MGM Rebooting ‘Ben-Hur’; New Adaptation Includes the Jesus Christ Story

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ben hur remake MGM Rebooting Ben Hur; New Adaptation Includes the Jesus Christ Story

Skyfall and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey‘s collective $2 billion (or so) gross around the world has allowed onetime-baknrupt MGM to plant its feet firmly on solid ground. The studio’s now getting in on what’s quickly become the next big Hollywood craze – the (return of the) Biblical epic – with a fresh adaptation of Lew Wallace’s 1880 novel Ben-Hur.

Of course, this project faces the same dilemma as the multiple Moses biographical pictures currently in the early stages of development (specifically, Ridley Scott’s Moses and Steven Spielberg’s Gods and Kings): how to tread on sacred ground while contemporizing such a revered and well-known story. The answer (“going back to the source material”) is pretty familiar nowadays, but that’s where things could get sticky.

Wallace’s book “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ” still ranks among the biggest-selling books of all time, up there with The Bible and Harry Potter Gone With the Wind; as indicated by the novel’s subtitle, the Jesus Christ story is fundamental to Ben-Hur. However, previous adaptations – including the 1925 silent film and (more famous) 1959 Charlton Heston version – focus more on the clash between adult Judah Ben-Hur and Messala, after the former is betrayed and sold into slavery by his onetime childhood friend.

Here’s how Deadline summarizes the approach of the new Ben-Hur adaptation:

This film will tell the formative story of [Judah Ben-Hur and Messala] as they grew up best friends before the Roman Empire took control of Jerusalem… There is another way the script differs from [the 1959 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.

This Ben-Hur interpretation is based on a spec written by Keith R. Clarke, who co-penned the Oscar-nominated The Way Back (from Slavomir Rawicz’s book) with director Peter Weir. Clarke is executive producing along with Jason Brown, while producers Sean Daniel (The Mummy) and Joni Levin (The Way Back) are attached to the project.

As mentioned before, there are numerous modern Biblical blockbusters developing or heading our way over the next couple years. Besides those dual Moses films and Ben-Hur, Darren Aronofsky’s Noah retelling arrives in 2014, Warner Bros. has a gestating Pontius Pilate biopic with Brad Pitt circling and Sinister director Scott Derrickson’s announced Goliath (which once had Taylor Lautner and Dwayne Johnson eyed to star) could begin moving forward again in the foreseeable future.

darren aronofsky noah MGM Rebooting Ben Hur; New Adaptation Includes the Jesus Christ Story

Artwork from Darren Aronofsky’s ‘Noah’ graphic novel

Obviously, from a box office perspective, the studios behind these films are hoping to produce the next Passion of the Christ ($611 million worldwide), not so much the next The Nativity Story ($46 million worldwide). Clarke’s approach to Ben-Hur lends itself to a smaller, character-driven retelling, but an emphasis on big drama, emotions and spectacle seems the more likely route to be taken (be that for the better or worse).

Are you intrigued by this new version of Ben-Hur? Let us know in the comments section.

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Source: Deadline

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TAGS: Ben-Hur

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  1. Wonderful news, if they plan to treat the material seriously (ie not in a way disrespectful to people’s beliefs).

    I nominate Hugh Jackman for the title role.

    Christian Bale for Messala!

    • I like your casting!

    • Why not Cuban actor and Mexican telenovela star William Levy (from Dancing with the Stars) be tapped as Judah Ben-Hur? Levy has Jewish roots and has a Catholic upbringing which will require him to be the new Ben-Hur, and has similarities and distinctions with Ramon Novarro of 1925 version and Charlton Heston of the 1959 Oscar-winning production. And we expect that since it will be more faithful of the original novel, I suggest that the face of Jesus will be revealed, as well as some Indian, Italian, African and Latin American actors playing citizens of Jerusalem, Rome and Arabia. One of the Wise Men should be Indian (preferably Bollywood or South Indian actor). Susan Sarandon/Meryl Streep will also be tapped as Ben-Hur’s mother. So as Amanda Seyfried as Tirzah.

  2. I’d love to see a film based on the last book of The Bible, “Revelation”

    But I’m afraid special effects would be the main focus. It is a very descriptive book, but also extremely interesting

    • My thoughts exactly! My goal is to direct that someday. I’ve written 3 scripts for it because its too much for one movie.

      • that sounds very interesting!! how much research have you done on the book itself?

        • A lot. I grew up in church so I’ve been in extensive studies and lessons on the subject which helps since there are other books in the bible that help piece together the complexity of Revelation. I’ve also bought multiple guides and documentaries on it as well as gotten different preachers and scholars interpretations on it because it can be viewed in so many different ways. I tried to get as broad of sources as I could as to not get a narrow minded view on it per say.

