It’s not technically a remake, since the script for director Timur Bekmambetov’s new production is based on the source novel Ben-Hur: A Tale Of The Christ, and not the 1959 film adaptation that starred Charlton Heston and won 11 Academy Awards. But still, audiences will undoubtedly be rolling their eyes at the prospect of yet another unoriginal story elbowing its way into the multiplexes. Ben-Hur already has four film adaptations and a TV mini-series to his name. Surely we’ve seen all this before, right? Well, maybe not.
As reported by Variety, this adaptation is written by Keith Clarke (The Way Back) and John Ridley (12 Years A Slave), with Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted) holding the reins. MGM began developing the project before welcoming Paramount aboard as co-producers and distributors, following previous collaborations on films such as Hercules and Hansel And Gretel: Witch Hunters. It will also be produced by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, who executive produced The Bible TV series for History last year, before Fox released a movie version this winter in the form of Son of God. As they confirmed their involvement, they hinted at the quality we can expect to see in the writing of this film:
“What an honour it will be to help bring this epic film back to the big screen. When Gary Barber [producer of 'Wanted'] allowed us to read John Ridley’s amazing script, we immediately knew we had to join this team.”
So far, so familiar. The fact is, however, it seems that this adaptation will focus more heavily on an earlier part of the story, rather than that which we associate with the 1959 epic. The source novel – written by Lew Wallace and first published in 1880 – is a tale of vengeance and redemption set in parallel with the story of Jesus Christ, but it is also a riveting drama about human relationships. This aspect of the story is most demonstrable early on in the narrative, which is when this new version will supposedly take place.
Judah Ben-Hur is a Jewish prince, descended from a Royal family of Judaea. His best friend in childhood – Messala – is the son of a Roman tax collector. As young men, they fall out of friendship just before Messala leaves for military life. On his return, as a Roman commanding officer, Messala betrays his former friend by accusing him and his family of a serious crime – despite knowing that they are innocent. These are the events that trigger the lengthy enslavement of Ben-Hur and his journey toward vengeance against his childhood friend – all of which lend themselves well to an interesting exploration of the nature of human connection over time, within the framework of a story about faith.
While remakes are often pointless exercises (for example, why would anyone think they could add anything of value to Kathryn Bigelow’s Point Break?), there is occasionally something to be said for moving the lens to a different angle and, instead, ‘re-imagining’ a source material as rich and detailed as Ben-Hur: A Tale Of The Christ. What is most fascinating about this approach – if the finished product does indeed provide a newer focus than that of the previous film version – is that it will be a different angle on a well-known story (Ben-Hur) that was designed to give a different angle on a well-known story (Jesus Christ). That’s a pretty cool concept.
Though we have no further details yet regarding casting or schedules, Ben-Hur has apparently been allocated a release date of February 26, 2016. Who will be wearing the sandals? Stay tuned to find out.