In cinema history there have been many what people call re-makes of classic movies, one of the latest stories to get a make over is BEN HUR, now the 1959 version of the movie with CHARLTON HESTON,(did you hear the fanfare, and see the cast of thousands, when I said his name, in that booming trailer voice over style) was and still is a remarkable movie, it is a great film, and in fact every thing about it is epic and iconic. Its ironic however that the new version which seems to be annoying cinema goers or watchers of the film rather than entertain them is being compared with the 1959 version, which when you think about it was itself a re-make of the silent version of the story. But, Hey come on guys everything should be given a chance ,right? Hello that’s right isn’t it people? Anybody there? Seriously I don’t expect this new version of BEN HUR to be anything like the 1959 take on the story, it cant be can it? But I was in fact not that interested in the film but was intrigued by the film score by Marco Beltrami, when I saw it announced that he would score the film I was interested to see or hear what he would do with it musically. Beltrami in my opinion is a very talented composer, I have followed his career right from the early days and it was evident right from the off that he was a composer of note that could easily adapt his musical style to any genre of film. He is not as many thought merely a slasher/horror film music smith but can also turn his hand to create rousing themes for westerns, adventure movies and also tender romantic scenarios and when you think about it his scores for the horror genre are pretty operatic and imposing. So BEN HUR, would this be a chariot race to many, well I am pleased to say he has risen to the challenge and created a score that is stirring and filled with strong and melodic thematic material. Ok its not Miklos Rozsa but was he trying to be I doubt it very much, anyone who aspires to outshine Rozsa,s inspirational, gorgeously rich and momentous soundtrack is surely going to be thrown to the lions in the arena. Or given a bad review… Released by Sony Classical BEN HUR (2016) contains a soundtrack that although is suitably periodic in its sound and style evoking images of the pomp and ceremony and brutality of ancient Rome also has to it a somewhat contemporary feel and atmosphere. I am not sure but I think I do detect the use of synthetic strings in certain parts which for me did spoil the effect and the ambience a little, but I suppose in these days of restricted budgets things have to be adapted and also approaches and working practices alter.
The opening track THE BEN HUR THEME is a lilting and highly emotional piece, with layered strings acting as a background to a poignant violin solo, which introduces a pleasant and effecting soprano solo, this in turn acts as an introduction to a more pronounced version of the central theme performed by strings woodwind and brass with choir giving its support. The theme reaches its crescendo and then the track melts away with woodwind taking the cue to its end. Track number two BEN AND ESTHER is a short lived but haunting piece again the composer bringing into play the BEN HUR THEME, performed on woods with subtle support from the string section. Track number three is where for me it all goes a little out of kilter with the subject matter, JERUSALEM 33 AD is dramatic yes, but it is for me too contemporary sounding and it’s a theme that would not be out of place in any one of the thousands of Marvel comic book superhero movies that are doing the rounds at the moment. So moving on we go to track number four, CARRYING JUDAH, the composer re-introduces briefly female solo voice, but this is just a fleeting performance, the cue then transforming into a more down tempo dramatic piece for strings and percussive elements. I once spoke to Gabriel Yared about his score for TROY he said the reason he was given for its rejection was that it was too modern sounding, well I think I have the same problem here with Beltrami,s BEN HUR, its true to say that there are numerous references that can be deemed as being suitable for a story set in this period in history, but for me there are just to many modern sounding nuances and quirks of orchestration. This is a good soundtrack, as in there are many themes and beautiful melodies listen to the cue MESSALA AND TIRZAH and you will hear evidence of the romanticism and delicate colours that the composer employs , but is it suitable for a story set in the times of Ancient Rome? I will leave that up to you to decide, take a listen.