Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Today's Bad Idea: MGM Reboots Ben-Hur

Stephen Boyd (L) and Charlton Heston (R) make goo-goo eyes at each other
For all the time I spent chronicling MGM's financial travails over the past several years, with the fates of both the James Bond and Hobbit franchises hanging in the balance as the once-mighty Lion got its fiscal house in order, it's amazing what a difference a few months makes. The unquestionable, multi-billion dollar successes of 007's latest, Skyfall, and Peter Jackson's first Hobbit flick in the last quarter of 2012 infused the studio with some much-needed green and allowed for the development of new brands of the non-Bond, non-Tolkien variety. 

An indication of just how high they're setting their sights came via yesterday's announcement of a big budget redo of quintessential Biblical epic Ben-Hur, based on the best-selling book (subtitled "A Tale of the Christ") by General Lew Wallace, the 1959 film version of which won 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director for William Wyler, and Best Actor for star Charlton Heston. For me, Wyler's Ben-Hur remains the very definition of "they don't make 'em like that anymore," so the fact that they're even trying doesn't exactly fill me with confidence. 

With its massive scale, sumptuous musical score, and three-and-a-half hour runtime, the '59 Ben-Hur famously saved MGM from insolvency upon its release, but I don't feel there's anything particularly lacking in it that would necessitate a remake. Tracking the titular character, a Jew during the Roman occupation of Judea, from his betrayal by a childhood friend (Stephen Boyd, instructed to imbue his scenes with Heston with lots of homoerotic undertones -- direction Heston absolutely didn't receive) to his eventual vengeance in a famed chariot race, Ben Hur is as compelling today as when it came out, so I don't see a lot of artistic need driving this other than the familiarity of the title. 

This biggest difference between the planned remake and the previous versions is that it would depict the story of Jesus in parallel to Ben-Hur's, presumably giving more context when the cross paths (as they do several times throughout, culminating in the crucifixion). The fact that Jesus sort of flits in-and-out of the Wyler version, his presence felt without him actually being a presence, is one of its most brilliant artistic feints, in my view, so I'm not crazy about them switching it up. Then again, the '59 version was itself a remake (of two silent films), and I've been proven wrong with previous remakes, so I guess I'm willing to wait, see, and judge not. Yet.

(Source: Deadline)

No comments: