Ben-Hur is shot wide, which gives it a specific and epic style.
Ben-Hur was one of the first movies shot with MGM’s Camera 65, which led to its anamorphic format and its elongated aspect ratio of 2.76:1. In the same genre as The Robe, the first film released in widesreen via CinemaScope, Ben-Hur utilized its epic size to deliver its story’s massive scope.
The result is that it looks amazing. So amazing it won the Cinematography Oscar, thanks to the crafty vision of DP Robert Surtees. In order to get the right level of admiration for his period-outfitted stars, Surtees used the center of wide frame for many of his head-on actor shots. This gives the audience ample empty space on either side to really appreciate the vast, black hole draw of Surtees’ subjects.
Zackery Ramos-Taylor creates a video that emphasizes the repeated techniques of Surtees, but also some striking portraits of divide and power. The center line allows the eye to understand how precise these shots are and the awe expected of an audience seeing their actor – tanned, large, and glorious – as the complete central focal point.