Ben-Hur news round-up: The world premiere in Mexico City, a 360° video of the chariot race, and some Xbox reviews

Ben-Hur news round-up: The world premiere in Mexico City, a 360° video of the chariot race, and some Xbox reviews August 11, 2016

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Ben-Hur opens next week, and more and more news stories are rolling in.

The film had its world premiere in Mexico on Tuesday night (see the videos below).

The studio released a second clip from the chariot race, as well as a brief featurette on Morgan Freeman’s performance as Ilderim and a 22-minute making-of video.

The film is now rated 12A in the UK, PG in Ontario and 14A in British Columbia.

The film is only 125 minutes long — the shortest live-action version of this story since the original short film came out in 1907. The 1925 film runs 143 minutes, the 1959 film runs 212 minutes, and the 2010 miniseries runs 180 minutes without commercials.

Variety has a detailed story on the making and marketing of the film:

“After the summer we’ve had, you can’t take anything for granted,” says Paramount’s worldwide marketing chief Megan Colligan, referring to a crowded landscape littered with costly flops. That may explain why the studio had spent only 4% of its “Ben-Hur” marketing budget by the time “Star Trek Beyond” opened, despite delaying the originally scheduled February release. “We did some early testing, which revealed that there were people who thought they knew ‘Ben-Hur,’ but when you asked them further questions, you realized they were confusing it with ‘The Ten Commandments,’” Colligan says.

Personally inspired by the passing of Nelson Mandela in 2013, screenwriter Keith Clarke went looking for a story with a message of truth and reconciliation, and latched onto Civil War general Lew Wallace’s 1880 novel, “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ,” which he adapted on spec. As Clarke puts it, “It’s the story of three men at the crossroads of history. One chooses power and greed, one chooses revenge, and one chooses the path of peace and forgiveness. Only one survives.”

Incidentally, the three men are Messala, Judah, and Jesus. Guess who survives.

The Wall Street Journal has a story (and a video) on the making of the chariot race:

The filmmakers planted GoPro cameras on chariots and people. “We had a camera on a soccer ball, sort of sitting in the middle of the track while the horses run over it,” says Jonathan Glickman, president of MGM’s film division. “This film, with all the emotion, really had the structure of a sports film, an underdog sports movie.” . . .

The race scene in 2016 runs about 10 minutes, almost exactly the same as in the prior films, though it comes closer to the end of the movie this time. . . .

Jonathan Stamp, a historian who had consulted on the HBO/BBC series “Rome,” advised on chariot design. The chariots in the 1959 film were unrealistically ornate.

“The previous movie was made in the time of Cadillacs,” Mr. Bekmambetov says. Here, they’re no frills and built for speed. “It’s like a bench with wheels, It took time for our stunt guys and actors to learn to drive them. You’re not really protected and you need to figure out how to balance.”

Deutsche Welle got a soundbite from producer Sean Daniel:

“Our ‘Ben Hur’ should not be seen as a remake of Wyler’s film, but as a new film adaptation of the 1880 novel by Lew Wallace,” explained producer Sean Daniel, “Co-screenwriter John Ridley has focused on family relations and the power of faith and, in particularly, reconciliation. The original, on the other hand, focused on revenge.”

Esquire spoke to Jack Huston, who plays Judah Ben-Hur:

“We shot at Cinecittà Studios in Rome,” he says. “My granddad shot a couple movies there.” Huston also discovered that some of the crew were related to crewmembers from the original production. “There were guys telling me stories about their fathers working on the last one.” . . .

Before bounding out of the lobby to see an early cut of The Yellow Birds just up the street, he reveals that he’s already screened Ben-Hur twice. Actors tend to downplay their excitement, thinking it’s professional to do so. But Huston, refreshingly, can’t contain his. “It’s mad,” he says of the film. “It’s amazing. Like, it’s a proper, proper, proper movie, man. I was like, ‘This. Is. Why. We. Make. Movies. This is what gets me jazzed.’ ”

Various Philippine outlets have posted this story on Rodrigo Santoro, who plays Jesus:

“As soon as I met Rodrigo, it was clear he was the right actor,” recalls Bekmambetov. “He has a God-given talent – Rodrigo can play this spiritual figure while still coming across as the boy next door.”

“Rodrigo was a perfect choice to play Jesus,” comments producer Roma Downey. “He’s got strength, kindness and depth.” . . .

Santoro undertook a physical and mental regime to prepare for the role. He spent a lot of time practicing yoga, meditation, and adopted a strict, cleansing diet.

“I tried to connect to what I truly felt about this man because I had to play Jesus,” Santoro continues. “How do I understand, as deeply as possible, this person and everything he represents? I wanted to create a portrait of the man behind the myth. I wanted to make him relatable without sacrificing any of his teachings, his aura, his spirituality and everything that was so unique about him. It was the most challenging thing I have ever done.”

The Gospel Herald spoke to executive producer Roma Downey:

Downey explains the significance of this subtle scene, “I think for so many of us Christians, there have been so many opportunities where we have stood in front of the cross, and we have dropped the stones, the stone of disappointment, stone of anger, stone of bitterness, whatever the stone is that each of us might be carrying in our lives there is always a chance to kneel in front of the cross and let that go.”

100 Huntley Street in Toronto interviewed Downey via Skype:

Sway’s Universe interviewed Huston (warning: a bit of NSFW language):

The Talk also interviewed Huston:

Downey took part in a 44-minute Spanish webcast just a few hours before the film’s premiere in Mexico City, along with Marcos Witt and Wilfredo De Jesus:

The Associated Press spoke to Morgan Freeman and Jack Huston on the red carpet:

The film’s Facebook page live-streamed the Mexico premiere (it doesn’t get started until the 16-minute mark, and the first interview is at the 50-minute mark):

Roma Downey will get her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 11:30am today:

Paramount posted a 360° video of the chariot race (who’s holding the reins!?):

Paramount posted a behind-the-scenes featurette on Andra Day’s music video:

And finally, Paramount released a free Xbox game based on the film’s chariot race — and a lot of game sites have called it “bad”, “advergame rubbish” and “a shoddy movie tie-in that’s technically functional but in no way good”. Your mileage may vary.

Check out earlier trailers and other videos here:

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