Thou Shalt Not Cut Thy Hair

Samson and Delilah brings the Bible’s most complicated love story to life. Before The Ten Commandments, Cecil B. DeMille directed another Biblical epic in full Technicolor (that my mom has always been fond of). The story of Samson can be found in the Book of Judges. As a Christian, I’ve always been intrigued by the famous Israelite. Since Samson draws strength from his hair and is arguably the greatest action hero in the Bible. Hercules is pretty much the Greek equivalent of Samson.

His feats of strength include killing a lion with his bear hands, fighting an army of Philistines with the jawbone of an ass, and toppling their temple after being stricken blind. Samson and Delilah makes every feat feel grand and epic. Earning the film 5 Academy Award nominations and 2 wins for Best Art Direction and Costume Design. Victor Mature of One Million B.C. fame portrays Samson. Although his long hair is usually tied back, Mature nevertheless captures the conflict in Samson. He devoutly prays to God for power, but he does make many mistakes.

Samson finds love from two distinctly different Philistine women. A problem since Danites and Philistines are mortal enemies. George Sanders and Henry Wilcoxon portray his most direct enemies Saran and Prince Ahtur respectively. Turns out Angela Lansbury was quite the looker in one of her very early film roles as Samson’s first lover Semadar. Except it’s Delilah who makes her intentions clear from the start. Hedy Lamarr perfectly captures her passion, deceitfulness, seduction, and need for vengeance. Although Samson and Delilah fall in love, she cuts his hair and leaves him vulnerable. Samson and Delilah is a powerful take on a seldom adapted Bible story.

Samson and Delilah

Samson and Delilah

The Manger Babies

The Star is the unlikely blend of animated comedy and the Nativity of Jesus Christ. It’s a little awkward to see “From the studio that brought you Miracles from Heaven and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” but it works better than you’d think. Merry Christmas everyone! As a Christian, I’m always willing to watch the greatest story ever told. I just didn’t know how to feel after seeing the talking animals and occasionally juvenile jokes in the trailer. Especially considering this was Sony Animation’s follow up to The Emoji Movie.

It was a massive collaborative effort with an all-star cast despite the reserved animation. Fortunately, they knew how important this story is. Just as in the Bible, Mary of Nazareth is visited by an angel of pure light. She is to carry the son of God with the help of her husband Joseph. They follow the titular star to Bethlehem and bear the true king (and my savior) in a manger. All the while the evil King Herod threatens the birth. It is as it is written, but it’s the animals that get the attention.

With the Biblically appropriate use of Bo the donkey, Dave the dove, and Ruth the sheep. Along with camels ridden by the Three Wise Men and all the animals from the manger. They’re not quite sure what’s going on, but they know Mary needs to be protected when dogs are unknowingly sent after her. Even with the kid friendly comedic tone, they never forget to pray and acknowledge God. I couldn’t help but tear up when Jesus was finally born. It’s not a definitive take, but The Star is a sincere retelling of the true meaning of Christmas.

The Star

The animals witness the birth of Jesus

Chariots on Fire

Ben-Hur (2016) is what happens when you try to remake a classic. After 4 previous adaptations of the 1880 novel, there’s just no way to improve upon the 1959 Best Picture winner. But the 2010’s saw a beautiful resurgence of Biblical faith based movies. So I was cautiously open to the idea. Then I got nervous the more Hollywood it ended up looking. Just like with Noah, the material isn’t handled with enough care. Ben-Hur (2016) is more concerned with a brotherly relationship between Judah Ben-Hur and Messala. Jack Huston doesn’t have Charlton Heston’s presence. While Messala’s dedication as a Roman is given far too much attention to the point he barely feels like a villain. Or maybe it’s just Toby Kebbell’s sympathetic portrayal.

One of many sloppy changes made to this reimagining. Esther has a bigger role, but her marriage to Judah is hastier. Judah’s enslavement is less of an accident when Jewish “zealots” are involved. His mother & sister are taken away, but he’s barely motivated by seeing them again. The galley battle that follows, feels inconsequential without rescuing a Roman. It’s clear that they care more about building everything around the chariot race. Morgan Freeman distracts with a larger portrayal of chariot trainer Sheik. You can’t really go wrong with the race in any interpretation, but it is talk heavy. The CGI is more distracting in the galley scene.

