Everything that's old is new again, and that includes classic sword and sandals epics about a wronged Jewish man who's forced into slavery, only to return home looking for vengeance. Ben-Hur has been remade and one has to assume that at least part of the reason was making the big chariot race happen in 3D seemed like a great idea. Was it worth it? We'll find out.
If you're interested in figuring our whether Ben-Hur is actually a good movie worth seeing, you'll want the full movie review, which you can find right here. If, however, you already think that you want to check this movie out, and the only remaining question is, do you spring for the 3D ticket price? Well that's what we're here for. Let's break down the 3D of Ben-Hur.
Why do 3D movies exist? To make massive blockbusters even bigger by literally adding dimension to them. The bigger the blockbuster, the more 3D can add. The classic Ben-Hur set piece is the chariot race, but the film has one other major scene which is really able to take full advantage of the 3D technology. However, as much as those two major sequences were clearly perfect for 3D, it's hard to say the rest of the film really benefits from the tech. Parts of Ben-Hur are a great fit for 3D, but not quite the entire film.
While large parts of Ben-Hur don't necessarily feel like they were well designed for 3D, that doesn't mean that the people involved didn't do everything possible to make 3D serve the entire film. While the movie may not be full of massive action sequences, it does include large crowd scenes, wide vistas and numerous other elements where the 3D can be, and was, implemented to full effect. It's clear that the filmmakers wanted to get everything out of the 3D presentation that they could.
As per usual, especially with most live-action 3D these days, using the technology's ability to push things into the audience continues to be overlooked as a gimmick. The movie is not entirely without some moments that push things right up to the front of the frame, and possibly slightly more, but these moments are few and far between, and to be blunt, they are more gimmick than anything else. If you're expecting a chariot to kick dirt into your lap, you'll be sorely disappointed.
Ben-Hur performs much better beyond the window than before it. The crowds in the circus who view the chariot race stretch on into the background. The activity outside of Judah's slave vessel truly feels separate from the activities in the galley, thanks to the use of the technology. In the finale, 3D helps separate the activities of one racing chariot from another. There always seems to be something happening in the background while our lead characters go about their business in the foreground.
3D glasses, by their nature, block out some of the light from the image that you see. As such, the film can often come across as generally dim compared to its non-3D version. The vast majority of the action in Ben-Hur takes place outside and during the day, so there is plenty of light, and brightness is not an issue. Some of the scenes at night, or inside the dark ship's galley, however, could have used a brightness bump. It's still possible to see everything, it's just not quite as crisp or clear as you might like.
Ben-Hur certainly has a lot of 3D going on. As such, the far from scientific "glasses off test" wherein you look at the film without your glasses to see if the image is actually viewable, generally comes up with a mass of visual gibberish. This means that there's a lot of 3D going on at any given moment. There are certainly some scenes that look as clear as a standard 2D movie, but by far you want to be sure you watch this one entirely with the glasses on. It's mostly unviewable otherwise.
This one is fairly subjective, as everybody's susceptibility to motion sickness is different. For the most part, however, Ben-Hur should not be a problem. While there are certainly some sequences where the camera moves very quickly in uncontrolled directions, mostly on the galley ship, the fact is that those scenes are likely to give you motion sickness without the 3D. It is possible the 3D makes them worse, but this all takes place in a brief part of the film, and should not be an issue after that. For the most part, your stomach should be able to keep the popcorn down.