Preview: Ben Hur

2016’s Ben Hur is set to join the ever-growing list of imminent re-makes this August, but what is it likely to bring to the party? Previous 1925 and 1959 versions of the film, both based on the 1880 novel Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ, just as the 2016 version is, mean this narrative is a road well-travelled. The fact it’s been 57 years since the last cinematic telling of the story of Ben Hur means this remake has a lot of potential to modernise the story and tell it in a new way, more so for example than the planned remakes and adaptations of The Magnificent Seven, The BFG, Tarzan or Ghostbusters. The question remains though: is the film going to be a memorable epic or a damp squib?

Morgan Freeman’s character tells us in a very clichéd moment of the trailer- “There is a way… In the arena, there is now law”.

The basic premise is this- Ben Hur (Jack Huston) is framed and betrayed by his adoptive brother (Toby Kebbell) a Roman Centurion who has his wife and children crucified. Hur is then enslaved for five years on a Roman war-galley before a shipwreck grants him his freedom and begins his pursuit of his brother Messala. As a Roman military officer Messala is not very accessible to an ex-slave, but as Morgan Freeman’s character tells us in a very clichéd moment of the trailer- “There is a way… In the arena, there is now law”. Insisting he find a way to compete in a chariot race with Messala to have his revenge. Sounds like Gladiator on wheels- right? Despite being based on its own source material Ben Hur in some ways looks like a cheap copy of the Ridley Scott classic, the film throws in a few encounters with Jesus of Nazareth in a desperate bid to differentiate itself though. This angle is reportedly more prominent in the 2016 version than the previous iterations of the film.

Though it has the same betrayal-to slavery-to redemption journey, don’t expect this film to be comparable with Gladiator.

Timur Bekmambetov takes the helm as director and it’s worth remembering that the last film he directed was 2012’s widely criticised Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (rated 35% on Rotten Tomatoes). Bekmambetov’s vampire romp, despite its ridiculous premise and strange plot, did have some enjoyable factors. The action, though often implausible, was simply good fun and there was a genuine, notable atmosphere created around the story’s vampires, in places at least. Expectation should predict something similar in Ben Hur, initial impressions include clichéd and predictable plotlines interspersed with promising action scenes. Though it has the same betrayal-to slavery-to redemption journey, don’t expect this film to be comparable with Gladiator.  Comparison with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter looks more realistic, albeit with the added appeal of Morgan Freeman.

Overall, expect good fun and nothing more. The film promises some redeeming factors in the form of interesting actions sequences, Morgan Freeman and a good writer- John Ridley, who also wrote 12 Years a Slave. However the directors track record, the films remake status and the feel of the trailer point to something quite simplistic.

By George Storr

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