Lew Wallace’s iconic and bestselling historical novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, is set for another remake.
This will be the fifth retelling of the adventures of Judah Ben-Hur, a fictional Jewish prince from Jerusalem, who is enslaved by the Romans at the beginning of the 1st century and becomes a charioteer and a Christian; whilst running in parallel with Judah’s narrative is the unfolding story of Jesus, who comes from the same region and is a similar age
While many people may have memory of the most famous and successful adaptation of the novel is 1959 version, staring Charlton Heston as Ben-Hur. This version went on to make $146.9 million on its initial release against a budget of $15.2 million, and won a record 11 Academy Awards, including:
- Best Picture, Best Director (Wyler)
- Best Actor in a Leading Role (Heston)
- Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Griffith)
- Best Cinematography, Colour (Surtees)
An accomplishment that was not equaled until Titanic in 1997 and then again by The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in 2003.
It also won three Golden Globe Awards, including Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Director and Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture for Stephen Boyd.
So any follow up has a lot to live up to.
Although promise does live in the script as it will be joint written by
John Ridley, who is best known for writing the screenplay to for 12 Years a Slave, for which he won an Academy Award in 2013 for Best Adapted Screenplay.
The lead role of Ben-Hur is being played by Jack Huston, an English actor of Iraqi-Jewish descent, with a linage descended from both David Sassoon (the Treasurer of Baghdad) and Mayer Amschel Rothschild (who founded the Rothschild family international banking dynasty). So at the very least can argue that the film is not being horrible white-washed perhaps.
Huston is probably best known for playing the role of Richard Harrow in the HBO television drama series Boardwalk Empire, and was rumoured for a while to be taking up the role of the Crow in the eponymous film remake of the Brandon Lee 1994 cult classic.
Other main cast members are set to include:
- Morgan Freeman as Sheik Ilderim, who will train Ben-Hur to become a charioteer to avenge his brother, Messala. The role is a fairly cliché one for Freeman, as it plays into his current known strength as the wise old mentor.
- Toby Kebbell as Messala, an officer in the Roman army and Ben-Hur’s childhood friend and adoptive brother. Who he later betrays. Kebbell is recently known for playing the role of Doctor Doom in 20th Century Fox’s reboot of the Fantastic Four film in 2015, arguably the worst film of the year and Kebbell’s ‘acting’ as Doom was poor, so it leaves little promise for his display as Messala.
- Nazanin Boniadi as Esther, a Jewish slave and the love interest of Ben-Hur. This will be Boniadi’s first major film role, as her pervious work has usually been devoted to television or small bit parts on film, such as the role of Afghan news reporter Amira Ahmed in Marvel’s 2008 film Iron Man. Rumours abound that the actresses Gal Gadot, Sofia Boutella, Moran Atias and Natalia Warner were all considered for the role during development, so there may be promise to Boniadi having been chosen.
- Finally, Rodrigo Santoro is set to portray the role Jesus Christ, who will a larger role in the film, unlike past versions. Santoro may be best known to readers for playing the role of King Xerxes I of Persia in the 2006 film 300 and its subsequent sequel 300: Rise of an Empire in 2014. Granted he will lack the various gold chains and piercings. Interestingly, Santoro has received personal blessings from Pope Francis for his role as Christ.
The Paramount Picture’s vice chairman, Rob Moore stated that Christ in this version
“is going to be consistent with people’s expectations,”
and that the
“expectations of the faithful will be honoured by this one.”
This was because Paramount wants to avoid the sort of backlash received by Darren Aronofsky’s 2014 film Noah in which some Christians were dismayed by the film’s sometimes inventive and inaccurate interpretation of the Bible.
You can see the trailer below:
Interestingly the film’s chariot race was originally planned to be film at the Circus Maximus arena in Rome, where the original film was shot, but were denied access due to fear that the stunts would damage the historic site.
Criticism has already raised from audiences and critics, commonly in regards to the trailer for giving too much emphasis on action and violence and overall for its cheap looking costumes, CGI and editing.
It would seem the film is already plagued by both his history and the simple fact that people seem to be approaching the source text as an action film primarily, not that this is unfounded considering the source text was once panned as having “its romanticism passé and its action pulpy”. Unfortunately, with such an iconic film, the modern audience expect more it seems, as nothing will ever live up to its past legacy and simply but you can’t win. It would be circuited for being to action focused or be criticised for being slow, depending on which ever path they took. Sadly it would seem it was doomed from the start.
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