New Release: Ben-Hur 50th Anniversary Blu-ray and DVD

Ben-Hur movie scene

Charlton Heston rides his white horses glory in 1959's Ben-Hur.

Warner Home Video‘s highly anticipated Ben-Hur 50th Anniversary Collector’s Edition DVD and Blu-ray, which we wrote about several months back, arrived on Sept. 27, 2011. This marks the classic film’s premiere in a high-definition format.

This latest release of the Academy Award-winning 1959 classic film (which is technically being release two years after its 50th anniversary, but we’re not complaining!) underwent a $1 million restoration — a frame-by-frame undertaking from an 8k scan of the original 65 mm camera negative. According to Warner Bros, it’s the highest resolution restoration ever completed by the studio. The audio is Dolby Digital 5.1.

The restoration of the action-adventure epic is almost trumped by some newly uncovered home movies, shot by the family of star Charlton Heston (Dark City) in Italy during the movie’s production. It’s believed to be the only footage of its kind in existence and will be incorporated into the disc’s documentary on the making of film and its legacy, directed by DVD producer Laurent Bouzereau and Heston’s son, Fraser.

The Ben-Hur Collector’s Edition, a limited and numbered release, contains more than four hours of extras, including a new high-def feature-length documentary hosted by Fraser Heston; a reproduction of the diary that Charlton Heston kept during the filming; and an exclusive hardbound photo book.

Here are the details on the release’s new bonus content:

  • Charlton Heston: A Personal Journey
    new high-definition feature-length documentary chronicling Heston’s life while filming Ben-Hur. Includes behind-the-scenes details and home movie footage shot by his wife Lydia in Rome, including a rarely seen, different side of Heston as a loving father and husband balancing his home and work life and as an artist devoted to his craft.
  • Charlton Heston: The Ben-Hur Diaries
    first-time exclusive look into an Oscar-winning actor’s experience while making an award-winning film. A reproduction of Charlton Heston’s diary from January 1958 through April 1960, which documents his time before production of the film through his Oscar win and includes personal photos from the Heston family and Charlton Heston’s sketches.
  • exclusive hardbound book with rare photography, production art and reproductions from the original theatrical press book.

Okay, now here’s the overall list of features old and new that are in the set:

Discs one and two: The movie plus

  • commentary by film historian T. Gene Hatcher with scene specific comments from Charlton Heston
  • music-only track with Miklos Rozsa’s score

Disc three: Special features

  • Charlton Heston: A Personal Journey,” 78 minutes in high-def (new)
  • Ben-Hur: 1925 silent version, from the Thames Television Restoration with stereophonic orchestral score by composer Carl Davis (143 min)
  • 2005 documentary: Ben-Hur: The Epic That Changed Cinema, with filmmakers such as Ridley Scott reflecting on the importance and influence of the film on modern epics (58 min)
  • 1994 documentary: Ben-Hur: The Making of an Epic hosted by actor Christopher Plummer (58 min)
  • “Ben-Hur: A Journey Through Pictures,” audiovisual recreation of the film via stills, storyboards, sketches, music and dialog
  • vintage newsreels gallery
  • highlights from the 1960 Academy Awards ceremony
  • theatrical trailer gallery
  • screen tests (30 min.)

The DVD of the Ultimate Collector’s Edition has the feature film restored and remastered for standard definition plus the same special features spread over five discs.

The Ben-Hur 50th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition carries the following list prices: three-disc Blu-ray is $64.99, five-disc DVD is $49.92 and two-DVD 50th Anniversary Edition is $20.97.


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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.