When it comes to the sweeping cinematic epics of the 1950s, none has proven more enduring than 1959’s Ben-Hur, a swords-and-sandals panorama on an unprecedented scale. Leading man Charlton Heston is the vision of earthly might, the chariot-race scenes remain unrivaled in their sheer kineticism, and William Wyler’s go-for-broke direction nearly compensates for Hugh Griffith in brownface. Bearing witness to the overwhelming power of a properly projected 70 mm print is a singular experience, on par with minor religious awakenings. So, now that all the hyperboles have been accounted for, this is the bar which Timur Bekmambetov’s new Ben-Hur adaptation will have to meet, even though he’s been vocal about the project’s nature as an adaptation of the 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, and not the 1959 film.
The new trailer surfaced earlier today, and how did Bekmambetov do? Well, it has Morgan Freeman as a wise old man with a head full of dreadlocks. Nobody can take that away from the new Ben-Hur. Jack Huston gives a fully committed performance as the title slave-turned-chariot-racer, by which I mean he is fully committed to growling each and every one of his many lines. The film tracks his descent and ascent as a prince exiled from his own kingdom by his power-mad brother, and his long journey to climb the ranks and take revenge. But as the Biblical slant to the film may suggest, Ben-Hur will find that there are more noble courses of action than revenge in life. Also, by the looks of it, there will be a lot of totally gnarly action scenes, in between passages of good Christian forgiveness. With white-knuckle thrills, Old Testament piety, Morgan Freeman dreadlocks, and growling, there’s a little something for everyone — in the biz, that’s what they call a “four-quadrant movie.”