Ben-Hur (2016) tries to preach forgiveness in the end, but I wish it was supported by their portrayal of Jesus Christ. They make the mistake of showing Jesus in the most casual way possible. No weight is given to the water scene without an unseen presence. By the Crucifixion, I felt like Rodrigo Santoro as Jesus would have worked better in his own movie, instead of this mediocre one. It doesn’t help that Ben-Hur’s mother & sister’s leprosy feels like an afterthought. Ben-Hur could have been a major success like its predecessor if only they stuck to the scripture.

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Ben-Hur rides his chariot

Remake of: Ben-Hur (1959)

The Great Chariot Race

Ben-Hur is one of the last great Biblical epics from classic Hollywood. Since there was a silent version of the 1880 novel released in 1925, that technically makes it a remake. One of the greatest remakes of all time. Since Ben-Hur was such a magnet for records, milestones, and cinematic firsts upon its release. In fact, Ben-Hur is one of my mom’s top favorite movies she’s ever seen. It was released in her birth year, 1959 (hence why I’m reviewing it on her birthday). I always knew I needed to see Ben-Hur, but the 3 hour & 44 minute runtime was daunting.

My lifetime knowledge of the Bible and seeing the silent film helped me to familiarize myself with the story. So I barely felt the extended runtime. Granted the length does include an overture and intermission. Ben-Hur was by far the biggest movie made at the time. Sets were the biggest ever built, props & wardrobe were in the hundreds, actors & animals were in the thousands, and all were established a year in advance. That’s not even factoring in the three month shooting of the great chariot race. I wish Christian epics like Ben-Hur still had this level of dedication. It’s a miracle everything came together so well…

Ben-Hur

Ben-Hur rides his chariot

Ben-Hur is the same story told in the novel and silent film, but changes were made in places. Most were done to increase the length and dramatic weight. Now characters are more complex with better character development. When you wanted a great Bible epic, you called Charlton Heston. It already worked so well in The Ten Commandments. It’s mostly the reason why Heston is one of my mom’s favorite actors. Since he appeared in so many of her childhood films. I value him too, so it increased my appreciation of Judah Ben-Hur. His life as a wealthy Jewish prince in Jerusalem is given more attention. Along with his close friendship with childhood friend turned Roman tribune Messala. You can really see the anguish between them, as they know they can’t be friends anymore. The ways of the Romans turn Messala towards evil. While Ben-Hur remains faithful to his Jewish people. His relationship with freed slave Esther is given more weight as well.

Ben-Hur is betrayed by Messala after an accident and separated from his mother Miriam & sister Tirzah. He fights back a bit more, but that’s not enough to save him from enslavement aboard a galley. The large scale rowing is just as grand as the battle that follows. Miniatures were used in that scene and I couldn’t tell the difference. Heston’s Ben-Hur is a bit more vengeful in his quest to return home. He’s adopted by the Roman Consul after he saves his life and a promising chariot racing career follows. Hugh Griffith received just as much admiration for his role as Judah’s spirited chariot sponsor. It’s only after thinking his mother & sister are dead that he pursues his vengeance against Messala. When in reality, Esther is the only one who knows they have leprosy. The most isolating disease anyone could get at the time.

The chariot race is one of the most epic climaxes ever filmed. The grandeur was so big that an ultra wide screen was needed. The race is fast paced excitement with very real danger. Racers flipped off their chariots, horses run into each other, and Messala popularized the bladed wheel method. He also cheats when he starts whipping Ben-Hur. The race may be won, but his family is still missing. What makes Ben-Hur truly important is the parallel between Judah and Jesus Christ. As a Christian, I of course recognize every important moment. From the Nativity to the Sermon on the Mount to the Crucifixion. Every scene filled me with emotion without ever seeing my savior’s face. My favorite scene will always be Jesus giving a thirsty Ben-Hur water. The Roman’s awestruck reaction is a nice touch too. The encounter drives Judah, but he does struggle with faith at first.

