Timur Bekmambetov Directing a 'Ben-Hur' Remake? Sounds about Right

Charlton Heston in Ben-Hur
Charlton Heston in Ben-Hur
Photo: MGM

When William Wyler directed Ben-Hur in the late 1950s, and before it went on to win 11 Oscars, including Best Picture, I wonder what the target audience was? Now, 55 years later, Paramount and MGM are readying a remake with a screenplay written by John Ridley (12 Years a Slave) and Keith Clarke (The Way Back) for Timur Bekmambetov (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) set to direct. Who is the target audience this time and is it the same as it was back in 1959?

Based on the 1880 novel "Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ" written by Lew Wallace, the story follows a falsely accused nobleman who survives years of slavery to take vengeance on his best friend who betrayed him. Charlton Heston led the original film and won the Best Actor Oscar for it.

Now when it comes to the question of the target audience, I think it's quite clear with the decision to hire Bekmambetov that we're looking at a film targeting the young male demographic, while I look at Wyler's feature as more of an adult-driven drama with aspects that could also appeal to younger audiences, much in the same way films such as Braveheart and Gladiator found wider audiences. Does Bekmambetov have the chops to reach such an audience? I have my doubts.

A lot of people are now attempting to spin my story (see the comments here) about how the critical and box office failure of Transcendence is just an example of how deciding not to support a more ambitious, high-minded feature will only encourage studios to simplify things for an audience that would otherwise avoid something like Wyler's Ben-Hur, preferring the safety of movies where they know what to expect. The hiring of Bekmambetov for this job is a perfect example of how major studios will begin to proceed in the future.

It's no mistake the Variety article announcing the project mentions the other teaming of Paramount and MGM on the Brett Ratner-directed Hercules feature. I expect this Ben-Hur remake will be along the same lines, loaded with copious amounts of thundering violence landing with a dull thud and simplified political intrigue.

Am I saying there isn't room for both adult-targeted features and mass-audience epic actioners? No, I want to see one as much as I do the other. However, this is a clear sign that things are now working opposite of the way they have in the past. Instead of making an adult-targeted epic and hoping it will also appeal to wide audiences, it's the mass audiences that are targeted first and the hope is enough of the adult audience will show up to push it over the top.

Again, I'm not saying this movie will be bad, I'm one of the few that even found entertainment in Bekmambetov's ridiculous Vampire Hunter movie (he throws a cow!). I'm merely saying this is an example of the way things have changed and may change even more in the future to the point one film runs into another with very little to tell each apart outside of the title and the direction the sparks are flying in the fiery, blue-and-orange tinged theatrical posters.

  • Kingsley_Zissou

    What am I spinning exactly?

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Winchester/ Winchester

    Drat, it's times like this I wish I had instant recall. I just watched 'Ben-Hur' on Monday as well but I did it without the commentary from a film historian I can't remember the name of just now.

    Anyway, while there's almost no way any remake today would match Wyler's epic (and probably strip out the religious elements which essentially makes 'Gladiator' already a partial remake as it has a similar story underneath - so why not just watch 'Gladiator'?) the commentary does delve into some of the business reasons 'Ben-Hur' was made and it's actually a very good commentary from recollection but one of the reasons was that apparently in the 50's cinema attendance was being hit by TV as it was new and taking away a lot of audiences from cinemas.

    So, to try and cut a long story short, 'Ben-Hur' was made, and it was made as expensively and lavishly as possible to give people a spectacle that would get them away from small black and white TV screens and back into cinemas to see something that just HAD to be seen on a big screen in blazing colour. I think there were some other angles as well and I would really need to go back to the commentary but the target demo for the original film was probably everybody. Whereas a remake probably will skew younger.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/RonOnealFresh/ Ron Oneal Fresh

    This is going to be a 70-100 million dollar movie released in early-to-mid March with a bunch of PG-13 violence with it's pathetic CGI blood and quick cuts.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com Mr_Mercury

    Wow... I can see the PG-13 rating and bloodless violence already. The
    only thing that gives me a little hope is that John Ridley might have
    written an interesting screenplay. They should just do a re-release of
    the original to theaters.

  • RBBrittain

    How did Paramount & modern-day MGM get the rights to Ben-Hur? IIRC, the remake rights to most pre-1986 MGM film properties ended up at WB along with the Turner library, though there are exceptions (i.e., Fame stayed at MGM because the TV series was still in production in 1986; MGM still owns most of its TV properties).

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/filmchat Peter T Chattaway

      The novel was published in 1880. It's been in the public domain for a while now.

  • KEN

    original film? i thought wyler/heston version was the third movie based on the same book?