          • That’s a very good idea, putting it into 3 parts. The final judgement doesn’t happen all in one day, there is a drastic span of the events that take place in different times and there is a certain horror that fascinates people within the book itself.

            • I had too. There’s way too much going on. I totally agree with you. Some parts get pretty graphic that is makes your skin crawl. I think I did a good job of bringing in those elements along with keeping with the epic feel that the whole book has.

          • The problem is… there are so many things that John describes that he didn’t understand – the Locusts, etc. It’s descriptive, but we don’t really know what he meant. As well as of course who the beast is – his political position, etc., and a host of other speculative problems. There are so many different interpretations and speculations that, for my concern, a film about it can’t possibly be accurate, and as a filmmaker’s concern, the target audience won’t be satisfied due to the wide range of interpretations they have on the subject.

            • that is very true and something that’s been considered. That’s why if I ever received the opportunity to do my movie I’d have some type of opening title explaining that it’s merely an interpretation because in all honesty we’re not even sure if Revelation parts of revelation are meant to be allegorical or literal. And there’s really no way of knowing. And to me that’s where the director takes artistic license in deciding how to present it. It’s a movie for crying out loud.

              • Wow! It sounds like you thought this through a lot! If you get your wish, I will certainly be lining up to see it!!

            • That’s very true, there is no accurate representation of John’s vision because we all have different perspectives and the only one who had that revelation was John so we can only go by his word in The Bible. How things are viewed back then are extremely different compared to how we look at things now. You have to imagine this is a future far from his own time and it had to come as a shock when it was all said and done. The fact that he can retain the details is incredible enough, but it’s difficult to imagine what John interpreted because this took place long ago

          • Hi jerry that sounds really good, can i give you two Brilliant names of two incredible people that would give you great interest and inspiration in your research. Dr Scot Han and Francis Hogan there insight into Bible History is incredible, mind blowing and will help you greatly. They are one of the greatest Theologion’s that have emerged in the last twenty to thirty years, I would encourage you to contact them You will be amazed, inspired and your eyes will be open.
            God bles you on your endevour and I hope that all your efforts come to fruitation. best wishes Davey

    • find a copy of The Cosmic Conflict which is based on the Book of Revelation and is true to the Bible. You may find it at amazingfacts.org.

    • They did release a dvd on John and Revelations, starring Richard Harris. Quite depressing, though.

  3. You want to re-boot an epic classic? Fine. All many of us ask is that you don’t mess it up! PLEASE!

  4. A Jew who becomes a Christian? Sounds like “Jews For Jesus” propaganda.

    All I know is that it will make Hollywood’s blood boil.

  5. A Jew who becomes a Christian? Sounds like “Jews For Jesus” propaganda.

  6. I’m a big fan of the old school bibical epic films. Ben-hur is on the top of my lists…eventhough, a television series would’ve been a great way to go for Ben-Hur. I would like to see them do it very gritty like the show Spartacus.

    • @Al

      A television pilot was produced back in 2010 in the same vein as Spartacus – but it failed and deservedly so. They couldn’t even make proper use of Kirstin Kreuk which is a crime in itself. It’s pretty dismal trust me.

  7. Well I have been using Ben-Hur as one of the few films that if ever remade (from the Heston version) would signal the true end to creative thinking in Hollywood and usher in the apocalypse. Looks that day has finally arrived.

    To remake Ben-Hur is about as close to sacrilege in the movie world as you can come imho. They got it right with that movie. Period. There are no modern FX needed and you aren’t going to find better actors to play the roles.

    The best they can hope for is to equal it but in this era of failed turkey remakes/reboots I fear they will do nothing but tarnish a truly epic film’s name.

    • +1. I like you…

    • I agree completely 100% and comments are so spot on

  8. So does it mean that the chariot race sequence will be all digital ?
    If they’re gonna remake it, are they gonna concentrate on the homosexual aspect of the story because let’s face it Quintus was in love with Ben-Hur

  9. I’m not totally against the idea of remakes. Let’s be honest, a lot of remakes are actually very good and some are even better than the originals. And to be fair, the 1959 Ben-Hur is a remake itself. However, I am tired of remakes being such a cliche in Hollywood these days. And I always hoped that 1959′s Ben-Hur would be one movie that would NEVER get remade. I love that movie to death, it’s one of the greatest films ever made. I have seen the original 1925 silent version of Ben-Hur, which is a beautifully made film, no doubt. Maybe I shouldn’t be too harsh about this remake since it has yet to be made and we have yet to see it. But no other version of Ben-Hur will EVER replace the 1959 version in my heart.

