to Mr. Lang in giving us a glimmer of hope for Variety.

  18. Matthew says:

    This is just like that scene in Tim Burton’s ED WOOD where Ed is in the office of the producer of GLEN OR GLENDA:

    Producer: You must have me confused with David Selznick. I don’t make major motion pictures, I make crap.

    Ed: Right, but when you take that crap and put a star in it, then you’ve got something.

    Producer: Yeah, crap with a star in it.

    Even so, if there were any stars today with the kind of gravitas of a circa 1959 Charlton Heston (or a circa 1927 Ramon Novarro) a project like this requires, would they even do such a project? The script would have to be better than this. And as many others have said, who wanted another BEN-HUR, especially when you know what you’re about to expect: a CGI descendant of the same old practical-effects-and-optical-printers effects in the old version. I’m honestly getting sick of movies that look like video games you can’t play; if that sort of aesthetic is your thing, I’d rather stay home and play actual video games. Besides, hits and flops alike will eventually be available for home viewing in three months anyway, not like the 1980s and 1990s (the new “Good Old Days” to whoever’s running the studios these days) when even a flop would have a window of at least six months before it reached home video.

  19. Steven S. says:

    The movies bombed because they’re bad movies.

    The real question is, why would a movie critic advocate casting movie stars in bad films as a way to trick more people into seeing those bad films? Maybe it makes sense since that movie critic rarely gives a bad review. (When you can find the review part. He’s usually off on a tangent having nothing to do with the film he’s reviewing. Remember when the Variety brand used to stand for something?)

  20. Lisa says:

    Everyone always wants to find one reason for a movie flopping. Critics like Gleiberman think they have it figured out when they know nothing. Big stars alone is not an attraction anymore. Big stars in good scripts are not attractions anymore. High action sets and super budgets aren’t attractions anymore. Old Hollywood heads want to keep living by the code set in the 50s and flourishing in the 80s where if you have “A” level actor + big budget = movie success most of the time. That’s gone now. Yes, we would like to see Jennifer Lawrence or Christian Bale in a movie but it’s not necessary. Likewise just because you have a successful actor attached it doesn’t mean that people will want to see it. Jennifer Law, for example, is lucky because she has good people picking scripts of films people will want to see, but that will end eventually.

    This movie failed because no one wanted a remake of Ben-Hur. Aside from the subject matter (ancient Rome) not being a big commodity now, this actor doesn’t look interesting in the part. He’s pretty but whatever. It might’ve had better success with The Rock but probably not much. People are over remakes so if you’re going to make one it needs to be one that lends itself to being remade or else you’re just wasting your money.

    So many remakes and hardly any of them make money but they still keep making them because Hollywood insists that it’s only the premise that people are interested in so they can change, cast, director, direction, and even the script and somehow still guarantee a success.

  21. I would recommend that studios make movies that are actually good, the star is not the issue here.

  22. conqueror421 says:

    It takes a good movie to make someone a movie star, not the other way around. This is what Hollywood has forgotten and they are so full of fear you see the same people in almost every movie which leaves no room hardly to discover that next great actor or actress. Someone has got to break the fear cycle.

  23. Dylan says:

    I stand by my earlier remark about Mr. Gleiberman bringing his EW snark and poor judgement to Variety. So sad seeing Variety choose to simply become a social media portal. This was always a respected trade publication with insightful commentary for those that knew and understood the industry – from the inside. I guess click-bait headlines and muddled journalism (the history of Hollywood refutes his own contradicted logic) will win the day as long as you can have a comment feed of over 90 respondents. Expect better from editorial staff.

    • Dr. Peter d. Ward (professional writer. 18 books) says:

      I have long enjoyed the writing and insight of Mr. Gleiberman. Just as a movie need a star, so too do we need writing stars as critics. Kudos to Variety for this hire.

