WARNING: If you do not want to know anything about the story of Ben-Hur or have the novel ruined for you then do not read.
Dear Timur Bekmambetove, Mark Burnett, MGM, or anyone who could help the Ben-Hur remake.
In my last post I gave a few tips that I would like to see done with the Ben-Hur remake. They were just tips. Nothing too big, and some of them you might be already doing. In this post I wanted to outline my dream Ben-Hur remake. If I was sitting at a table and you asked me what I wanted to see as a fan, I would sit there and tell you this. Unfortunately I can tell you that anything short of doing this will already disappoint me as a fan of Ben-Hur but I am also not so stubborn as to say it will be a horrible movie if my plan wasn’t followed. If by some miracle, someone actually does read this… you can use this without giving me a dime. It would be payment enough for me to see Ben-Hur on the screen in this way.
Why this way? Well, because the 1925 version was ground breaking for its day. The 1959 version was also ground breaking for its day. To keep in with the legacy that is Ben-Hur on the big screen you will need to be bold. You will need to do something bigger with the character then has been done before. Not change the character, not change the story, just change your thinking about how to tell the story. I think if you do things my way, it will be big, it will give the audience something new, it will give them more of the story of Ben-Hur in a way that will pleasantly surprise the fans of the old versions and give new generations something spectacular to hold on to with the passion that the fans of the 1959 version have. I have tested this idea out on a few people who love the 1959 version and they loved it. Before I shared this they were saying they didn’t want a remake of Ben-Hur, after I shared this they said they would be excited if they got this.
So, here it goes:
My plan needs to be done in two movies. It’s ok, we just had the Hobbit which was 1 book split into 3 films and we are getting Stephen King’s The Stand remake which is being split into 4 movies. The 1959 version was 3 hours long. I know that this run time would not fly today and I know that already, at that run time many of my favorite parts of the story had to be cut out. I needed a way to have more time. Splitting it into two films each at 2 hours to 2 hours and 30 minute would give you a total run time of 4 to 5 hours. This would make this version the largest version of Ben-Hur yet. Already groundbreaking for the character. You might ask, how could we do that, it is one thing to make two movies but each needs a good place to end and begin. Well, Let me give you a brief…semi-outline of my hopes.
Ben-Hur Part 1: Hope for a Christ (The title is not set in stone, but I like it)
Opening credits with the men riding camels meeting in the desert east of Israel.
They briefly tell each other why they are there and how they came about to be in the desert. They all realize that without knowing it, they have all been on the same mission. One of those Characters is Sheik Ilderim which you have already cast as Morgan Freeman and for reasons I just don’t understand (if IMDB can be trusted) you have changed his name to Ildarin. After sharing their brief stories of encounters with God who sent them on a mission to find the Christ they continue on themselves. I would recommend that we see the nativity completely from their point of view. Which means that Mary and Joseph already have the child when they get there. I do not need to see them searching for a place to stay and finding there is no room.
21 years later we are introduced to Ben-Hur. (Please, we don’t need to see Judah Ben-Hur as a child) we can also be introduced to his mother, Miriam and his sister Tirzah. Most of the introductions I would lead to better writers then I, but I would like them to come in roughly the way they come in the novel. The introduction of Messala would come much like they did in the 1959 version. In fact, most of the first movie would happen the same, with slight modifications as the story dictates.
I don’t want to spend too much time on the first film because it has most of the classic parts from the Ben-Hur story. Ben-Hur as a galley slave, His escape from the galley, his search for his mother and sister to find if they are still alive. I would add the introduction of Iras. This character was completely removed from the 1959 version and diminished in the 1925 version. She is the daughter of Sheik Ilderim, the man who owns the horses that Ben-Hur uses in the Chariot race, the man that trains Ben-Hur and the man who we first saw as one of the three wise men from the beginning of the story. Her father believes that the baby he saw many years ago has come for the salvation of all human kind (he often debates this will his friend Simonides, a friend and former servant of the Ben-Hur household who believes the baby to be the Messiah as well but thinks he has come as an earthly savior of God’s chosen people.) Iras is one of the most interesting characters in the novel because we actually get to see her character progress from a beautiful teenage girl who is taken by Judah, to a woman who slowly gives herself over to this world as she sees Messala for the first time at the chariot race and becomes very taken by him as well.
