Upcoming Flix Spotlight: Ben-Hur TV Miniseries

I was just reading this Kristin Kreuk interview about her stint on NBC’s Chuck when she revealed a piece of info that hit me out of left field. Apparently a Ben-Hur TV remake is in the works and might be arriving in time for Easter (read my updated post). Why I haven’t heard about this until now is beyond me, as the 1959 Ben-Hur is easily one of my top five favorite classic movies of all time!

So my first reaction upon hearing this is: “Noooo!!! Don’t they have enough remakes in Hollywood?! Why can’t they just leave this grandeur epic well enough alone?!” And what’s with the 300-style poster here, since when is Ben Hur a bad-ass warrior? Last I checked he was a Jewish prince who’s betrayed and sent into slavery by his Roman friend-turned-nemesis Messala. In any case, I actually just learned that William Wyler’s epic is actually also a remake, too, it was based of the the 1925 silent version of Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ. Obviously it’s one of the most successful remakes out there that clearly outdid the original. A very rare occasion indeed in the recycling bin that is Hollywood, as remakes usually equals dud. Last year ABC tried to do a similar miniseries-style remake of The Ten Commandments and it was nothing compared to the original, so why on earth would that same network think they can do justice to the mighty Ben-Hur??  Since tonight’s the eve of Oscar nomination announcement, it’s fitting to mention that in 1959, it won a record of 11 Oscars out of 12 nominations, which was later matched by Titanic (1997) and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2004). But Ben-Hur still remains the only one of the three with acting honors, one for Best Actor (Charlton Heston) and Best Supporting Actor (Hugh Griffith). With that said, I’m going to have to lower my expectation on this movie on all accounts, though I can’t deny the fact that I’m pretty curious about it nonetheless.

According to the TV Squad, the miniseries is produced by the late director Wyler’s own son David, with the budget of around $30 million. “… [the] production will be more faithful to the original Lew Wallace novel, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, which was written in 1880. It’s the story of Judah Ben-Hur, a Jewish prince who’s betrayed by his Roman best friend and forced into slavery. He later saves the life of his captor and is rewarded with his freedom. He resumes his former life, but is bitter. In time, he is converted along with many others to the ways of new prophet, Jesus Christ. “We’ve got a joke that this is the family business,” Wyler said as a news conference in Cannes. “In my mind this is dedicated to my dad and Chuck (Heston). We think it’s a great way to keep his memory alive.”

Joseph Morgan as Ben Hur

Unlike his father’s version, they’re casting a younger actor to play Ben Hur. Twenty-something Wales actor Joseph Morgan (who had a small role in the dreadful Alexander) nabbed the title role, compared to Heston who was in his 30s at the time. I’ve never heard of this guy before, though he looks a bit like young Mr. Heston in appearance, it remains to be seen if he’s got the charisma that the role requires. The most prominent actor of this production is Ray Winstone – who’s recently seen in Edge of Darkness and 44 Inch Chest – as Quintus Arius; whilst Hugh Bonneville (Notting Hill) whom I’m used to seeing in comedic roles will play against type as Pontius Pilate. TV actresses Alex Kingston (ER) and Kristin Kreuk (Smallville) play Judah’s mother and sister, respectively. Per Variety, HBO’s Rome director Steve Shill will helm the project based on the script penned by Rob Roy‘s screenwriter Alan Sharp (who last I heard was going to work on the Rabbie Burns’ biopic with Gerard Butler). Shooting had begun since last May in Spain, Morocco and Canada. You can see some set photos here.

It’s worth noting that David Wyler is apparently fond of Ridley Scott’s Gladiator which no doubt resurrected the swords & sandals genre with its massive success, “It’s been 50 years since my father’s version, and we think we can bring something new and contemporary to it in the same way that ‘Gladiator’ did for that genre.” Now a half a century later we certainly have all the technology to easily recreate the famous chariot race scene. I share the same sentiment with the TV Squad writer that all that CGI ability doesn’t necessarily mean they can make it better. In fact, forget about topping that one, I challenge the filmmakers to simply match the breathtaking spectacle of the chariots race in the pre-CGI era. Even today, with all the 3D stuff all around us, watching this very scene still makes my jaw drop like few modern scenes could. Judging from the still photo on the right, I’m afraid they’d also mess up another crucial scene where Ben Hur met Jesus when he almost died of thirst. What made that part so heart-wrenching and powerful was the fact that the face of Jesus was not shown, but we felt His significant presence from the almost hypnotic reaction of both Judah and the Roman soldier. It’s such a tremendous scene and definitely a daunting one to replicate.

Anyway, for what it’s worth, you can judge for yourself from the trailer below.

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I’ll probably watch it just out of curiosity sake, but my gut says what it’ll do is compel me to reach my dvd shelf and re-watch the Heston version once again.