      Peter Ward

      • Dylan says:

        With all due respect Peter, you’re clearly not from the industry. The simplistic assertion “a movie needs a star” is ridiculous not only in theory bit in Hollywood history. ‘One size fits all’ doesn’t work in film, television or any other industry for that matter. It’s revisionist history and thank God Mike Nichols was free to hire Dustin Hoffman for The Graduate as a hail-mary pass in the casting process. Good grief people. The casting fumbles of Ben Hur are but one of many fumbles here…

    • EricJ says:

      I would direct you back to an earlier Gleiberman review of a John Waters movie he did a week ago, that seemed to be more post-Orlando/Baltimore political than cinematic–
      Between that, and a rather disturbingly misogynist column on whether one actress was “losing her looks”, I suspect that Mr. G has been coming Out more and more lately.
      I’m not trolling, it’s a sad fact of the movie-critic industry–We still have to live down the legacy of Rex Reed, and Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers doesn’t help much either.

      The demographic does tend to Venn-overlap with the Perez Hilton “gossip” community, that giggles with mean-spirited and neurotically personified schoolyard glee at the idea that a big movie flopped at the box office, or that an overpaid A-list star stumbled in a big hyped summer movie, that an aging star might have fallen from fame or not be aging gracefully, or that there were big decade-iconic movie flops like Ishtar and Heaven’s Gate. As the saying goes, nothing kills the joke faster than the sheer personal bloodthirsty -desire- to tell it.
      (The Razzie Awards particularly indulge in their….target audience, and if Paris Hilton or Ben Affleck happened to make a movie that year, clear the dance floor.)

      I realize that Variety the Blog is not 100% necessarily Variety the Industry Print-magazine Source, and isn’t held up to the same strict journalistic standards, but if Gleiberman is going to work for both, he needs to separate his professional columns for his personal columns if he wants to remain one of the industry-validated “Top Critics” on RottenTomatoes.
      There are lots of self-styled Blog Critics there, too.

      • Dylan says:

        I agree Eric. Editorially you need to choose what you’re going to be as a critic – click-bait snark or insightful industry observer with a keen knowledge of history. Mr. Gleiberman cannot straddle both sides and after that Zellweger piece (to which he has not responded to my knowledge), he has already irrevocably tarnished his and this publications name. Being a fan of cinema and merely espousing an opinion does not entitle one to the level of Variety chief film critic. Rose McGowan so thoughtfully and intelligently called him out.

  24. Andrew says:

    Among the many lessons to take away from this version of Ben-Hur, the crippling lack of a movie star is not among them; swap Huston with the biggest star in the world, and this still would have underperformed.

  25. Arlyn Sams says:

    Worst movie I’ve seen in years. Similar to a Lifetime Channel production with mediocre actors. Even Morgan Freeman demonstrated that he is only a mediocre character actor. The editing is also terrible. And the story was rewritten leaving out many traditional components. Horrible.

  26. Kevin Kelley says:

    The original Ben Hur was made in 1959. It is a classic that has stood the test of time. Hollywood may want to think about what audience it is trying to capture, when remaking films of this nature. Ask any 20-25 year old if they have heard of Ben Hur before this movie’s release and I would wager that 90% of those surveyed would not have.

  27. Shawn says:

    Where we watching the same movie

  28. Mr Model says:

    I think more people have commented on this article than actually went to see the movie!

    • Biggles says:

      Ha! Probably.

      I agree in a very large part about sourcing talent rather than it being the package or the looks. It’s a similar logic in terms of story (“doesn’t matter if the story is expositional / weak etc, we’ve got ‘X’ to cover us”, rather than getting that nailed).

  29. Observer says:

    If you have a good story, interesting trailer with some decent publicity, they will come. So called, ‘star’ or not.
    Big films with big names and budgets fail plenty. It’s more about the film than it is about the one or two ‘over payed’ pretenders.

  30. CameroonJames says:

    It has nothing to do with the celebrities… people are just TIRED of remake movies.. No More REMAKES. no more swapping out Race or Gender and making another damn remake. Give us original movies Hollywood. People don’t want to see a remake of Ben Hur, GhostBusters, Oceans 12 (Oceans 8), Lethal Weapon, Annie, Point Break, It, Memento for christ sake! Memento is an amazing movie, there is no need to remake it, it’s a classic! My God Hollywood. Stop while your ahead! Get it together. Be an 11 (stranger things awesomeness) and step outside the Remake box and get ORIGINAL!

