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.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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.

10 thoughts on “Upcoming Flix Spotlight: Ben-Hur TV Miniseries

  1. PrairieGirl

    Agree wholeheartedly, doubt very much they’ll be able to best, or even match the 1959 BH. But for all the younger generations at least it being on TV will expose them to a tremendous story they otherwise might not ever see.

  2. You’ve got a point there. Perhaps that’ll intrigue them to see the Charlton Heston’s version, which stands as one of the greatest movie ever filmed IMO… perhaps the ‘Avatar’ of its generation.

  3. Luke Sharpe

    Just watched the first part [I] on CBC last night. It left me feeling empty and bored.

    As to the B-rate actors in this retread flick, they are in danger of descending to C.

    I shan’t tune in for part II, even though I won’t have to strain to hear Ray Winstone any more. His voice was pitiful.

    As to young Ben, played by ??? [ Oh yes I looked it up: Joseph Morgan ] hmmm, I will likely not remember him after tomorrow.

    Good thing “Chuck” Heston has passed on so he didn’t have to comment on this disgrace.

    1. Hey thanks for sharing your view on it, Luke. I was dreading that, but sounds like it’s even worse than I thought! What part does Winstone play? For sure Joseph Morgan doesn’t have nearly the same gravitas as Mr. Heston, so yeah, it’s a good thing he doesn’t have to see this. I mean ‘younger & sexier’ shouldn’t be what they aim for, try good & honorable! I wonder what David Wyler’s dad think of this, he can’t be well pleased.

  4. Brian

    I watched Part I on CBC and I enjoyed it a lot. I thought the screenplay was intelligent and largely free of all those Latinate sentences that ruin most costume epics. I found Morgan as Ben Hur quite believable and cannot wait for the second part this Sunday night.

    1. Hey thanks for stopping by and sharing your view. I really hope to see this come to the US so I can properly review it. So far what I’ve been hearing is negative, perhaps because a Ben Hur remake does have huge shoes to fill as the 1959 one was so grand and revered. Please do let me know what you think of the conclusion of the series, especially the chariot scene!

  5. Emily

    I’m really excited to see this miniseries, although I know it won’t be as good as the original (when is anything as good as the original, really?), but I missed the first part that aired on April 4th, so I’ll just have to catch up with Part 2.
    I think that the good thing about this is that it can introduce this amazing story to a younger generation, which happens to be my generation.
    I’ll be sure to come back with my review after watching Part 2. By the way, thanks for talking about it, because it seems like I can’t find any news at all about it.

    1. Hi Emily, thanks for dropping by. You’re right that even if it doesn’t live up to the original — especially when it’s such a masterpiece — Ben Hur is such a compelling story that’s definitely worth to be retold. Yes, please do stop by again and let me know what you think. I wish I could see it for myself but I’m not even sure when we can see it in the US.

  6. Troy

    I think some of you are being too harsh.

    I thought that all the actors did a decent job in this movie, and that they provided an interesting change to the ending of the original.

    Joseph Morgan is solid as Ben-Hur, and there are good supporting performances from James Faulkner, Ben Cross, and Art Malik.

    These are not B-actors.

  7. Pingback: Tévé-idő – Ben Hur 4X | valmadi

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