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Photo of the chariot race in the new 2016 version of Ben-Hur

Posted: 13 July 2016

One of the most famous movies in history, Ben-Hur, has been remade and is due for worldwide release in September. Based on the 1880 novel by Lew Wallace, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, the new film re-imagines the novel for the big screen, although it will inevitably be compared with the 1959 epic movie starring Charlton Heston, which won 11 Academy awards.

The movie tells the story of Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston), a Jewish prince accused of insurrection against the Romans by his adopted brother Messala (Toby Kebbell), an officer serving under Pontius Pilate. Judah becomes a slave on a Roman galley, but eventually triumphs in a chariot race with Messala, a sequence which is ‘truly the crown jewel of the film,’ according to Timur Bekmambetov, the director. His life is changed by a series of encounters with Jesus (Rodrigo Santoro), culminating in the crucifixion.

The movie also stars Morgan Freeman, although not on this occasion in the role of God.

Two trailers have been released for Ben-Hur (here and here), and movie pundits have noted that more screen time is given to Jesus than in the 1959 movie. Jesus offers a cup of water to Judah when Judah has been arrested and is being dragged through the streets. And that scene is played in reverse on the way to Jesus’s crucifixion, as Judah attempts to rescue Jesus. Jesus stops him, saying, ’My life, I give it of my own free will.’

Jesus in the 2016 version of Ben-Hur

One commentator notes: ‘While Jesus’ role in the 1959 movie was small, this trailer definitely makes it clear he’ll have a bigger presence in the new version of the story.’

Says Jack Huston, who plays Judah: ’There’s something really beautiful about it, especially in the current climate of the world, about different religions and people being at odds against each other. How do we find our way out of this, how do we forgive, how do we forget, how do we move on, how should we treat our fellow human?’

The new movie hopes to match its 1959 forebear in the chariot race. The sequence was apparently shot live, on a 1,000 foot racetrack at 40 miles per hour. ‘We decided very early on that every time you see us with those horses, that’s us with those horses,’ says Jack Huston, who spent 10 weeks learning to drive replica Roman chariots in Italy. Most of the stunts seen on screen are actual live stunts, rather than CGI.

The 7 September (UK) release will reveal whether Ben-Hur, like its 1959 predecessor, is a movie of biblical proportions.

Resources

Discussion and activity guides – Damaris Media is offering free official community resources for Ben-Hur, including discussion and activity guides for churches and youth groups

Ben-Hur novel – The official tie-in novel has been adapted from the 19th century original by Carol Wallace, the great-great-granddaughter of the author Lew Wallace

Ben-Hur official UK site

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Photos at the top of this column by:
Taro Taylor and Jon Sullivan