    And I’m REALLY getting tired of all the “Well, we’re going back to the original source material” and “This is not a remake, it’s a re-imagining” crap. Those lines are becoming lame excuses for Hollywood to keep throwing remakes at us.

  10. Darren Aronofsky’s ‘Noah’ graphic novel picture looks lice a sci fy flick ! Is it ?

    From the pic it seem to play on another planet,a bit Thor like maybe !
    With some cosmic catastrophe about to happen,guess the planet gets destroyed and only one man believes it and builds a space ship to escape !
    Sooooo Cool !

  11. @ios, that’s pretty much on point of what the Ancient Sumerian versian of tbe Noah story says. The Ancient Sumerian name of Noah/Nuakh was “Utnafishtim” this story was the origin of the biblical Noah and flood story. The major difference was that the “Anunaki”(Elohim)/Gods, helped Noah make aship thatcould hover and all of the animals’were preserved in tubes, the dna and genes were preserved,then later cloned in oreder to replenish the earth and that was how they had virtually unlimited space for the animals, didn’t have to worry about feeding them, taking care of them, feces, urine, sicknesses, animals escaping or attacks themselves or other animals.

  12. I know Hollywood wants to sell tickets by having these movies cast with ALL Caucasian people but this isn’t 1959. At least try to be somewhat authentic by at least making the cast people of color or at least Middle Eastern looking. Sorry if I offend anyone but the white Jesus, Moses, Noah stuff is old and was always unrealistic. This is 2013 and they still are trying to keep that old mentality, they should at least mix it up.

  13. I want to support other comments on this movie. It is simply one of the greatest movies of all time. Yes it’s overlong (but aren’t they all? e.g Return of the King)but the scale of the film is so vast that a lot of movies tpday still fail to match it.

    For two thirds of the movie, it’s so compelling and powerful – the dynamic between Ben Hur & Massala drives the film so much (they just will not find any performances to compare to both Charlton Heston & Stephen Boyd), the epic musical score and of course the ‘rowing speed’ sea battle.

    It goes without saying that the Chariot Race is still one of the most exhilirating action sequences ever. Every time you see it, it just puts to shame the endless CGI effects driven action scenes of today.

    I will admit the film does overkill with the Jesus and lepers story arc. It was perfect when showing little scenes but to go on another 40 mins after the Ben Hur / Massala conflict has been resolved, is a little too much.

    They just need to stop any plans for this remake, now immediately.

  14. wow lots of comments so far on this. Its funny I was just saying to my girlfriend that they should remake this film and she said they never would. Shes sleeping now but when she wakes up ill be able to tell her she was wrong and have a big fight with her. Sweet!

  15. Ben Hur has been one of my favourite movies for a long time, but I was surprised how different it was to the book.

    If they approach it more from the aspect of the book then it will be a completely new entity, I wouldn’t even call it a remake. There are so many elements in the book that just didn’t make it into the Charlton Heston version then it will be like chalk and cheese.

    I’m not a religious person but I’d actually like to see a version based closer to the book, that I would go to see.

    We don’t need a remake of the 1956 version as that is just about perfect as it is.

    • *1959*

  16. Oh no! Please leave this classic alone! Trying to remake the 1959 Ben Hur would be like trying to remake Gone With The Wind, it just would NEVER be as good. I love the big Biblical Epics Hollywood produced in the 1950′s. I never tire of watching them over and over.

    • If Ben-Hur is now on the slate, can Gone with the Wind be far behind? It was the most successful film of all time so Hollywood will want to take another stab at this moneymaker.

  17. Absolutely NOT. Today’s Hollywood is populated by a completely different talent pool, with different values and sensibilities, than what allowed MGM to film the brilliant 1959 version. A 2013/14 version would be populated with F-bombs, non-stop rapid editing with shots lasting as little as a 1/2 second, loud music aimed at teenagers, and as much computer graphics animation to save as much money as possible for the producers. I say, “no,” and let’s leave the 1959 Ben-Hur to rule as quite possibly the greatest film ever made.

  18. A remake closer to the book would be wondeful (more thoughtful); especially if they really could go more into the Judah/Messala friendship and give a better idea about what could have changed for Messala. I’ve never been convinced that (except for literary purposes i.e. to move the plot along) Messala stopped valuing his closeness with Judah and his family. I also like the concept of intertwining the Jesus story as it was done in the book where there was a more direct interaction for Judah and not just through the stories told by the people around him.

