After decades nearly moribund and being passed from owner to owner like a doobie at a hippy party MGM is starting to feel their oats agains. Buoyed by the success of co-productions like Skyfall and The Hobbit they're looking into doing another big budget project.
That project is a remake of their 1959 mega-epic Ben-Hur.
Okay, technically, it's not a remake. For it to be a proper remake MGM would have to own the rights to the 1959 movie, which itself was a remake of a 1925 film, which itself was a remake of a 1907 production. They don't, having sold it to Ted Turner back in the 1980s, so it's now property of Time-Warner.
But the original novel, Ben-Hur: A Tale Of The Christ, by author, general and politician Lew Wallace, is public domain, and this new script supposedly follows the novel's religious themes more closely than the 1959 version.
This has me concerned.
Right now Hollywood is rushing to put out biblical themed pictures in the hopes that they'll get some of the sweet greenbacks the small scale Christian films have been making. Their plan seems to be to get big stars and big production/marketing budgets and overwhelm the market. They are currently developing a film with Brad Pitt as Pontius Pilate, two Moses pics, one from Spielberg, another from Ridley Scott, and Darren Aronofsky made the upcoming Noah, with Russell Crowe.
And this is where the danger lies.
Nobody trusts Hollywood to handle religious themes with any sort of class or grace, after decades of open hostility to organized western religion and religious people. Mention to your average audience member that Hollywood is going to make a movie about religion, and they're going to assume it's going to be about pervert priests, hypocritical evangelists, deranged killers who think they know the will of God, or hate spewing Westboro cultists.
That's how those tiny films made by folks like Kirk Cameron and company can make good bank, and how Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ hit the cash jackpot. They were marketed as being from outside Hollywood, and by being from outside the Hollywood machine they would not be insulting to the audience or their beliefs.
And that' s all before the other traps that lie in wait for remakes. First thing is casting: Who can match, or exceed Charlton Heston's sincere machismo without looking kind of ridiculous? I mean the one actor from the 1959 version who could be easily replaced is the one played by the oaken Stephen Boyd.
Then there's the budget, which could easily explode into the $250 million + range to match 1959's level of spectacle. That's a hell of a lot of risk for a film that has Hollywood's religious baggage weighing it down.
I'd bet you that the current owner of the 1959 movie, Warner Bros., could probably make some good money using new technology to create a remastered digital version for a big screen/Imax re-release during Easter.