Appropriately enough, MGM has emerged from its financial woes with a lion’s roar. The James Bond adventure Skyfall has already brought in over $1 billion at the box office and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is rapidly approaching the $900 million mark. It seems that those twin successes have given the studio the courage to get a few more high profile projects into the pipeline, one of which will be a new version of Lew Wallace’s 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale Of The Christ.
Already filmed by the studio twice, first in 1925 with Ramon Novarro and then again in 1959 starring Charlton Heston, Deadline is reporting that the studio is buying a spec script from The Way Back scripter Keith Clarke that focuses more on a segment of the novel that was skimmed over in the previous two versions. Where the previous films dwelt on the adult rivalry between Jewish prince-turned-slave Judah Ben-Hur and his childhood friend Messala, the film is reportedly much closer to the tale told in Wallace’s novel and touches more on Judah and Messala’s early friendship and how it was shattered, leaving Judah a slave. Deadline also stated that the film will feature more of the parallel between Judah’s life and the life of Jesus.
With a RoboCop remake making its way through post-production right now, it would be easy to accuse MGM of raiding its own vaults for more material, but the novel has been in the public domain for a while.
This new version of Ben Hur joins a handful of other projects that the studio is developing that have roots in classic literature including The Count Of Monte Cristo and Hercules. It also joins the growing list of Bible-related projects being developed around Hollywood including Darren Aronofsky’s forthcoming Noah, the two Moses screenplays that Steven Spielberg and Ridley Scott are said to be interested in and Pontius Pilate, which has Brad Pitt attached to at Warner Brothers.
Both previous versions of the book are considered classics in their own right, but is the studio pushing their luck by hoping that lightening will strike a third time?