Paramount and MGM’s Christian-friendly remake of Ben-Hur, now in pre-production, is reportedly slated for a 2.26.16 opening. Think about that for four or five seconds. Unveiling a new version of the biggest and most Oscar-honored Biblical epic of all time in late February confirms that this Mark Burnett and Roma Downey production, a downmarket pitch to none-too-sharp Christians, is a metaphor for the general degradation of film culture. Deciding on a February release is an obvious admission that the film won’t be good enough to compete in the summer or post-Labor Day award season. The producers might as well take out a trade ad that says “we’re going low-rent here, guys….forget the upscale, blue-chip William Wyler signature of yore…we’ve hired a low-class Russian ape named Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted, Abraham Lincoln — Vampire Hunter) to re-shape this tale so it will simultaneously have lots of gratuitous action while appealing to hinterland dimwits.” Consider the guys who’ve been hired to play Judah Ben-Hur and Messala — Jack Huston and Toby Kebbell. Compare their faces and auras to Charlton Heston‘s and Stephen Boyd‘s…sad. Huston was okay in American Hustle but he has small Twee-male shoulders and the face of a blackjack dealer in Atlantic City. Kebbell (Koba in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) appears doomed to play bad guys for the rest of his life. I’m sure that the chariot race will be CG-fortified but the cool aspect of the ’59 version is that it was shot raw and real. Ben-Hur for Christians is going to look so substandard compared to the ’59 version it won’t be funny.

Jack Huston, the new Judah Ben-Hur.

Toby Kebbell, the new Messala. (Note: I hate that his last name is spelled with two “b”s and two “l”s.)

From a 4.25.14 post: “In my 4.23 story about the forthcoming Paramount-MGM remake of Ben-Hur (“William Wyler Turns In His Grave“), I overlooked Paramount’s signing of rightwing Christian producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey (The Bible miniseries, Son of God) to guide the production. This is even more sickening. The idea of selling Ben-Hur to ‘faith-driven consumers’ is just as phony a sales pitch as the one used when the original Ben-Hur author, General Lew Wallace, called his book “A Tale of the Christ.” In fact it’s a tale of the payback.

“As screenwriter Gore Vidal explained in a ‘Making of’ documentary about the 1959 version, Ben-Hur is the story of unrequited love, betrayal and revenge between a Jewish boy and a Roman boy. Rage and bitterness are washed clean at the finale by Christ’s blood trickling into a stream, fine…but Ben-Hur never would have never been made into a film if the character of Judah Ben-Hur had followed the Nazarene’s teachings. If Judah (Charlton Heston) had returned from Jack Hawkins’ villa in Rome and decided to turn the other cheek and forgive Messala (Stephen Boyd) after learning that his boyhood friend had condemned his mother and sister to prison and the scourge of leprosy (instead of doing what he does in the film, which is to challenge and then defeat Messala in the chariot race, which results in Messala being trampled to death by horses), Ben-Hur never would have gotten the go-ahead.

“So don’t give me any of this religious thematic crap because Ben-Hur is about having your cake (i.e., sweet revenge) and eating it too (i.e., being re-born at the finale).”