Time for our movie critic Bob Mondello's suggestions for home-viewing. Today he's recommending a wide-screen 1950s epic that was specifically designed to draw people away from their TV sets: Ben-Hur.
Everything about Ben-Hur was big. Reeeeally big. The sound was stereophonic (which was new back then), the screen wider than all outdoors, and that chariot race — flat-out enormous.
There's more to the film than that one famous scene, of course, but it's inspired most of the legends that follow the film around. Star Charlton Heston busts a few of the most prominent myths on the commentaries: that there's a red Ferrari parked in the side of the arena, that someone was killed during the making of the movie, and that he's wearing a wristwatch in a couple of shots.
Others also weigh in: the author of a book on Ben-Hur, for instance, offering the unfollowable advice, "don't watch the shadows and the sunlight in this scene, it'll drive you crazy." Just try not to watch them after that.
This Blu-ray boxed set — which is itself huge, with a hardback picture book and an elaborately recreated, full-color reproduction of a journal Charlton Heston kept on the set — is being billed as the 50th Anniversary Edition. But you'll note it's been fifty-two years since 1959. The delay's because a million-dollar digital restoration took longer than expected. But it was worth it. In the "making-of" extras, you'll see clips from the scratchy, washed-out version used for the film's previous re-releases.
Among the goofier extras is a screen test for Leslie Nielsen as Ben-Hur's buddy-turned-nemesis, Messala — think Naked Spear 2 1/2. Also included is the entirety of the silent 1925 Ben-Hur so you can see both why audiences in the '50s were so psyched about the new one and why director William Wyler felt he had to make it the biggest, most passionate movie ever.
All of this raises the question of whether you really want to watch Ben-Hur on TV, even in high-def. There's no question it's not the same as in a movie theater, but with no plans to re-release Ben-Hur in theaters, it's at least better than in 1959, when ads for mostly black-and-white TV sets boasted of their "giant, 24-inch screens."
MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
Time now for our movie critic Bob Mondello's latest home video recommendation. Today, he's spotlighting a wide-screen 1950s epic that was specifically designed to drag people away from their TV sets, "Ben-Hur."
BOB MONDELLO: And though there's more to the film than that one famous scene, let's start there with Charlton Heston on the commentaries busting what he calls three chariot race myths.
CHARLTON HESTON: One is that there's a red Ferrari parked in the side of the arena. Not true. Two, that someone was killed in it. Not true. And three, that I am visibly wearing a wristwatch in one or two shots. Now, of course, since I have leather gauntlets to the elbow, that clearly is not true, but it is indeed true it was a fixed race. I knew I was going to win.
MONDELLO: This Blu-ray boxed set, which is itself huge, with picture book and full color reproduction of a journal Charlton Heston kept on the set, is being billed as the 50th anniversary edition, but you'll note it's been 52 years since 1959. Like its hero, "Ben-Hur" is getting back a little late.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "BEN-HUR")
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will pray that you live 'til I return.
HESTON: (as Judah Ben-Hur) Return?
MONDELLO: The delay is because a million-dollar digital restoration took longer than expected, but was worth it. In the making of extras, you'll see clips from the scratchy, washed out version used for the film's re-releases. Among the goofier extras is a screen test for Leslie Nielson as Ben-Hur's buddy-turned-nemesis, Messala.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE SCREEN TEST, "BEN-HUR")
LESLIE NIELSON: (as Messala) I'm afraid I can't down arrows with much conviction anymore. Met too many charming ladies to go about insulting the god of love.
MONDELLO: Think Naked Spear 2 1/2. Also included, the entire silent 1925 "Ben-Hur," so you can see why audiences in the '50s were so psyched about the new one. And why director William Wyler felt he had to make it the biggest, most passionate movie ever.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "BEN-HUR")
MALE: Me and your mother and sister will die today, (unintelligible) our crosses in front of you.
MONDELLO: I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.