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Although Ben Hur is seen as a remake of a remake, director Timur Bekmambetov says his version goes back to the source – Lew Wallace’s 1880 novel. The 2016 version is more historically accurate than its predecessors and challenged the remakes with an epic chariot race.

“We were trying to reconstruct how it was in Jerusalem’s Circus Maximus [chariot-racing stadium] 2,000 years ago,” says the 55-year-old Russian. His inspiration: Formula 1 races and YouTube clips.

Bekmambetov wanted to create a different energy for his take on the tale. “With Formula 1 cars you have a camera inside the car, it’s vibrating, and that shaky footage makes you feel like you’re actually inside it.”

He wanted to capture every moment on screen to catch every spontaneous moment, a sense of events being just about caught on camera. “Mistakes make a shot look real,” he says.

The “mistakes,” of course, were precisely planned and executed – the set, which was built just outside of Rome, was 300 meters long, and a chariot race that took 45 days to film.

The crew used CGI as minimal as possible, mostly the shots that would have put the animals in danger. Still, the sequence involved 32 horses galloping around together simultaneously, so nothing could be left to chance.

“There was no room for improvisation,” he says. “In the original 1925 film there was an accident and some horses, and a person, died.  We tried to avoid that!”

Here’s how they created that different spontaneous energy.

  • Horse – mounted cameras – To give the scene more energy they attached GoPros to the horses’ heads.
  • Drone Filming – Before launching UAV cameras on set, the horses were trained to become used to the constant buzzing.
  • The chariots – He wanted to make the more realistic, which made it more dangerous, there were no railings – you were really exposed.

Ben Hur is now playing in theaters.  Be sure to check out the Ben-Hur movie auctions at www.benhurauctions.com.