'Ben-Hur' 2016 trailer: 'Gladiator' meets 'Fast Seven' meets 'Star Wars' meets…
Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer have released the trailer for their Ben-Hur 2016 remake (or reboot or readaptation) – a.k.a. Fast and Furious A.D., as one wag called it in an online comment. Instead of grandiose spectacle featuring at its core a “human” story with Christian overtones, this chariot-and-sandals epic is being sold as Gladiator meets Fast Seven meets Spartacus: Blood and Sand meets Star Wars – with Morgan Freeman's Sheik Ilderim as the Roman Empire's dreadlocked version of Alec Guinness' Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Say what you will, the trailer-makers sure know their target audience. And that's not the same crowd that would go check out what's usually referred to in the U.S. media as “faith” (i.e., Christian) movies. One assumes that particular audience segment will be getting its own targeted marketing – possibly even its own trailer – in the coming months.
You can check out the Ben-Hur 2016 trailer below:
Brothers, not lovers
Unless director Timur Bekmambetov, and screenwriters John Ridley (12 Years a Slave) and Keith R. Clarke (The Way Back) have come up with a few incestuous “insinuations” – not likely, considering the film's target audience – Ben-Hur 2016 will not engender any “Were They?” controversy like the 1959 version, which pitted (uncredited) screenwriter Gore Vidal (“they totally were”) against star Charlton Heston (“hell, no, they weren't”). That's because this time around the Jewish prince Ben-Hur and the Roman tribune Messala are – at least as seen in the trailer – adoptive brothers, not just bosom buddies.
The basic storyline is as follows: Jewish prince Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) is betrayed by his “brother” Messala (Toby Kebbell), now an officer of the Roman Empire. Ben-Hur's mother (Ayelet Zurer) and sister (Sofia Black-D'Elia) are imprisoned, while he is sent to work as a galley slave.
But why so much misfortune? Possibly because God wants Ben-Hur to convert to Christianity (even though this particular religion had not been created as yet). See, things eventually take a turn for the better once the former prince-turned-slave becomes the protégé of a race-chariot owner, Sheik Ilderim (Morgan Freeman). Guess who Ben-Hur will be competing against in a chariot race to the death?
'Ben-Hur' 2016 reboot: Focus on Jesus
“You'll defeat him and you'll defeat an empire,” the Sheik tells Ben-Hur in the trailer. And that's the sort of bullshit that inspirational movies are made of. After all, Ben-Hur's homeland would be kept firmly under the Roman thumb centuries after his eventual chariot race victory.
But what does Christianity have to do with any of this? Well, at least in the two previous feature-length versions (1925, 1959), before the final fade-out Ben-Hur becomes a follower of Christ after his mother and sister are, with the assistance of Jesus' hands, miraculously cured of leprosy.
In fact, Ben-Hur 2016 will reportedly spend more time on the Christian savior (Rodrigo Santoro) and his deeds. That's quite a departure from the two previous versions, in which Jesus, for all purposes, is not even seen.
What else can be said about the Ben-Hur 2016 trailer?
The special effects, as to be expected, look first rate. And so does the work of cinematographer Oliver Wood (The Bourne Identity, Fantastic Four 2005).
Jack Huston looks the part, but it's unclear why he sounds just like Christian Bale in Christopher Nolan's Batman movies. Morgan Freeman does not look the part, and it's unclear why he is wearing what looks like a Whoopi Goldberg wig.
Unlike the 1959 version, which basically copied the thrilling, B. Reeves Eason-directed 1925 chariot race, Ben-Hur 2016 will clearly feature a much more elaborate (but better?), CGI-enhanced contest, with chariots flying into space, horses tripping to their death, and Ben-Hur literally holding on to dear life.
That's hardly surprising. Just think of Peter Jackson's King Kong, in which the giant ape has to fight two tyrannosaurs (none such in the infinitely superior 1933 original), or Colin Trevorrow's Jurassic World, with its giant GMO reptile – bigger, louder, and more deadly than the dinosaurs seen in all previous Jurassic Park movies put together.
And finally, if anyone is going to be offended by the fact that a British actor – Jack Huston – has been cast as a West Asian, then make sure to be an Equal Opportunity Offended by getting pissed off at, to name four cast members, another British actor playing a Roman officer, an African-American actor playing an Arab sheik, a Brazilian actor playing the West Asian Jesus, and a Danish actor (Pilou Asbæk) playing Pontius Pilate.
'Wanted' meets 'Son of God'?
Credited producers are usually ignored when movies are discussed in the media and elsewhere, but in the case of this latest film version of Gen. Lew Wallace's mammoth 1880 bestseller, they should get a mention. After all, the final product could well turn out to be a mélange of disparate sensibilities:
- Joni Levenson's credits include big screen/small screen Hollywood history documentaries such as John Huston: The Man, the Movies, the Maverick (1988), about the grandfather of Ben-Hur 2016 star Jack Huston, and MGM: When the Lion Roars (1992); in addition to Peter Weir's box office flop The Way Back (2010).
