|I'm betting on Morgan Freeman's hair for the win, Dick.|
I have always been a fan of big, cheesy films, none more than Biblical ones. Part of it was the time I grew up in – the days of “The Ten Commandments” and “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” Well, here comes the reboot of a classic – a new adaptation of Lew Wallace’s “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ,” written in 1880.
There have been six movie versions of the book including this new one, the most memorable being the 1959 William Wyler-directed monster starring Charlton Heston. This time, the director is Timur Bekmambetov, famous for his pair of dark-fantasy Russian epics “Night Watch” and “Day Watch.” The star is Jack Huston, grandson of director John.
Supposedly, Jesus figures big in this one. Way big. Producer Mark Burnett and friends, known for many Christian-oriented film and TV projects, are helming this one, and it seems we are going to get a blockbuster for Christ. In an interview, the director talks about this version being much more about forgiveness than revenge, but I couldn’t really see any forgiveness in the trailer, due to the massive amount of intervening REVENGE.
Here are some of the impressions I got from a look at the trailer:
1. We are in CGI Heaven. We see a battle scene, and not one element of it is real.
2. Sweaty bodies. Always OK in a Bible movie, if it indicates suffering.
3. Were the ancient Romans in the habit of using people they didn’t like as hood ornaments for their battering rams?
4. Oh, no. POV CGI.
5. Ben-Hur is adrift, floating on a mast after the battle. And the mast is in what shape? Johnny? That’s right. A cross. I guess you would call it a Christ-mast.
6. Morgan Freeman in the Hugh Griffith role! Wow. I dig his dreads, and of course he gets all the sonorous exposition in the film Good call.
7. Looks like there’s even a wit bit o’ sex.
8. And lots more Jesus!
9. And vengeance. Let’s face it, the most memorable scene in “Ben-Hur” is not everything working out at the end thanks to you-know-you (hint: rhymes with mee-sis) – it’s when one guy’s trying to kill another with a buckboard while they’re racing plimmety-bimmety around a big track, 27 horses flyin’ this way and that, fans getting horse snot and wore all over ‘em!
The new “Ben-Hur” will, I predict, be as deliciously awful as the recent “Noah” and “Exodus,” both of which I went to voluntarily and paid my own money to get into. I will do the same here. It’s the same ridiculous, hypocritical dynamic that drives all religious epics.
To make your money back, you have to show the vengeance. You have to get some sex in there, and the sinning – making sure to condemn by examining it in luxurious detail, the better to commit them to memory for future reference. It’s OK as long as the bad guys get it in the end – as graphically as possible, of course. Violence is fine as long as it metes out what is usually interpreted as God’s punishment and slakes the thirst for revenge.
Then, as in the book, after revenge is taken, the forgiveness can begin (and the vengeful Jew turns into the loving Christian, which ends up being the point of all this). The dialogue already sounds awful – a great, random mash-up of contemporary colloquialisms and pretentious pseudo-Scripture. Messala actually says during the chariot race, “Are we having fun yet, brother?” I can hardly wait!