MGM Planning New Version Of 'Ben-Hur'
You can tell that MGM is super happy about its recent surprise resurrection (thanks in no small part to the global success of <a href="Ross Lincoln is a LA-based freelance writer from Oklahoma with an unhealthy obsession with comics, movies, video games, ancient history, Gore Vidal, and wine. Follow Ross Lincoln on Twitter. Follow Movieline on Twitter." target="_blank">Skyfall and The Hobbit), because they're planning to celebrate by remaking one of the most successful biblical epics ever produced, the swords and sandals epic Ben-Hur.
The symbolism could not be more perfect. Not only does Ben-Hur heavily feature noted coming-back-from-the-dead practitioner Jesus Christ as a supporting character, but the last theatrical adaptation, the lavish 1959 version starring Charleton Heston as Ben-Hur, netted MGM a record 11 Academy Awards in 1960 (the studio also produced a silent version in 1925 that is also awesome). MGM clearly hopes that magic will strike twice, as they well should because a story of this scope and scale won't come cheaply.
Originally an 1880 novel by former Civil War Union general Lew Wallace, Ben-Hur (originally titled: Ben-Hur: A tale of The Christ) follows the life of Judah Ben-Hur, a Jewish prince who grows up in the shadow of Roman domination of Judea. After being betrayed by his childhood best friend, the Roman patrician Messala, Ben-Hur is sold into slavery. From here, he manages to be freed after he saves the life of a Roman consul during a battle with pirates, and is adopted into the consul's family, and distinguishes himself as an expert chariot racer, until he leaves Rome and returns to Judea to track down Messala and exact revenge for his betrayal. Throughout the novel, Jesus makes several appearances until, at the end, Ben-Hur witnesses the crucifixion and becomes an early Christian convert.
So yeah, a lot happens, and it happens amid some of the most spectacular excesses in ancient Rome. To get it right, MGM has turned to a script by Keith Clarke, noted for scripting the 2010 Colin Farrell film The Way Back, as well as several documentaries. His take apparently places greater emphasis on the childhood of Ben-Hur and Messala, but it also preserves the books religious themes. And believe me, if you haven't read the book or seen any of the filmic adaptations, it HEAVILY evangelizes for Christianity on a level that many will feel is aggressive and discomforting by today's standards.
Incidentally, I am an atheist, and thus I'm immune to all the stuff at the end in which miracles start happening. So I'm happy to report that the 1959 version of Ben-Hur is one of my favorite films of all time, a truly staggering epic featuring some of the greatest scenes ever filmed (watch the famous chariot racing scene and marvel at the fact that they couldn't do that using special effects during the 1950s.) Best of all, Charlton Heston is the Aristotelean perfection of movie hamminess. I'd love to see a new version of Ben-Hur, and as far as I'm concerned, if they're going to do it, they need to do it right and leave all the Jesus stuff in. Removing the religion would be like taking the Force out of Star Wars. Of course, it's going to require a deft touch not to end up freaking a big section of the potential audience out. Here's hoping Clarke has what it takes.
Ross Lincoln is a LA-based freelance writer from Oklahoma with an unhealthy obsession with comics, movies, video games, ancient history, Gore Vidal, and wine.
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