Ben-Hur remake gets a rewrite, starts shooting in spring

From one 19th-century story about a free man forced into slavery to another…

Deadline reports that John Ridley, the screenwriter behind the much-buzzed Oscars contender 12 Years a Slave, has been hired to do a rewrite on MGM’s latest version of Ben-Hur, the 1880 Lew Wallace novel that the studio previously adapted in 1925 and 1959.

With Kazakh action specialist Timur Bekmambetov lined up to direct, Deadline says the studio plans to start casting “soon” and to start production “in the spring.”

Deadline also says the existing script is different from the 1959 film “in that it will tell the parallel tale of Jesus Christ, with whom Ben-Hur has several encounters which moves him to become a believer in the Messiah, and which culminates in Christ being sentenced to death by Pontius Pilate.” Those things weren’t entirely absent from the 1959 film, but it certainly downplayed them compared to the novel and the 1925 film.

So it will be interesting to see just what, exactly, the new film does with the more explicitly religious material, and whether that material truly fits into the overall drama or comes across like it was put there to pander to the “Passion dollars” audience.

It should also be noted that the projected start of production, in the spring, will probably be after Son of God and Noah have come out, and possibly after Exodus has finished principal photography — so it will be interesting to see if the perceived success or failure of those Bible-themed films has any effect on this one.

About Peter T. Chattaway

Peter T. Chattaway was the regular film critic for BC Christian News from 1992 to 2011. In addition to his award-winning film column for that paper, his news and opinion pieces have appeared in such publications as Books & Culture, Christianity Today, Bible Review and the Vancouver Sun. He has also contributed essays to the books Re-Viewing The Passion: Mel Gibson’s Film and Its Critics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), Scandalizing Jesus?: Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ Fifty Years on (Continuum, 2005) and The Bible in Motion: A Handbook of the Bible and Its Reception in Film (De Gruyter, 2016).

  • spokedbee

    Ah, the timing is right. I’ve just finished translating The Acts Of Ben Hur, and it should be in e-book form by summer, ’14.

    The thing is about 75% dialogue, so it reads more like a movie script than novel. Great story, too.

    Any takers?

  • spokedbee

    Btw, it’s a sequel…