A $30 million Ben-Hur mini-series has been launched by Alchemy TV, producer David Wyler (son of Willam Wyler, the director of the 1959 Oscar-winning classic) and director Christian Duguay. Fine…except for two problems.
Problem #1 is that the present-tense Wyler told Variety‘s Ali Jaafar and John Hopewell that “in my mind” the miniseries “is dedicated to my dad and [Charlton Heston]…we think it’s a great way to keep his memory alive.” Never, ever make a movie as a tribute to anyone or anything. Make it only for reasons that are tied to the present and future tense. Make it for your own reasons, because you have a vision or at least a concept that you’re burning to put onto a big screen.
Problem #2 — and certainly a major challenge — will be the chariot race sequence. The only way the miniseries version will stand up to the ’59 version will be if they shoot it entirely “live” and CG-free. And what are the odds of that happening, given the realities of present-day production?
I love that Wyler and Duguay intend to “downplay the religious aspects of the source material.” Well, naturally. The original Lew Wallace novel was subtitlled “A Tale of the Christ” but that kind of thing would only play in the Christian marketplace today. Besides, Ben-Hur always and always will be a story about revenge. What kind of dramatic satisfaction would the ’59 or ’26 versions have delivered if the evil Messala hadn’t been beaten and died from injuries in the chariot race?