Timur Bekmambetov may set some chariots on fire with MGM's Ben-Hur remake
BEN-HUR, the classic Charlton Heston epic from 1959 that was the first film to win 11 Academy Awards, is ready for the remake treatment. But, MGM has been having a hell of a time trying to find someone to take over the massive project. Like CASABLANCA, remaking BEN-HUR strikes many as a fool's errand despite the 1959 version serving as a remake of the 1925 silent film, based on the 1880 novel. With multiple versions released since, including a 2010 mini-series, MGM hopes this new take will be the big budget epic to rival the Oscar-winning classic.
According to Deadline, the man for the directing job may be Timur Bekmambetov. Bekmambetov recently directed ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER, but is best known for the Angelina Jolie/James McAvoy action movie WANTED as well as NIGHT WATCH and DAY WATCH. His unique visual style has certainly played well in his directorial efforts so far, but I was left feeling that it didn't quite work with ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER as compared to a contemporary setting.
This take on BEN-HUR was scripted by Keith Clarke (THE WAY BACK) and supposedly stays closer to the source novel than the 1959 film did:
This film will tell the formative story of the characters as they grew up best friends before the Roman Empire took control of Jerusalem. Judah Ben-Hur was a Jewish prince and Messala the son of a Roman tax collector. After the latter leaves to be educated in Rome for five years, the young man returns with a different attitude. Messala mocks Judah and his religion and when a procession passes by Judah’s house and a roof tile accidentally falls and hits the governor, Messala betrays his childhood friend and manipulates it so that Judah is sold into slavery and certain death on a Roman warship, with his mother and sister thrown in prison for life. Judah doesn’t die, and vows revenge on Messala which, like in the films, culminates in the famed chariot races. There is another way the script differs from the movie, in that it will tell the parallel tale of Jesus Christ, with whom Ben-Hur has several encounters which moves him to become a believer in the Messiah, and which culminates in Christ being sentenced to death by Pontius Pilate. Intertwined in all this is the lifelong struggle between Ben-Hur and Messala.
With Darren Aronofsky's NOAH on the horizon, the Biblical epic appears to be a hot commodity once again. If handled properly, BEN-HUR doesn't have to be as polarizing as THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST and can be encompassing of all audiences, religious and secular. The Charlton Heston version, like THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, seems to circumvent being a religious film and is instead looked at as an epic drama. Bekmambetov would certainly bring something extra to the famed chariot sequences. What remains to be seen is if he can get quality performances from the cast as well.