Wednesday, September 14, 2005

4-disc 'Ben-Hur' DVD Epic a 4-Star Experience


"Though nothing can match the thrill of seeing William Wyler's Biblical-era epic on screen, in the wide-screen process the studio modestly dubbed 'M-G-M 65,' the 1959 film had been lovingly restored, and the two-sided disc came with very good extras, including the 1993 documentary 'The Making of an Epic,' screen tests and commentary by star Charlton Heston.

But in DVD time, four years is a generation. So now comes 'Ben-Hur: Collector's Edition' (FOUR STARS out of four stars, Warner, $39.92), a four-disc set that improves on the earlier release in every way. The new Dolby 5.1 Surround remix improves substantially on the earlier one.

And it adds even more related material, including the entire 1925 adaptation of Lew Wallace's novel, with silent screen stars Ramon Novarro as Judah Ben-Hur and Francis X. Bushman as Messala, the childhood friend who becomes his bitter enemy and chariot-race-cheating competitor.

The 1993 doc is still here, but is now the companion to the newly produced hour-long 'The Epic That Changed Hollywood,' which focuses on the film's impact on the movie business. Contributors include Ridley Scott, whose 'Gladiator' owes 'Ben-Hur' an enormous debt, and George Lucas, who modeled his 'Phantom Menace' pod race after the chariot race."

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