Few classic movies are as well-known and well-celebrated today as Ben Hur (1959). William Wyler’s classic film of adventure and revenge not only featured the great Charlton Heston but some absolutely fantastic scenes of Roman naval warfare and — the pièce de résistance — the marvelous chariot race. But even such undying classics can be modernized with today’s fantastic CGI and a new generation of actors and filmmakers.
A new trailer released Wednesday promises such a reprise of the classic story, and it brings the power of modern technology to the wondrous action of Ben Hur.
The trailer opens with powerful words: “No matter where you’re from, this ship is your body, that drum is your heartbeat, and your god is the glory of Rome!” This mimics the holistic slavery of the 1959 film, and gives it a mythic quality reminiscent of Game of Thrones. Then the intrigue starts.
“My family was one of the most respected in Jerusalem,” Ben Hur explains, “until we were betrayed by my own brother.” This follows the story of Ben Hur, where the main character seeks revenge after his brother betrays the family for privilege in Roman service.
The main character gets his chance at revenge in the magnificent chariot race, which the trailer also hints at, tantalizingly. “Your brother is the pride of Rome — beat him, and you defeat an empire. Then you will have your vengeance.”
A major theme of the original Ben Hur is the run-ins with Jesus Christ. Charlton Heston runs across the Messiah multiple times, and the movie reaches a pivotal climax at an important moment in Jesus’ life. While the 2016 trailer does not show any connection with Jesus, it does present Ben Hur floating on a ship’s mast — which makes the shape of a cross. Could this be an allusion to the film’s spiritual roots?
While the trailer hints at wonderful action and strong filmmaking, the director, Timur Bekmambetov, is known for what are more or less flops: Wanted (2008) and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012). Here’s hoping his newest endeavor puts him on the map and does strong justice to a fantastic classic.