Timur Bekmambetov. Now there’s a name that screams “Biblical Epic!” After all, what wouldn’t the Russian filmmaker best known for ‘Night Fall,’ ‘Wanted,’ and ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter‘ understand about bringing such faith-based spectacle to the screen. Visual excess is his middle name (actually, it’s “Nurbakhitovich”), and no movie from the Golden Age of Hollywood emphasized said scope better than ‘Ben-Hur.’ Based on a beloved book from 1880(!) by Lew Wallace and offering a parallel period narrative which incorporates the life of Christ, the property has been part of the motion picture lingo since silver nitrate predated actual celluloid.
There was a controversial 1907 silent version (whose debate centered on copyright, not content), MGM’s first go at the property circa 1927, William Wyler’s celebrated 1959 adaption (which used to hold the record for most Oscars won – 11 – before ‘Titanic’ trumped said total) – there’s even an animated take, a Broadway play, and a 2010 TV mini-series. Still, the studio is desperate to bring the story of a Jewish merchant and his friendship/face-off with the Roman tribune Messala back for another go. The classic is remembered for its nine minute plus chariot race that rivals modern movie action sequences and another stellar performance (this time, with an Academy Award added for good measure) by Charleton Heston.
Now, like oil and water or the general moviegoing public with quality cinema, MGM is banking on an unusual choice like Bekmambetov to find a contemporary connection to this material. It’s not a flawed film business philosophy, in actuality. Darren Aronofsky is prepping his sprawling ‘Noah‘ for imminent release and Ridley Scott is looking to bring ‘Exodus‘ to the big screen (with Christian Bale as Moses and Joel Edgerton as Ramses). If two other well known artform “artists” can take on this material and make it resonate with audiences unfamiliar with the various testaments and their retelling, why not Bekmambetov?
The next thing you know, Quentin Tarantino will sign on for an update of ‘King of Kings,’ complete with naughty language, a ’70s soul soundtrack, and lots of bloodletting.