However, that is not the end of the romantic tension in the novel as there is another woman who has eyes for Ben-Hur and Ben-Hur also is fond of her. That is Esther. Esther is the daughter of Simonides (the friend that believe the Messiah will save the Jews) she is Jewish herself and is raised knowing scripture with a very similar background to Judah, as they were raised together while younger. Judah’s two love interests are interesting contrasts to each other as Iras (also called “Egypt”) is bold and aggressive in her pursuit of Judah while Esther is shy, reserved, and modest. There is much strength in this as she is not going to pursue Judah but figures if he won’t pursue her then she will wait. This portion of the story has been left out of most adaption, the depth and richness of this love story, if captured correctly, could help set a remake apart from what came before but you would need to be ever so carful to have the right balance between the epic story of Ben-Hur and the romantic side of the story. Too much of the romance turns Ben-Hur into a cheesy chick flick and not enough robs it of its richness.
The first movie would end shortly after the chariot race as we see Ben-Hur being victorious and Messala paralyzed and furious (that’s correct, paralyzed, not dead, because Ben-Hur never kills Messala in the novel, someone else does.) We could maybe also see a scene where Iras goes to visit Messala to show that even in his injured state, she is still taken with him.
However, the last scene of the movie should be a reveal that the story isn’t over. Here is what I envision. Amongst the celebration of Ben-Hur’s victory, we see him smiling and taking in all the glory. We cut to a scene where we see his mother and sister sitting in a prison, we don’t see them too well, but we know it is them as we mom examines daughter and is so distraught over what she sees that she, from her knees, looks to God and lets out a long and sorrowful scream as the camera quickly pans up, past the ceiling and over the city of Jerusalem. Roll credits.
Ben-Hur Part 2: A Tale of the Christ
After everything described in my plan for the first movie you might be wondering what is left of the story for the second part. Well, so far, the above has only touched on the first half of the novel. The second half of the novel was actually my favorite.
I think it should begin with a roman guard carrying a piece of parchment through a hall, as the camera remains behind the parchment. He is making turns down hallways and he enters through a door into Pilates chambers (This is all happening while the opening credits are running.) Pilate is new to this command taking over for the governor that Ben-Hur was accused of trying to assassinate. This parchment reveals that the former governor had a secret cell created behind the existing cells where he housed two prisoners that he didn’t want anyone knowing about. Pilate commands them to be released and the guards enter. When they enter they are stopped by shouts “Unclean! Unclean!” this is how it is revealed to us that Judah’s mom and sister have become lepers. They are ordered to go to the leper community.
Ben-Hur returns to Jerusalem a hero. Everyone has heard of his great victory (except for his family that is.) Upon returning to Jerusalem, with much anger in his heart and having already gotten revenge on Messala, he turns his eyes on Rome.
The state of his relationship with Iras is something a better writer then me can struggle with as I know that in the novel Ben-Hur and Iras get married, but I don’t know if there is time to go into all that so I would be fine if they are not shown as married but begin to drift apart as Ben-Hur becomes fascinated with a teacher by the name of Jesus, who he thinks is the coming Messiah who will rise up and liberate Israel. He becomes downright obsessed with Jesus. He follows him around listening to all his teachings. Iras, though she once believed what her father said about the child he visited many years ago, she now sees him as a crazy old man. She sees Ben-Hur becoming just as crazy. She is also seeing Messala behind Ben-Hur’s back which is adding to her resentment of Ben-Hur.