  19. I own the original Awsome movie BEN HUR, It is an Old movie with splended actors that show plenty of emotion with each role. The sceens are originally captivatting! When i first saw it i was skeptical about it, it turned out its one of my favorites. The new release sucks, the actors didn’t have the dramas the passionsthe original did have. As soon as i got a quarter through the movie i knew i hatted it as far as the original i definitely kept me interested. I think it was a wast of time and money I surely WOULDNOT HAVE PUBLISHED THIS POOR MOVIE! I Regret spending money and time renting it. Next time aim for a four star hit!!!

  20. I own the original Awsome movie BEN HUR, It is an Old movie with splended actors that show plenty of emotion with each role. The sceens are originally captivatting! When i first saw it i was skeptical about it, it turned out its one of my favorites. The new release sucks, the actors didn’t have the dramas the passions the original movie did have. As soon as i got a quarter through the movie i knew i hatted it as far as the original it definitely kept me interested. I think it was a wast of time and money I surely WOULD NOT HAVE PUBLISHED THIS POOR MOVIE! I Regret spending money and time renting it. Next time aim for a four star hit!!!

  21. I hated the remake, the original is one of my favorites. I would definitely not recomend this movie to anyone. The actors needed passion, drauma and originality!!!

  22. Ah, perfect timing. I’m just wrapping up The Acts Of Ben Hur (the sequel), and it should be online as an e-book by summer.

    The story is about 75% dialogue, so it’s more like a movie script than novel.

    Any takers?

  23. I saw Ben Hur the original at least in my life time 20 times. My favorite movie. With all due respect, I will see the remake as long as if it has the same emotional, riveting passion and drama that the original had. I don’t agree with the fact that doing a make over would belittle the original movie. The book will always be different than the movie every one knows that, in fact the book is better. If the new movie is done based on the book than I will go see it.

  24. They tried a tv remake, which was an unmitigated disaster. Albeit it was lacking in continuity, the 1959 version can only be improved upon with A list actors, cgi and in 3D. It would be a mistake to change the story line back to when they were kids. The tv remake proved this. And people don’t want religion shoved down their throats all the time.The 1959 version handled the Christ element in a minimum form, which worked. The novel was a Victorian melodrama, written for a Victorian audience. This is 2014, and any re-make should be modern, not Victorian.

  25. Ben-Hur hands down is the best motion picture made! It was the perfect mix of fantastic acting,fabulous sets and costuming. The music was glorious and the face of Jesus was NEVER shown. The impact of that choice makes the movie powerful in the way movies today would NEVER get. Seeing the reaction in the faces of the other actors to Jesus is powerful without showing his face. It is a bit like books being better than movies because you get to decide for yourself what the characters look like. In this movie you get to decide what Jesus should look like. The 1959 version also handled the leper scenes the same way. The reaction of the jailers to seeing the lepers was unforgettable. Heston’s performance was masterful. The death scene of Masala’s was unlike anything I have ever seen before or since in a movie. Why would you want to remake this masterpiece? Go remake The Robe, or Quo Vadis, or even The Ten Commandments, but leave the 1959 version of Ben-Hur stand as the best movie ever put out by Hollywood!!!!!!

    • I first saw Ben-Hur in 1959, in London, when it was first released. This cinema was the only venue, until its general release some years later. Not good business. I now own a blu ray copy. I agree, it cannot, and should not be remade. They made a TV version a few years ago, which was an abomination. Did you ever see Ben Hur Live at the O2?
      Having seen the movie probably 100 times now, there exist flaws, especially in the continuity. The chariot race would have been one of several, and the actual chariots were far too big. Also, there never was a circus in Jerusalem. But that to one side, Chuck Heston was the perfect (if not the first) choice. But they made Steven Boyd wear brown contact lenses, to contrast with Chuck’s blue eyes. Did it not occur to Wyler that Ben Hur would have had Olive brown eyes and dark, not blonde hair?
      What they MUST do is remaster Ben Hur in 3D. That would make MGM a lot of money, as people would pay to see it at the cinema (like Titanic) and there would follow the dvd release.
      Ivor Llewellyn-Jones

  26. Outstanding news. I’ve just completed translating “The Acts Of Ben Hur: A Tale Of The Christians”, and will be available in e-book format sometime in early 2015.

    It’s the sequel to Wallace’s book, and with a bit of luck, perhaps this could tie in with the remake.

    A miniseries, maybe?

    Stay tuned.

  27. I’ve just completed translating the sequel to Wallace’s novel, entitled “The Acts Of Ben Hur: A Tale Of The Christians”, which will be available in e-book format early in 2015.

    It reads more like a script than a novel, so perhaps a follow-up, Mark and Roma? A mini-series, perhaps?

    Yeah, wishful thinking, but with God all things are possible, eh?