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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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