Saturday morning the New York Film Festival brought its audience a spectacular restoration of the epic spectacle from 1959, Ben-Hur. And it still is a spectacle but in the best of ways. Seeing this film only confirms my belief of how important it is to screen films like this in theaters, on a big screen as they were originally intended. Ben-Hur couldn't possibly be the same experience on television and although with this incredible restoration, Warner Bros. is releasing a Blu-ray that will no doubt be beautiful, it is quite an experience to see this William Wyler directed story at Alice Tully Hall, which seats 1,000 plus. A special treat was the film's introduction by Wyler's daughter Catherine Wyler, and Heston's son, Fraser Heston. Ned Price of Warner Bros. was also on stage and spoke briefly about the lengthy restoration process which lasted more than a year.
The 8k video format has a resolution of 8192 × 4320 pixels and it is stunning. The colors and the detail are glorious in a film like this. There are many aspects of Ben-Hur that contribute to what makes it interesting. Charlton Heston won an Oscar for his portrayal of Judah Ben-Hur. I know a lot of people joke about his over acting, but I thought he was quite good as Ben-Hur and didn't hear any real snickering from the audience. People were respectful and despite it's full 3.5 hour running time and a few set backs (the theater was quite freezing and the film had to be stopped to fix a pretty bad sync issue) people remained until the bitter end. It helped that the famous chariot race doesn't show up until after intermission, but although amazing, that's not the only awe inspiring scene. The battle at sea among others are jaw dropping considering CGI wasn't around yet. The costumes, although not necessarily totally true to period (and combined with late 50's hair and make-up) are brilliant and here is where the richly restored color pops off the screen. The continuity and design cohesiveness between the costume and set department's are so apparent and on the mark. There is much to see and hear (I can't forget Miklós Rózsa's score) and if you missed this weekend's screening, I think it's worth a look at the upcoming Blu-ray which marks Ben-Hur's 50th anniversary.