  31. Jo Mama says:

    And yet you keep hiring HGH with legs, like Jai Courtney or … Jai Courtney.

  32. stilesroad says:

    Overwritten piece – got bored after paragraph #2 …

  33. BillUSA says:

    If corporate Hollywood isn’t simultaneously over-thinking and under-doing it, they hastily make their own beds and wonder why they get a lousy night’s sleep.

    I realize the Golden Age of Hollywood (or anything else for that matter) is a one-off affair. Sort of like when – as teenagers – we could cram any sort of food into our gullets and not show an ounce of fat for it. But like the twenty-somethings some of us used to be, Hollywood rejects the notion that the reality of longevity means one must exercise a modicum of moderation.

    In other words, they’ve spent so many decades hyping movies (some even worthy of it) that it has become the norm. Movies these days rarely inspire me, make me laugh, or even feel sad. I know it’s partly due to my being 56, but some of the movies I’ve seen of late lack any imagination, actors who can act, writers who can write and scripts you can flesh out just by reading the title of the movie and who’s in it.

    The last good film I saw was “Road to Perdition”. I’d like to see one as good or better before its my turn to get planted in the ground.

    • EricJ says:

      In the 50’s and 60’s, we had big roadshow epics (the three-hour kind, that played big downtown stage theaters), based on big bestsellers with casts of thousands, because movies had to compete with TV. It was one or the other, TV was popular and more prolific, and movies knew their only chance was to be -bigger-.

      Nowadays, with both movies and TV having to compete against each other on the same playing fields of cable, digital and disk, movies and TV have forgotten which one is which–TV brags about being the movies, with “cinematic” editing, acting and humorless stories, and the Movies want to be TV, giving us annual “episodes” of our favorite “series” every year just like TV planned for Tuesday night.

      And again, that’s leaving aside the issue of the fact that studios believe they can only risk their investments by making movies of properties we’ve ALREADY HEARD OF, like comics, TV shows, and….other movies we already liked.

  34. Ashley Anderson says:

    Whether the movie was boring or not is entirely a personal opinion and shouldn’t be expressed as a matter-of-fact.

    I personally loved the movie, and believed in the main character the actor was portraying; I see a lot of promise and raw-talent in him. I was also immensely relieved that they weren’t recycling talent for this film’s lead. Just the other day I was thinking about how I’ve become less and less interested in seeing movies that have the same actors in them. I’m more likely to go out and pay money to witness new talent and discover fresh faces rather than see the same face in a different outfit.

    Hollywood has become a fish bowl with filth caking glass; I’m choosing the stars and all the fresh discovery that comes with it.

  35. IT--II--IT@hotmail.com says:

    The BEST things about INTEL RUN Hollywood franchise slum rehashes
    is that you DON’T have to SEE them.

    • Padme says:

      My thoughts exactly. And what can be said about Exodus? It didn’t matter to me that Bale was the main character. I feel the same way, I’m just tired of watching the same actors in every movie. New talent is needed. I really like the movie, it’s not boring at all, I still prefer the 1959 version tough, but I’m glad to see new faces in Hollywood.

  36. Matthew T. Burns says:

    Excellent article Owen. This is like a contemporary Hollywood/film history class combined.

  37. You know, I kind of agree. The last few years, there have a been a lot of pretty faces and hot bodies, but they don’t have the presence of stars like Russell Crowe, Harrison Ford or Sigourney Weaver. All the latest stars and starlets seem totally interchangeable, to the point where I often don’t even remember which one was in which film.

    And as for the scripts to these recent films, I often leave the theater wondering whether they actually had one, or whether they just told them to say stuff between CGI effects scenes.

    No stars + bad scripts = people staying home.

    • Mr Model says:

      It could well be that some day CGI will even replace all of the actors :-) and this conversation will become moot. Remember Al Pacino in “Simone”?

  38. MartianRocketship says:

    I think you might have touched on the reason that nobody wants to pay to see a movie anymore. They’re all empty special effects bonanzas, and every plot is the same: keep running as the earth falls out from under you.

