Ben-Hur Movie Takes Big Risk
The Charlton Heston Ben Hur boasted the biggest budget and largest set of any production of its time. Nearly 60 years later, the MGM classic is back, both on the famous Italian soundstage used in the 1959 version, as well as, across town in an empty field behind the Cinecitta world theme park. There, Director Timur Bekmambetov has erected a full-scale version of the Circus Maximus.
Bekmambetov truly went all out to compete with the 1959 famous chariot race. Onscreen rivals Jack Huston and Toby Kebbell trained for nearly four months to drive horse-drawn chariots – smaller and faster than the bulky wagons seen in the 1959 version. They wanted the scene to look and feel as real as possible.
“Basically, when you’re going around the arena with 32 horses, the slightest mistake could lead to death,” explains Huston, who spent stretches of the race being dragged behind his chariot while other teams of horses galloped only feet away.
The inspiration for the remake came from the passing of Nelson Mandela in 2013, screenwriter Keith Clarke went searching for a story with a message of truth and reconciliation, and eventually latched onto Lew Wallace’s 1880 novel, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. One chooses power and greed, one chooses revenge, and one chooses the path of peace and forgiveness. Only one survives.”
Embracing the film’s biblical tie-in, Daniel and MGM president Jonathan Glickman enlisted Mark Burnett and Roma Downey to serve as executive producers. The duo that recently produced the 2014 mini series Son of God, were intrigued by the message of forgiveness. And while past adaptations have avoided featuring Jesus directly, he is a main part of the story throughout this adaptation.
Indeed they are taking a big risk on the film, but they are confident they can reach the faith-based audiences. Bekmambetov looked to Scott’s 2000 multi-Oscar winning hit Gladiator as his model, hiring veteran stunt coordinator Steve Dent to marshal a team of 87 horses, while banking on the under dog story appealing to moviegoers.
According to Bekmambetov, many period movies fail because audiences fail to connect with the stories. “It was really important to find a way to make the movie feel contemporary,” says the director, who took some of his cues from NASCAR and Formula One races. “We’re living in the YouTube era of filmmaking.”
Ben Hur will be premiering August 19 and will be showing audiences a different feel from the 1959 version, which might be just what it needs to stand out.