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.