After Exodus: Gods And Kings flopped in the US ($64.6 million on a $140 million budget, though it did earn $194 million internationally) and sucked, it was reasonable to wonder whether it had poisoned the waters for all the future Bible epics Hollywood had planned. Today, we learned that at the least, it didn’t kill Ben-Hur, Paramount and MGM’s epic remake being directed by Wanted director Timur Bekmambetov. Ben-Hur began principal photography today, and it says a lot about Exodus that a film from the director of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter sounds potentially less bad.
…starring Jack Huston (“AMERICAN HUSTLE”) as Judah Ben-Hur, Morgan Freeman (“THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION”) as Ilderim, Toby Kebbell (“DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES”) as Messala and Nazanin Boniadi (“HOMELAND”) as Esther.
“BEN-HUR” also stars Rodrigo Santoro (“300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE”) as Jesus Christ, Sofia Black D’Elia (“GOSSIP GIRL”) as Tirzah, Ayelet Zurer (“MAN OF STEEL”) as Naomi, Moises Arias (“ENDER’S GAME”) as Gestas and Pilou Asbæk (“LUCY”) as Pontius Pilate.
Directed by Timur Bekmambetov (“WANTED”) and written by Keith Clarke (“THE WAY BACK”) and John Ridley (“12 YEARS A SLAVE”), the film is based on Lew Wallace’s epic novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of The Christ.
I like to imagine John Ridley sitting at his desk, a pile of treatments stacked on top of it, silently rubbing his temples. “Can’t you find me anything not about slaves?!” He screams into the phone.
The film returns to the heart of Lew Wallace’s epic novel focusing on the nature of faith. The story follows a falsely accused nobleman who survives years of slavery to take vengeance on his best friend who betrayed him. Both must come to choose between retribution or forgiveness. [via Paramount’s press release]
This project sounds commendable if you compare it to Exodus, but that’s about it. Studios are greenlighting all these Bible epics based a flawed premise. They see Kirk Cameron and the Heaven Is For Real/God’s Not Dead crew making more Bible thumper money than they can stuff into their cable knit sweaters and think, “Hey, we should get in on that!”
Problem is, those movies are cashing in on the fact that they seem like home spun, by-Christians-for-Christians projects that to go see is to support the home team (even if Heaven is for Real was actually produced by a Jewish son of Communists who helped get organized prayer outlawed in public school). Maybe it’ll suck, but at least it’s not some sleazy exploitation picture about lesbian vampires! A big-budget, secular take on a Bible story is precisely not that. They’re trying to simultaneously cash in on Christian audiences, to whom the movie is just going to look like another big budget Hollywood project, and mainstream blockbuster audiences, who seem at best indifferent to Bible stories. It comes from the same school of business plans as the PG-13 Expendables movie.
It could just be that this project was already too far along for Exodus to kill it, and that Hollywood’s boner for Bible stories has already de-tumescified. Regardless, I’d like to think that there’s a guy who trains chariot horses somewhere, throwing money around like it’s going out of style and sticking it to everyone who ever doubted him.