Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Regression to the mean in Ben Hur (2003)


Jewish date:  2 ’Av 5770 (Parashath Devarim).

Today’s holidays:  The Nine Days (Judaism), Feast Day of Henry (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Macarena/St. Gene Ray (Church of the SubGenius), Rath Yatra (Hinduism).

Worthy causes of the day:  “Stop Big Oil Bailouts” and “Put Solar on the White House | Tell President Obama to Go Solar on 10/10/10!”.

Ben Hur (Animated)Today’s topic:  Today’s Gospel-based film, Ben Hur (2003).  For anything to be a true outlier, lots of things have to go right or wrong.  For a movie to be outstandingly good, everything has to go right:  the writing, the producing, the casting, the acting, the sets, the costumes, the effects—everything.  While it is possible for a sequel or remake to turn out as good as the original, chances are that some things which went right the first time will not go right the second time.  Thus sequels and remakes tend to be worse than the originals, a phenomenon which in statistics is known as “regression to the mean” and something which seems to have escaped the notice of people in Hollywood.  There have been many Ben Hur movies, and the 2003 cartoon version clearly suffers from regression to the mean.  The basic story from the 1959 live-action film is still there, but in an abbreviated, watered-down form.  A few characters, such as Simonides, have been cut altogether.  More disturbingly—where regression to the mean really kicks in—more features of a standard Gospel-based film have been added.  Jesus is no longer a serene figure who serves as mere inspiration.  Rather, he gets a decent amount of screen time, including the Last Supper.  While in the 1959 film why Jesus is crucified is not really addressed, in the 2003 cartoon the Priests conspire against him and Pontius Pilate lets them do what they want while refusing to take any responsibility.  More emphasis is placed on Jesus’s miracles and faith in him, rather than forgiveness, and even Messala seeks to be healed at the Crucifixion.  This version is not an improvement and deserves a “r̼̊”.


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