Esther listens to the Sermon, so she’s the one who encourages her husband’s step towards Christianity. They take his mother & sister to the heartbreaking Crucifixion where Judah returns the favor of water. My mom cries every time a miraculous rain storm cures them of their leprosy. Ben-Hur is truly a wonder to behold years later. So much detail was put into the multitude of sets. It may have been a massive film to complete, but William Wyler pulled it off. It helps that he was a Jew that understood the importance of the material. Despite its enormous budget, Ben-Hur became the second highest grossing film of all time. Encouraging it to win a record 11 Academy Awards. Best Picture, Director William Wyler, Actor Charlton Heston, Supporting Actor Hugh Griffith, Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, Special Effects, Film Editing, Music, and Sound Recording. The only Oscar it didn’t win was for Screenplay. Ben-Hur remains one of the grandest cinematic achievements of all time.

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Ben-Hur rows the galley

Remake of: Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ

Glory of the Ages

Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ is the story of faith, revenge, and triumph over adversity. Ben-Hur is a tale known for generations. Ever since the book was published in 1880, then adapted as a 1907 short. Like many, I was only familiar with the most famous adaptation. Until I sought out the silent 1925 original. Which is just as impressive in its own right. I learned the story of Ben-Hur by watching this version.

Judah Ben-Hur is a wealthy Jew betrayed by his childhood Roman friend Messala. Separated from his mother & sister, Ben-Hur vowed revenge. As he survived working on a slave galley, was adopted by its Roman admiral, grew as an athlete, and fell in love with Esther. The centerpiece of the story will always be the great climactic chariot race. I don’t know how they pulled it off back then, but it sure does hold up now. The sequence even features a who’s who of classic Hollywood stars in background roles.

Ben-Hur’s story is pure fiction, but it’s paired up with the reality of Jesus Christ. As both stories are done in tandem with Jesus as an unseen presence. These parts are extremely easy to follow since I know the tale of the Christ by heart. The moments they cross paths are pivotal with Jesus giving a thirsty Ben-Hur water and Jesus healing the sick before his crucifixion. Like the tagline says, every Christian outta see it. I’ve gotten used to silent films and the color isn’t always black & white. Scenes from the Bible are in Technicolor. As difficult as it may have been to film, Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ remains an epic first step.

Ben-Hur A Tale of the Christ

Ben-Hur rides his chariot

I Serve a Risen Savior โœ

The Passion of the Christ is the most difficult viewing experience I’ve ever had. A movie that depicts torture would be a tough watch for anyone. Being a born again Christian, I knew it would be an especially tough watch for me. I’m no fan of torture themed horror movies, but I knew this was something I just had to watch at some point in my life. So after years of knowing its reputation, I finally built up enough stamina to watch it on Easter Sunday.

The Passion of the Christ is without a doubt the most graphic depiction of Jesus’ final hours ever put to screen. Which also makes it one of the most accurate. Right down to the use of Hebrew, Latin, and Aramaic. It was famed actor/director Mel Gibson’s goal to truly capture the suffering Jesus endured for our sins. As written in the New Testament of The Bible. The film begins with the betrayal of Judas, then it focuses on the torture and humiliation inflicted by the malicious Roman soldiers, and ultimately the crucifixion. Every important detail is depicted. Including a few flashbacks of Jesus as a carpenter, delivering his sermon, saving Mary Magdalene, and communion. All the while Satan looms in the background.

Thankfully, God’s presence is felt throughout. As predicted, the torture scenes made me weep profusely. I continued to cry as he received the crown of thorns, was visited by his mother Mary, nailed to the cross, and as he saved the thief beside him. After a swirl of emotions, my final thought was to cheer at the end when Jesus was resurrected. Jim Caviezel put his heart and soul into his performance of Jesus Christ, and the experience changed him forever. The Passion of the Christ is the highest grossing R rated movie of all time. It just goes to show the power of a faith based audience. He is risen indeed.

