It's far too early to say whether or not the old-fashioned big-budget Bible epic will mount a convincing comeback, but 2014 will see the release of two high-profile, Bible-themed projects. Director and co-writer Darren Aronofsky's Noah is a large-scale version of the Noah's Ark story, and Ridley Scott's Exodus is a new take on the tale of Moses.
We first heard about MGM's attempt to remake the often-filmed Ben-Hur nearly a year ago. The main candidate for director of the new remake, based on the best-selling 1880 novel by Lew Wallace (originally titled Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ), was said to be Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter director Timur Bekmambetov.
Now, a report from Deadline confirms (albeit unofficially) that Bekmambetov is indeed helming Ben-Hur.
Supposedly the new adaptation, a spec script by Keith R. Clarke (co-writer of director Peter Weir's World War II-era survival tale The Way Back), will be closer to the source material than previous versions. The most famous of these is the 1959 adaptation starring Charlton Heston from director William Wyler, which won 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
That film focused on the relationship between Jewish prince Judah Ben-Hur (Heston) and his Roman friend from childhood, Messala (Stephen Boyd), with the story of Jesus Christ in the background (the two overlap at various points).
Bekmambetov is known for his bombastic visual style...and razor-thin characterizations. Clarke's approach is said to track the beginnings of Ben-Hur and Messala's relationship, and will focus less on the bitter rivalry that grew between them in later years and more on the parallel story of Jesus Christ. Apparently, Ben-Hur will have several encounters with the religious figure and eventually become a believer. The climax of the film will be the crucifixion.
The famous Heston film is visually extravagant, with the Jesus subplot largely shoe-horned in. That film's centerpiece is the epic chariot race between Ben-Hur and Messala, which took a year to complete.
With Exodus and Noah about to bring the biblical epic back into style, attaching a director known mainly for his hyper-kinetic visuals (and not his sensitive, three-dimensional rendering of iconic characters) might be considered more of a cynical cash-grab than an artistically relevant remake of an archaically-structured narrative more than 130 years old.
Still, if Ridley Scott and Darren Aronofsky's tentpole Bible projects can convince mainstream audiences that cinematic Sunday School stories are worth their ten bucks (and if the $611 million total box office take of The Passion of the Christ is any evidence, they just might), expect hastily-packaged Bible retreads to saturate the market.
For some gloriously junky '60s Hollywood excess, check out the trailer for the 1959 version of Ben-Hur:
There's currently no release date for the remake of Ben-Hur, but stay tuned to Screen Rant for more information as it becomes available.