    Other countries are starting to pick up where Hollywood’s corpse fell. We’ll have good movies again. They just won’t be made in the US.

    • EricJ says:

      Actually, as we learned from Warcraft (and not Squad or Ghostbusters), other countries are the REASON studios still make CGI movies that don’t take place in any current time or country.
      Expect this one to clean up overseas in where they still think the chariot race is a “classic”. Except, obviously, in China, but that’s what you get for selling yourself as a “faith-based” movie.

    • This is the truth – other countries are starting to make some amazing films. Especially Korea, Australia, China and England. If we don’t watch out, people are just going to stop watching American productions, because there are only so many times that anyone is willing to be disappointed before they finally just give up.

      But try telling that to the executives, whose only goal is to try and play it safe.

      • Mr Model says:

        Hollywood Execs = too much money / too much power / too little oversight / too many physical stimulants that completely cloud their daily and nightly decision making ability.

  39. Starwagon says:

    Ben Hur. This literally was my favorite movie as a kid. It was epic, Heston had heart, bitterness, charisma, fury, love and passion. The way it unfolded was epic and heart wrenching, a lot like the novel, even though the novel is still far superior. Nevertheless, when I saw the trailer for this new Ben Hur, all the manliness and grit had been washed out of it. I was shocked. It was clean and ridiculous. And Messala? Well he was now rather effeminate. Not that I don’t like Toby K as an actor, but I’m wondering why they didn’t hire actual men. In Judah Ben-hur’s case, a guy that had the muscles of someone who has freaking rowed at the bottom of a galley ship for Christ sake?

    It’s not about stars, it’s about brutish men, which in the novel, both characters are written as. Testosterone. Not posh cute guys.

    You could have hired an unknown actor who had more of a stronger frame and it may have done a little better. But then, that may not have helped the cheesy color palate they used.

    The soul was sucked out of it. So many high hopes. sigh.

    • BillUSA says:

      Even a dinosaur like me knows that the days of virile, salt-of-the-earth type men are long gone from Hollywood and society. Millennials are the embodiment of ‘femaled’ males who resemble those 95 pound weaklings who get sand kicked in their faces as their girlfriend abandons them.

      • Mr Model says:

        Too much BPA in our plastics and cans since the 1960’s that has affected an entire generation’s hormones, prostates and brain functions. Turning us all into women! That should be a movie: The altering or changing of the entire human race by turning all of its men into women because of the way we have packaged and served our foods. I’d go see it, but first, help me find my bra…..

  40. Norma Desmond. says:

    We had faces.

  41. M-Wolverine says:

    The problem is modern media, both social and electronic. Back in the day movie stars were mysteries you only saw on the big screen, and maybe sly references in the gossip column. Then even later it was tabloids that you took with a grain of salt since it was next to the Bat-Boy story, and half the time made you feel bad for the star they were harassing.

    Nowadays we know everything about them; and not only is there no mystery, but everyone learns pretty fast that a lot of them you may like on your big screen, but they’re awful people in person. And if they do anything wrong you know about it instantly. You know “Spider-Man” or “Luke Skywalker” isn’t going to embarrass you before the movie comes out because they don’t exist. But do you want to put all your money in a movie behind a big star who might get caught doing something untowards with a donkey in Mexico the week of your release? Not that any of that stuff is new; we just didn’t learn about it in 5 seconds on Twitter before.

  42. Mariane says:

    DiCaprio wasn’t a star before Titanic. The studios hope the movie will create a star.

  43. Mr Model says:

    Movies cost a lot of money. The big ones often more than a hundred million dollars. That may seem infinite. But when the budget must decide on CGI or a big name star, it’s a conflict, as both demand a big slice of that budgetary pie. This movie chose “special effects”. CGI companies are clearly the financial winners these days, earning over a hundred million dollars per lousy loser movie. And, sadly, the CGI in every film looks nearly the same: The devastation of New York City in nearly every major catastrophe movie over the past few years – all looks the same. The aliens landing to take over the earth, nearly all the spaceships and the crash landings in every movie looks almost the same. CGI companies are re-using, over and over again, the same skeletal backdrop to all of their special effects, no matter the movie. They are making a financial killing. While we, the audience, are re-fed the same old CGI junk, over and over again. At some point movie makers will realize that CGI does not replace a real script, great acting, or especially something that is truly original.

