More often than not, remaking a movie is an odd proposition. No matter what one does, there will always be the inevitable comparison to the original film – good or bad. It’s even more daunting when the remake is of an established classic and considered one of the greatest movies of all time. So it is true with the new remake of Ben-Hur. The shadow of the 1959 film, which starred the legendary Charlton Heston, is all over this new take before one frame of film is shot.
From the moment I heard about this remake, I thought it was an odd idea. Ben-Hur is not just any film. While it does have its flaws, it is a monstrous epic filled with iconic images and profound ideas. Then I heard about the people involved, specifically executive producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey – the husband/wife team that brought The Bible and A.D. miniseries to TV and Son of God to the big screen. Not exactly comparable experience to take on William Wyler’s epic. That and the man picked to helm the project, Timur Bekmambetov, didn’t exactly thrill me, given that his body of mainstream work has never really sparked any interest at all in me (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Wanted).
However, much to my surprise, I enjoyed this take on Ben-Hur. This is a completely different take on the material stylistically, and that’s okay. It’s a 21st century version of the story – more gritty and realistic that previous incarnations, and visually appealing to today’s mainstream audiences. There is very little of the schmaltz and unprofessionalism found in the other “Christian” cinema to which the filmmakers are attached, following in the same vein as last year’s Captive and this year’s Risen.
It’s not entirely fair to compare the 2016 and 1959 versions of Ben-Hur. They are different films made for different eras. Still, this film does fill in some of the holes that have always bothered me about the 1959 film (I’ll wait a moment for everyone to fall out of their seat in shock). I both like and dislike the two films for very different reasons.
The story of Ben-Hur is one of the most famous pieces of Biblical fiction. Jesus is not the main character, but His words and philosophy form the backbone of the narrative, providing a wonderful parallel parable for His teachings. It reflects Jesus’ most basic command – to love one another and forgive those who have wronged us.