Ben-Hur: 3-Disc Ultimate Edition

Enduring biblical epic finally gets the high-definition clean-up it deserves

The undisputed king of the Biblical epics, William Wyler’s Ben-Hur may have turned 50 a couple of years ago, but it remains as fresh, exciting and spectacular as ever. Charlton Heston’s son Francis sums the film’s success up best in one of the accompanying extras, saying, ‘Ben-Hur, in a sense, I think was the first modern epic. It was realistic. It was, at times, gruesome. It had characters with flaws in them. It was complex. It was character driven-not event-driven’. And the film’s lasting impact can be felt across the past half-century of cinema, from the films of David Lean to The Phantom Menace’s pod race.

Picture: Warner already has an impressive track record when it comes to remastering the ‘crown jewels’ in its vast catalogue of films for Blu-ray, and this stunning restoration only serves to enhance that reputation even further.

Created from an 8K scan of a meticulous frame-by-frame restoration of the original 65mm camera negative, the Blu-ray’s AVC 2.76:1 1080p encode is quite simply flawless. Previous colour temperature issues have now been completely resolved (the horses pulling Heston’s chariot are now a brilliant white rather than the dirty yellow of the previous DVD version), fine detailing is exquisite, film grain is perfectly rendered and there’s not a trace of print damage to be found anywhere. In all honesty, I can’t find a single fault with this Blu-ray presentation – it’s as good a hi-def encode as you’ll ever see, regardless of the film’s age.
Picture rating: 5/5

Audio: Your appreciation of Ben-Hur’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix will ultimately depend on what you expect from a film of this vintage. Unlike, say, the original Star Wars trilogy, the film’s soundtrack hasn’t been completely reworked to make it feel like a modern movie. Instead, the mix remains primarily focused on the front speakers, with the rears only occasionally employed for anything particularly dynamic such as panning effects and crowd noise during the chariot race (Chapters 46-49) – and even here the limitations of the original elements still make their presence felt. Instead, the true strength of the remixed audio is its rich tonal range and the pristine clarity it offers.
Audio rating: 4/5

Extras: This three-disc set backs up the film itself with an impressive roster of supplementary material – even if almost all of it appeared on earlier DVD editions. Accompanying the film across the first two discs are a commentary by film historian T Gene Hatcher and Charlton Heston and an isolated score (presented as Dolby Digital 2.0). The first disc also houses a quartet of trailers.

The final disc kicks off with a new 78min documentary, Charlton Heston & Ben-Hur: A Personal Journey, that’s packed with wonderful home movie footage and reminiscences from Heston’s family and acquaintances. It’s also the only extra in the set to be presented in HD. Following this are two additional documentaries about the making of the film and its legacy, the 1925 silent version of Ben-Hur in its entirety (143mins!), an animated photo gallery, screen tests, vintage newsreel footage and highlights from the 1960 Academy Awards. The final disc also houses.
Extras rating: 4/5

We say: A strong contender for the year’s best Blu-ray – absolutely unmissable.

Warner Home Video, All-region BD, £25 approx, On sale now