Ben-Hur gets Mark Burnett, Roma Downey & a release date

Apparently the new Ben-Hur is such a big, big deal that it requires the talents of nearly everyone who has worked on a Bible epic in recent months.

Two days ago, it was revealed that the studio behind Noah was going to co-produce this film, which MGM has been developing for over a year now.

And today, it was announced that Son of God producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey have come on board the project too.

Is there a way to get any of the Exodus: Gods and Kings people involved, I wonder?

Even better, the film now has a release date — February 26, 2016 — according to both Deadline (which calls Burnett and Downey “Jesus Whisperers”, indicating perhaps that they have been brought on board not so much for their creative input as for their ability to sell films like this to the “faith-based” audience) and Variety.

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Paramount and MGM team up for the Ben-Hur remake

If there’s one studio that has consistently tried to revive the Bible epic since the genre died in the 1960s, it’s Paramount.

They were involved with Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ in the early 1980s, until protesters prompted them to pull the plug mere days before the film was supposed to start shooting.

They were the ones who produced King David, starring Richard Gere, in 1985.

And they were the ones who gave the green light to Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, which is now the second-highest-grossing Bible movie ever worldwide, behind Mel Gibson’s independently-produced The Passion of the Christ (2004).

So now, reports Variety, they are teaming up with MGM to co-produce the upcoming version of Ben-Hur, which will be directed by Timur Bekmambetov from a script by John Ridley, who recently won an Oscar for his work on 12 Years a Slave.

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Bible epics — the article’s up!

My latest article on the Bible-epic revival is now up at The Anglican Planet. The main impetus for the article is, of course, the three films coming out next year — Son of God, Noah and Exodus — though I also mention the planned remake of Ben-Hur. Among other things, I speculate as to possible reasons for the genre’s current revival (a delayed response to The Passion of the Christ? a surge of interest in ancient history and mythology?), and I offer a few tips on how Christian moviegoers should respond to it. Enjoy.

Bible epics are back on the silver screen

BIBLE EPICS are back, and coming soon to a theatre near you.

The genre – which was very popular in the silent era and then, again, during the post-war boom of the 1950s and early 1960s – never went away entirely. Low-budget films like The Last Temptation of Christ and The Passion of the Christ have offered radically different, even opposite, interpretations of the life and death of Jesus. And there has been a steady stream of Bible films on television going back to at least the 1970s.

But when Paramount Pictures releases Noah – starring Russell Crowe and rumoured to have cost over $125 million – in March, it will mark the first time that a big-budget live-action Bible epic has been made for the big screen since Richard Gere starred in King David back in 1985. (The Prince of Egypt, released in 1998, was also a major Hollywood production, but it was an animated film, and so arguably doesn’t quite belong in the same category.)

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Hercules the latest ancient epic to come out in early 2014

As a Bible-movie buff, I have paid quite a bit of attention at this blog to the three biblical stories that are hitting the big screen next year. But every now and then I like to take a step back and remember that these movies are part of an even broader trend involving ancient history and/or mythology.

Case in point: Summit Entertainment announced today that they have acquired distribution rights to Hercules: The Legend Begins and will release the film February 7. And that is only the first Hercules movies to come out next year, the other being a flick starring Dwayne “The RocK” Johnson that comes out July 25.

In addition to that, we also have the sequel to 300 coming out in the next few months, as well as a 3D movie about Pompeii. And this is all coming on the heels of recent Greco-Roman flicks like Clash of the Titans (2010), Immortals (2011) and Wrath of the Titans (2012), to say nothing of the Percy Jackson films (2010-2013), which are based on ancient Greek mythology but are set in the present day.

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How do you promote a Bible epic when you’re not religious?

Ridley Scott first revealed that he was making a life-of-Moses movie while promoting Prometheus last year. I’d been hoping that he would spill even more details about the film, now called Exodus, while promoting his latest film, The Counselor, but alas, that film didn’t get much of a promotional push (and it ended up having one of the worst opening weekends of Scott’s career).

A few tidbits about Exodus have trickled out, however. First, Scott told The New York Times: “I’m an atheist, which is actually good, because I’ve got to convince myself the story works.” And then, he told Empire magazine the film will be “fucking huge.”

Suffice it to say, this is not how Bible epics have generally been promoted in the past.

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