    • KH says:

      Digital FX companies are barely making it. A lot of it is farmed out to cheaper places where they don’t pay employees much (see: outsourcing slavery). If the story is no good, and the actors don’t do their job (celeb or not), and the studios don’t get out of the director’s way, no one is going to give a sh**.

      • Mr Model says:

        Why do I see budgets of “over 100 million” for the CGI effects in so many “blockbusters”? This is money going to the CGI companies, isn’t it? When I view “behind the scenes” for these major films all I see are actors in front of cheap draped green backgrounds. CGI is clearly making up the backgrounds and sets for most of these movies. I was once very enthusiastic, attending SIGGRAPH, visiting campuses. I was there when MAYA was first introduced, by a guy with a pony tail at a small table in the back with absolutely no one around him. I had such high hopes. Now all I see is ‘mostly’ garbage, where I can clearly see repeats of skeletal underbellies repeated in movie after movie. It would be like a Model Maker using the same scale model for different architectural firms, just painting it a different color each time. Those big slices of the budgets have to be going into someone’s hands, whether the movie’s a bomb or not. Someone is taking home that big slice of the budgetary pie. – I would also add that the major game companies are, I believe, making a ton of money, separate from the movie industry.

  44. Bob Anderson says:

    Talk about boring. This article is exactly that. And I usually like to read your pieces. I don’t think you could be more wrong. This movie may not make the money back but it is miles away from being a disaster or inept or boring. I think that it’s a movie that many people were on the fence about and thanks to critics like you, they won’t go see a this film that is uplifting and beautiful and at times absolutely thrilling. Too bad.

  45. DougW says:

    Taylor Kitsch is a movie star in “Lone Survivor.”

    • macd says:

      . . . and also a first-rate actor in HBO’s “The Normal Heart”. Just give Kitsch a decent script and he’ll deliver. Even with a mediocre script, he would have been a fine Ben-Hur.

  46. Noé Orozco says:

    “He pops on camera. He can act (at least, without embarrassing himself). He looks hot in Zegna on the red carpet. He’s a star!” And then you proceeded to name Ryan Gosling a true star. Ha.

    The last time he was an actor was in 2010, Blue Valentine. After that he became a star exactly by the new standards you described. You don’t know how to tell the difference either.

  47. Geo says:

    Hardly the actors fault.
    The movie was a bad idea, it is that simple.
    Yes, there are a lot of viewers who are pretty okay with crappy movies, just not enough

  48. Dianne says:

    I enjoyed the movie. I think he played his part very well. There is know one that can stack up against Charleston Heston.. Give the new actor a chance!

  49. Joe says:

    While the movie was not as good as the original …it is a little dramatic to say it was a disaster. It was still entertaining and the theater I viewed it in was completely full.

  50. EarlofDuke says:

    i think this take of movie stardom is a bit over-idealized. they’re important but not necessarily for the reasons stated. maybe more than anything, movie stardom is about simple FAMILIARITY. people would much rather watch someone they know than someone who is a complete stranger. sure, movie stars are stars because they have the lookes, the talent and gravitas and whatever other ineffable qualities they are required to have… but the key thing is simply that the studio took the time, effort and money to turn a person into a BRAND NAME. it pretty much begins and ends there.

    • Manuel Nogueira says:

      It’s true that people prefer to watch someone they know to a stranger, but more important than that they prefer to watch a real actor rather than someone who just looks good on camera. And in a story like Ben-Hur you need someone with talent and charisma to carry the movie. And Jack Huston, even though he has a modicum of talent, he has zero charisma. That’s why I understand what the author says about stars still matter. But it would take more than a star to save this movie. It left too much of the novel out for the sake of a shorter length, it is badly directed, the casting is all wrong… It was doomed from the start.

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