New version of Ben-Hur to feature more Jesus?

Big news for Bible-movie buffs today. Deadline reports that the once-moribund MGM, now flush with cash from the billion-dollar successes of Skyfall and The Hobbit, is thinking of making a new adaptation of Lew Wallace’s 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ.

The film would be based on a script by Keith Clarke, whose only big-screen credit to date is the Peter Weir film The Way Back (2010) — and, according to Deadline, while the new film will of course focus on the rivalry between Judah Ben-Hur and his Roman ex-friend Messala, it will also place greater emphasis on the parallel story of Jesus than the famous Charlton Heston-starring 1959 adaptation did.

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Mary Goes to the Movies / How the mother of Jesus has been portrayed through a century of filmmaking.

Making a movie about Jesus is difficult enough. Anyone who would dramatize the life of Christ must strike a fine balance between his full humanity and his full divinity, and many filmmakers have erred on one side or the other. But at least the Scriptures give us ample data to work with, and at least there is broad agreement across church boundaries that Jesus was, and is, both divine and human.

But making a movie about Mary poses even thornier challenges. The Bible says little about her life, so dramatists who focus on her life — such as the writer and director of The Nativity Story, which opens Friday — must invent whole aspects of her story from scratch. Even more daunting, for filmmakers who want to reach as broad an audience as possible, is the fact that different churches have strongly different views on Mary.

Was she as fallible as any other human being? Or was she free from the stain of sin? Did she bear any other children? Or did she remain a virgin throughout her life? Should Jesus ever be shown correcting her, possibly even offending her? Or, as the mother of Jesus, should she offer him any guidance and possibly correct him?

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Review: Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (dir. Fred Niblo, 1925); Ben-Hur (dir. William Wyler, 1959)

General Lew Wallace had lived a colorful life of his own before his novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ was published in 1880. By then, he had defended Washington, D.C. from Confederates during the Civil War, served on the court-martial that tried Lincoln’s assassins, and, as Governor of New Mexico Territory, dealt with outlaws like Billy the Kid.

But what he really wanted to do was write — and so he wrote his novel about a Jewish prince who is betrayed by a Roman tribune during the time when Jesus lived. Ben-Hur was spurred by Wallace’s love of stories like The Count of Monte Cristo, but it was also motivated by an encounter with Robert Ingersoll, a famous agnostic who was passionately opposed to Christianity. Until that meeting, Wallace had been indifferent towards religion, but afterwards, he felt he needed to research Christianity for himself — and thus he became a believer.

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