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Will MGM’s Return to ‘Ben-Hur’ Stand Up to the Oscar Winner?

Will MGM's Return to 'Ben-Hur' Stand Up to the Oscar Winner?

If you’ve never seen MGM’s celebrated 1959 “Ben-Hur,” starring Charlton Heston and an astonishing chariot race–remember, effects were special back then, not CGI –you’re in for a treat. The winner of 11 Oscars still holds up. And after HBO’s “Rome” and Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator” (let’s forget holiday flop “Exodus,” shall we?) and the VFX toolkits available today, it’s easy to see why a reboot is tempting.

Luckily, MGM and partner Paramount have signed up a visually sophisticated director adept at rip-roaring action and VFX (see “Night Watch” and “Wanted”): Moscow-based director Timur Bekmambetov. “Boardwalk Empire” and “American Hustle” star Jack Huston is beefing up to take on the Heston role of Judah Ben-Hur, and principal photography on the new “Ben-Hur” (February 26, 2016) has begun in Rome and Matera, Italy. 

Also starring are Morgan Freeman as Ilderim, Toby Kebbell  (“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”) as Messala Nazanin Boniadi (“Homeland”) as Esther and Rodrigo Santoro (“300: Rise of an Empire”) as Jesus Christ. Writers Keith Clarke (“The Way Back”) and John Ridley (“12 Years a Slave”) went back to Lew Wallace’s epic novel “Ben-Hur: A Tale of The Christ” to tell the story of a falsely imprisoned nobleman who after years of slavery seeks to wreak revenge on his best friend and betrayer. 

Producers are Sean Daniel (“The Mummy” franchise), Mark Burnett (Bible epic “Son of God”), Joni Levin (“The Way Back”) and Duncan Henderson (“Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World”). The creative team includes Director of Photography Oliver Wood, Production Designer Naomi Shohan, Costume Designer Varvava Avdyushko, Visual Effects Supervisor Jim Rygiel and Special Effects Supervisor Andy Williams.

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tulse Luper, Jr

Har de har har har! Thinks not!


And it was LEW Wallace, not Lee. (A historical figure who was also Governor of New Mexico and memorably played in that capacity by Jason Robards in Sam Peckinpah’s PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID.)


Actually, it was Fred Niblo, not Frank, and it was the second version; the first was made in 1907. The reason the chariot race in the ’59 version works so well is that it was made with real stunt people, real horses, and real extras in the stands. No CGI equivalent will stand up to it, just as EXODUS’ parting of the Red Sea was a yawn compared to DeMille’s.

The Pope

Dear Anne,
I don’t wish to be picky but the 1959 version of Ben-Hur was not the original. Frank Niblo was the first to adapt Lee Wallace’s novel, way back in 1925.

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