MGM has hired Russian director Timur Bekmambetov to helm their new version of the classic Ben Hur. Already filmed by the studio twice, first in 1925 with Ramon Novarro and then again in 1959 starring Charlton Heston, the studio is hoping that they will be able to catch lightening in a bottle a third time.
Bekmambetov is an interesting choice. The director first popped onto the scene with his adaptation of the Russian supernatural action novel Night Watch and its sequel Day Watch, with its highly stylized fast pace attracting the attention of genre fans. He hasn’t yet had quite the breakout success that some have been predicting for him with his past two English language films – the comic book adaptation Wanted and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. He may seem like an odd choice, but I guarantee he’ll deliver a chariot race sequence that will leave us breathless.
The studio bought this new adaptation of Lew Wallace’s classic 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale Of The Christ as a spec script from The Way Back writer Keith Clarke back in January. Reportedly, this new version will focus 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 points out that this now gives MGM an entry in the upcoming race of Bible-themed films to theaters over the next few years. Other players will include Paramount’s Darren Aronofsky-directed Noah with Russell Crowe, and Ridley Scott’s take on Exodus, starring Christian Bale as Moses with Joel Edgerton, Ben Kingsley, Sigourney Weaver, John Turturro and Aaron Paul. Meanwhile, Twenieth Century Fox is in the process of trimming down its recent popular miniseries The Bible into the movie-length version Son Of God.