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Adapting hit books into movies is nothing new, and neither is remaking hit movies themselves-- both have been going on since the very, very beginning of the film industry. But it's rare to see something adapted, recycled and remade as often as Ben-Hur, which started as a huge bestselling book published in 1880 and has been adapted as two silent films, one sound one (the big one starring Charlton Heston), one animated one (also starring Charlton Heston), a TV mini-series, a play in which Jesus was played by a beam of light, and a modern play launched in 2009. Now, inevitably, it's becoming a feature film all over again.
According to The Wrap, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter director Timur Bekmambetov is in talks to take over MGM's Ben-Hur remake. But don't call it a remake to their face-- MGM produced the Charlton Heston film but sold the rights to the movie years ago, so they're basing the new film strictly on the 1880 novel by Lew Wallace, which is now in the public domain. When the new version was first announced back in January producers were promising something "much different" from the 1959 version, and will reflect the novel's increased emphasis on the story of Jesus, who is amassing followers and spreading the word of what will become Christianity at the same time that Ben-Hur and his childhood friend/rival Messala are participating in chariot races. You know, the famous chariot races that Bekmambetov's version would be insane to try and top?
Given that Bekmambetov did direct the insane and glorious horse-throwing chase scene in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, though, I really wouldn't put the chariot race past him.
The studio wouldn't officially confirm that Bekmambetov is in talks to take the job, but the director did recently clear his schedule, dropping the Nikola Tesla vs. Thomas Edison project The Current War and allowing Ben Still to take it over. He's still connected to the Michael Bay-produced project Heatseekers, and theoretically a sequel to Wanted is still possible, though the further we get away from that film's 2008 release the less likely that seems. Gonzo horse scenes aside Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was a notable flop, so Bekmambetov is likely to pick a sure thing for his next project-- making Ben-Hur that much more appealing. And as iconic as the 1959 version may be, Ben-Hur is a big and obviously retellable story. Make all the jokes you want about Charlton Heston rolling over in his grave, but redoing Ben-Hur is a longstanding Hollywood tradition. William Wyler did it, and now Bekmambetov can too.
If you want to check out a story about the original Ben-Hur book that's nearly as interesting as the novel itself, check out this account from Slate about the history of the author, Lew Wallace, and how he went from a disgraced Civil War soldier to the bestselling author of his generation. Maybe that story will be the next adapted into a film, as the life cycle of Ben-Hur continues.