Ben-Hur, while following Jesus around begins to recruit members of the crowd and in the villages around where Jesus preached. He begins to build an army so that he has one in place when the Messiah decides it is time to rise up. Because of his fame from the race he begins to build a significant sized army made of men from all around Israel. Along with all this Ben-Hur is confronted with an assassin who is hired to kill him. He fights him, this doesn’t need to go right like the book but it is an interesting concept to keep in the movie that has not appeared in any version. Ben-Hur is under the assumption that Messala is hiring assassins while he sits paralyzed in his home. But Ben-Hur has a higher calling now. And later it is revealed that it is actually Iras who paid the assassins to take revenge on Ben-Hur for what he has done to Messala.
Ben-Hur’s mother and sister (who don’t know that Judah is alive) see him while he sleeps outside their house one night. They make the decision not to reveal themselves to him because they are lepers and are considered as dead. Their Egyptian servant, Amrah, discovers the women are alive and have leprosy. She also has heard of a miracle worker, Jesus, who has healed many people and even raised the dead. She runs to her former masters and embraces them, sealing her fate if she is wrong about this Jesus. The three women set out to find this man. While Jesus was traveling with a crowd following him, these women meet up with Jesus on the road. Jesus sees them and heals them. All while Judah, who can’t believe his eyes, watches in amazement! (this should make for a pretty emotional scene.)
We continue on, Judah still building his army. Jesus enters Jerusalem and Ben-Hur is convinced that Jesus is beginning to rise. One scene I want to see, no matter how much of the rest of this is in the remake, my favorite scene of the novel was in the garden of Gethsemane. Judah over hears the betrayal of Judas, he recognizes him as a disciple of Jesus and sees that the Pharisees have their soldiers ready to arrest Jesus. Ben-Hur follows and watches everything unfold from behind the bushes. He sees Judas kiss Jesus, he sees the soldiers move in to arrest him. Judah reaches for his sword, about to reveal that he is there and save the Messiah but before he can, Peter pulls out his sword, cuts a soldier’s ear off and Jesus rebukes him. Ben-Hur doesn’t understand. He doesn’t know what the Messiah’s plans are but he continues to wait. If the teacher rebukes his own disciple like that, surly he would do the same to Ben-Hur. They take Jesus to the mock trial and Ben-Hur realizes it is a set up. He runs through the town trying to gather as many of his troops as he can but the Pharisees have already begun to turn the popular opinion against Jesus. Ben-Hur cannot gather his army, they want to fight Romans, not their own religious teachers. He watches, powerless as everything goes down. He feels that his people have missed their chance. They are killing there Messiah. They nail him to a cross and wait. When Jesus cries out that he is thirsty, it is Ben-Hur that runs to get him a drink. We see flashbacks from the first movie where a carpenter’s boy gives water to Ben-Hur while he was in chains. Judah begins to realize that he was wrong as to what type of Messiah Jesus was. He realizes that he was sent to be a sacrifice for us all. The Passover lamb.
The crucifixion is pretty much the end of the second movie, but I do want to see two more scenes. A scene where we find that Iras ends up murdering Messala because she has progressed to be the truly evil villain and a scene where we see Judah Ben-Hur and Esther, married, living in his home in Rome when persecution of Christians breaks out. Judah has a new army, but he has now studied the teachings of Jesus and of Peter, John, and Paul. He uses this army to put into motion a plan to build the catacombs. This is how the second movie should end.
Tell me this wouldn’t be a good plan! Two movies, well done, each one of them appealing to the faith community and the masses. No compromising of the message is needed. Doing to this way would set itself apart from what has come before. This is what I hope to see. I know I am hoping against hope but I don’t care. I guess I hope someone with the power reads this. Stumbles upon this on the internet. I want this Ben-Hur adaption. No need to pay me for the idea just do it. The movie would be payment enough.
To anyone else reading this. Since I really do know this wont actually happen, I hope you enjoyed reading what I would have done if I was able to make the remake of Ben-Hur. Comment below if you like this version. Let me know, are you ok with a Ben-Hur remake or do you think they should let it alone?
Grace and peace to anyone who might read this!