Ben Hur gets an epic remake, but mixed reviews

(Courtesy Paramount / MGM)Jack Huston saddles up the horses in the 2016 epic Ben-Hur.

A revamp of "Ben-Hur," the 1959 movie epic that won 11 Oscars, is headed for the big screen again with its famed chariot race expected to be as epic as it was more than 50 years ago, but some early reviews are not excited about it.

Vanity Fair's Richard Lawson, however, said "Much to our surprise, Timur Bekmambetov's ancient epic has genuine heft."

It is the first time in nearly 55 years that one of the greatest stories will be retold on the silver screen starting Aug. 19 in Paramount's remake of "Ben-Hur," Reuters reports.

The 1959 version was an Academy Award-winning classic with Charlton Heston.

The 2016 version will introduce a whole new generation to the epic tale of fictional nobleman-turned-slave Judah Ben-Hur and his life-changing interaction with Jesus Christ.

But in an early review The Wrap's Robert Abele panned Ben-Hur in a piece titled, "Chariot racer swings low in overblown remake."

He wrote: "The strange teaming of Timur Bekmambetov, John Ridley, and producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey never matches the previous two big-screen outings for this "tale of the Christ."

Abele wrote, "If each generation gets the movie spectacles they deserve, then we probably had the new "Ben-Hur" - a scattered and hokey, if well-meaning, mess - coming."

Stephen Whitty of wrote, "Director Timur Bekmambetov – the mad visualist of "Night Watch," "Wanted" and, yes, "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" - has some incredible exteriors (the Roman circus, where the games take place, carved out of a mountainside).

"The mid-film naval battle ends in a riotous sea full of Greek fire and drowning men; the chariot race is a pounding piece of action cinema with GoPro close-ups of thundering hooves.


"Those moments are still, truly epic."

He noted that the new script by Keith R. Clarke and John Ridley "not only pares things down (the 1959 film, and a 2010 miniseries, both ran over three hours) but pushes some others to the forefront for emphasis, or changes them to suit modern sensibilities."

But Whitty is scathing about bringing in "the over-exposed Morgan Freeman to play Sheik Ilderim"

He says it is "guaranteed to take us out of a film largely cast with lesser-known faces" and says "there's even a clumsy bit of politically correct lecturing when Ilderim tells Judah to stop complaining about his five years of slavery on a Roman galley, considering he enjoyed 20 years of riches before it happened."

Whitty deems Bekmambetov's two big set pieces – the chariot race and the naval battle as "fine in and of themselves."

He also says Asbaek, Santoro, and even Freeman all have their moments.

"But the rest of stars disappoint, and the other scenes are by the numbers. Even the extended appearances of Jesus – supposedly the answer to this remake's "Why?" – feel strangely colorless. Not only does this new version not stand out from the others, it can't stand on its own."

Lawson's Vanity Fair Review said, however, "Much like Roland Emmerich's richly affecting Anonymous (silly as its history is) teased a different, more competent Emmerich, Ben-Hur offers an intriguing glimpse of a director that Bekmambetov could become.

"His early promise may be alive again. In that way, Ben-Hur feels a bit like a resurrection."

The Vanity Fair reviewer says, "Ben-Hur is made with enough conviction and thoughtfulness that its messiness, its grandstanding, its occasional bouts of clumsiness can't crack its admirably sturdy foundation. It turns out that pairing Bekmambetov with the right material and, most crucially, the right script can yield positive results."

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