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Jesus has help lifting the cross

The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Joseph: King of Dreams is a prequel to The Prince of Egypt. Prequel because it takes place in the Book of Genesis. Which is before the Book of Exodus in the Bible when Moses’ story takes place. Much like Disney movies at the time, Joseph: King of Dreams is the only Dreamworks Animation movie released direct-to-video. Since the story of Joseph hasn’t been done nearly as much as the story of Moses. Here’s a quick Sunday school lesson. Joseph was the youngest of 11 sons. His father favors him the most, for he possesses the power to see the future in dreams. So his father gave him an amazing technicolor dreamcoat. His jealous brothers left him to die and he was taken in by an Egyptian pharaoh. Eventually Joseph’s ability to decipher dreams helps him to gain power and reconcile with his brothers. Joseph: King of Dreams does still have nice animation (specifically in its dream sequences) and good music. It only suffers from its direct-to-video status. Which keeps it from being as grand as it could have been. Frankly, I would have been happy to get several biblical animated movies from Dreamworks. Joseph: King of Dreams is just a pleasant piece of an even larger puzzle.

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Joseph dreams

Followed by: The Prince of Egypt

When You Believe

The Prince of Egypt is a bit of an oddity in animation history. It was the first of two movies released by Dreamworks animation. Establishing themselves as a true rival for Disney. The Prince of Egypt was one of the first non-Disney movies to gross over $100 million and it was the highest grossing traditionally animated non-Disney movie for a long time. Yet it was a biblical tale made by a major studio. Never underestimate the power of a christian audience. The Prince of Egypt enlisted the help of several religious experts of all relevant backgrounds. In order to make it as true to the Book of Exodus as possible. The Prince of Egypt follows all of the most important parts of the story in The Bible. Moses in the basket, the burning bush as the voice of God, the snake staff, the ten plagues of Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, and receiving the Ten Commandments. All done with respect and maturity for an animated film aimed primarily at children. The animation is beautiful and makes the story feel massive. What makes The Prince of Egypt really different though, is their focus on the brotherly relationship between Moses and Ramses. How close they were before they became enemies. Of course they do still take cues from Disney by including songs. My teacher even confused it for one (much to my annoyance). However, The Prince of Egypt is a rare non-Disney movie that truly makes its songs work. It even won the Oscar for Best Original Song “When You Believe” sung by Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston. Being the only non-Disney animated film in history to win the award. The Prince of Egypt is an animated miracle.

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Moses leads his people

Preceded by: Joseph: King of Dreams

He is Risen

Happy Easter, He is Risen. Of course I’m going to review a christian Easter movie on Easter. Risen seemed like a good choice because I’m not quite ready to watch The Passion of the Christ. Speaking of which, how many ways can you adapt the story of Jesus. Well Risen takes things in a far different direction. It focuses on the aftermath of the crucifixion from the perspective on the romans. One roman in particular, who searches for the body of Christ after his resurrection. As far as modern Bible pictures go, Risen comes very close to being great. The only thing holding it back is lasting recognition. Plus the actor they got to play Jesus is very different to the ones we’re used to. Still it’s worth watching if you want a different take on the story of Jesus. Or just want something christian to watch this Easter. He is Risen indeed.

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Clavius (right) and Lucius (left) search for Jesus

Behold His Mighty Hand!

The Ten Commandments is one of the greatest biblical movies ever put to film. It’s an epic that stands the test of time. It may be 3 hours and 40 minutes long, but as long as you’re familiar with the story of Moses it shouldn’t matter. I’ve seen the movie several times actually. Well, I’ve seen the ending numerous times at least. I didn’t see The Ten Commandments beginning to end until some time later. The Ten Commandments follows events depicted in the Book of Exodus. Moses was placed in a basket and sent down the Nile. Where he is raised as one of the Egyptians, but he changes his ways when Joshua tells him all about God. An encounter with the burning bush inspires Moses to let his people go. The only man standing in his way is Pharaoh Ramses. Which brings about the ten plagues of Egypt. The effects are astounding, especially for a 50’s movie. The parting of the Red Sea is simply a wonder to behold. Charlton Heston gives a mighty performance as Moses. Every part of The Bible is well represented. Especially when Moses received the sacred Ten Commandments (I actually know them all by heart). I wish more movies nowadays would take note of how to make a really good Bible picture. It’s not enough to have great effects. You need great actors, christian filmmakers, and a holy message. The Ten Commandments does all of these things and succeeds because of it. Making The Ten Commandments a classic that will last throughout the ages. So it was written, So it shall be done.

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Moses prepares to part the Red Sea