"Brother against brother. Slave against empire." This is Ben-Hur. This historical epic film directed by Timur Bekmambetov, adapted by Keith Clarke and John Ridley, and based on the 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace. It is the fifth film adaptation, following the 1907 silent short film, the 1925 silent film, the Academy Award-winning 1959 film and the 2003 animated film of the same name. Judah Ben-Hur, a nobleman, is sentenced to years of slavery after being accused of treason by his adopted brother, Messala. However, he returns to seek revenge by competing with him in a race.
In 2013, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer acquired Clarke's script, an adaptation of Wallace's 1880 novel. In April 2014, Paramount Pictures and MGM announced that they would co-produce a new version of Ben-Hur. After MGM's global success of Skyfall and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and Paramount's modest success of Noah, they hired John Ridley to rewrite Clarke's script. It was announced that the new film would differ from the 1959 version, and deal with the formative relationships of Ben-Hur and Messala growing up as best friends. In September 2013, Timur Bekmambetov was hired to helm the film. Bekmambetov was initially reluctant to direct and did not wish to tackle a film whose predecessor had so much impact. After producer Sean Daniel persuaded him to read the script, he ultimately accepted. Unlike the previous adaptations, Bekmambetov felt the need to make a very different version. As a result, he decided to make a realistic drama film rather than a large tent-pole attraction. The director did not set out to make a more stylized version of the past, as he did with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter; he wanted to make a film that was more grounded and tangible. Producer Mark Burnett stated that the film needed to feel like epic summer blockbusters in order to attract younger and secular audiences. He explained that part of what caused the immensity of the budget – $100 million – are the special effects and the 3D experience that young audiences are expecting. MGM financed 80% of the production costs, while the remaining 20% were covered by Paramount. Tom Hiddleston was originally considered for the title role. Ultimately, Jack Huston was cast. By early February, Toby Kebbell, Morgan Freeman, Nazanin Boniadi, Rodrigo Santoro, Sofia Black-D'Elia, Ayelet Zurer, Pilou Asbæk, and James Cosmo rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and took place at the Cinecittà Studios in Rome, Italy, as well as Matera. In October, the film's release date was pushed back to August 12, 2016 from its initial February 26, 2016.
The performances given by the cast did anything but bolster and justify this cinematic travesty.
Simon says Ben-Hur (2016) receives:
Also, see my review for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.