- Duncan Henderson's credits include not only The Way Back and Weir's Oscar-nominated Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003), but also audience friendly fare of varying degrees of success such as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001), Battleship (2012), and the Tom Cruise sci-fier Oblivion (2013).
- The husband-and-wife team of Mark Burnett and Roma Downey have produced a number of Christian-themed stories, among them the sleeper hit Son of God (2014), itself a condensed, big-screen version of Burnett and Downey's hugely successful television miniseries The Bible (2013). (Lisbon-born hunk Diogo Morgado, coincidentally a Portuguese-speaking actor like Rodrigo Santoro, is seen as Jesus in both The Bible and Son of God.)
But then again, perhaps Ben-Hur 2016 will turn out to be just another slick Timur Bekmambetov flick. The Russian filmmaker is best known for the thriller Night Watch, the internationally popular Angelina Jolie-James McAvoy actioner Wanted, and the critical and box office dud Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.
'Ben-Hur' 2016 budget: How much at stake?
The official Ben-Hur 2016 budget hasn't been made available, but Alex Proyas' Lionsgate release Gods of Egypt, starring Gerard Butler and featuring quite elaborate visual effects, cost a reported $140 million, not including marketing and distribution expenses that could easily have added another $70 million to the total.
No matter its actual cost, Paramount, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and others with a stake in Ben-Hur are surely praying for a much warmer domestic reception than the one accorded Gods of Egypt: $28.2 million after 16 days, in addition to $81 million internationally (nearly $20 million of which from China alone).
Another god-forsaken remake?
Wrapping this up, isn't it outrageous that Hollywood is releasing another remake, reboot, or whatever? Do today's producers and studio heads have no imagination?
Why can't they come up with something original like people did back in 1925 and 1959 – when they adapted an 1880 novel that had been turned into both a Broadway megahit and (in part) a 1907 short film?
Uh-oh. Scratch all that.
Ah, and bear in mind that the 1925 and 1959 movies – both Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer releases – now belong to Warner Bros./Time Warner, while Lew Wallace's novel is in the public domain. That's one key reason why this Paramount/MGM release isn't officially referred to (or sold) as a “remake.”
Ben-Hur 2016 opens on Aug. 12 in North America.
'Ben-Hur' 2016 cast
Besides Boardwalk Empire villain Jack Huston, Fantastic Four 2015 actor Toby Kebbell (Dr. Doom), Best Supporting Actor Academy Award winner Morgan Freeman (Million Dollar Baby), Rodrigo Santoro, Ayelet Zurer, Sofia Black-D'Elia, and Pilou Asbæk, the Ben-Hur 2016 cast includes the following:
Nazanin Boniadi. Haluk Bilginer. Marwan Kenzari. James Cosmo. Julian Kostov. Yasen Atour. Moises Arias. David Walmsley. Yorgos Karamihos. Jarreth J. Merzs. Alan Cappelli Goetzs. Simone Spinazzes. Denise Tantucci.
Directed by Fred Niblo (with assistance from Christy Cabanne and B. Reeves Eason), Ben-Hur 1925 a.k.a. Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ starred Mexican actor Ramon Novarro in the title role and featured 1910s matinee idol Francis X. Bushman as Messala. Also in the cast:
May McAvoy. Carmel Myers. Frank Currier. Claire McDowell. Kathleen Key. Nigel De Brulier. Mitchell Lewis. Leo White. Dale Fuller. Winter Hall. Peter Pan and A Kiss for Cinderella star Betty Bronson in a two-color Technicolor cameo as the Virgin Mary.
Directed by William Wyler and starring a badly miscast Charlton Heston in the title role and a flawlessly cast Stephen Boyd as Messala, Ben-Hur 1959 went on to win 11 Academy Awards, a record-setting feat only matched by James Cameron's Titanic (1997) and Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003). Also in the cast:
Other Ben-Hur articles:
- “Jack Huston Cast as Jewish Hero.”
- “Christian Epic Became Biggest and Costliest Blockbuster in History.”
- “Fast & Furious Epic at Historic Theater.”
- “Chariot Race.”
- “1959 Version Proves That Bigger Isn't Necessarily Better.”
- “'Avatar' Box Office Inflation-Adjusted: Trailing 1959 Multiple Oscar Winner.”
Ben-Hur 2016 trailer and images of Jack Huston, Ayelet Zurer, and Sofia Black-D'Elia: Paramount Pictures / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Hugh Griffith and Charlton Heston Ben-Hur 1959 image: MGM.