Saturday, July 02, 2016

Booking It

If I'd read of this before it must have slipped out of memory! Ben-Hur (2016 film)

Ben-Hur is an upcoming 2016 American historical epic action film directed by Timur Bekmambetov and written by Keith Clarke and John Ridley. It is based on the 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace and has been termed a "re-adaptation", "reimagining" and "new interpretation" of the novel....The film stars Jack Huston, Morgan Freeman, Toby Kebbell, Nazanin Boniadi and Rodrigo Santoro.... The film is scheduled to be released on August 19, 2016 in North America in 2D, 3D, RealD 3D and Digital 3D.
Coincidentally, I'm currently in the middle of reading the 19th cenury novel Ben Hur, by Lew Wallace. I bought the book, an old library copy, at a book sale some weeks ago. I'm finding it, quite amazingly, a good read! It probably helps that I know the 1959 movie Ben Hur back to front and every which-way, it has long been my all time favourite movie. Ask me why and I don't know, because I'm not religious.

It's pleasurable to find the plethora of extra detail Lew Wallace included in his novel, most inevitably cut out from the film, due to time consideration. One difference in book and film I've come across are the ages of Judah Ben Hur and Esther. Esther is just 16 when he first meets her, well after his adventures in the galleys and in Rome. He is just a youth as the story begins, with the accidental fall of a tile - nowhere near as mature as Charlton Heston was depicted in the movie.

Wallace describes many scenes in intricate detail, his style reminds me, a bit, of Victor Hugo's in Les Miserables, and Frank Herbert's in Dune.

There's one location Wallace described in detail, The Grove of Daphne, which propelled me to Google to discover whether it was a figment of Wallace's imagination; it was not. The Grove wasn't mentioned in the 1959 movie, nor, I understand in the older 1925 version. Judah Ben Hur seeks out the Grove during a visit to Antioch (Syria), after his time in Rome. It is variously described in websites around the net, dedicated to Daphne a nymph changed into a laurel tree to escape the amorous advances of Apollo.

Here's one description

DAPHNE: A suburb of Antioch on the Orontes, according to Strabo and the Jerusalem itinerary, about 40 furlongs, or 5 miles distant. It is identified with Beit el-Ma' on the left bank of the river, to the Southwest of the city. Here were the famous grove and sanctuary of Apollo. The grove and shrine owed their origin to Seleucus Nicator. It was a place of great natural beauty, and the Seleucid kings spared no outlay in adding to its attractions. The precincts enjoyed the right of asylum. Hither fled Onias the high priest (171 B.C.) from the wrath of Menelaus whom he had offended by plain speech. To the disgust and indignation of Jew and Gentile alike, he was lured from the sanctuary by Andronicus and basely put to death (2 Maccabees 4:33-38). It sheltered fugitives dyed with villainy of every shade. It was the great pleasure resort of the citizens of Antioch; and it gained an evil repute for immorality, as witnessed by the proverbial Daphnici mores. In Tiberim defluxit Orontes, says Juvenal (iii.62), indicating one main source of the corruption that demoralized the imperial city. The decline of Daphne dates from the days of Christian ascendancy in the reign of Julian. The place is still musical with fountains and luxuriant with wild vegetation; but nothing now remains to suggest its former splendor .

From Lewis's descriptions I got the impression of a huge area of both cultivated and natural beauty, with fountains, statues, glades, etc, mystics, seers, and lots of erotic or sexy stuff going on; an ancient version of 1960's hippiedom, Summer of Love an' all that, but with a tad more erm...classical class.

Anyway, on I go, slowly relishing these old scenes. Next will come the horses and chariots, the excitement of the race with Messala, and hoped for vengance.

Awaiting the new movie version of Ben Hur, I'm not optimistic that it will improve on the 1959 version - in spirit - but it might correct one or two mis-representations and omissions I guess, or perhaps it'll just make a few more!


mike said...

The "'', 'reimagining' and 'new interpretation' of the novel...." could also be said of the novel, the Bible, and its lead character, JC. There are direct correlations to Paganism, including events and astronomical-astrological celebrations, to uphold plagiarism charges...LOL.

The director, Tim Bekmambetov, seems to be perfect for a re-telling and remix. I haven't seen any of his films, but I know of him primarily from his "Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter", which hasn't arrived at Netflix yet. I became aware of this movie from reading Gore Vidal's "Lincoln", which is an excellent fictional-biography, and reading Vidal made me curious about other anything-Lincolns out there.

Bekmambetov supposedly doesn't shy from blood and guts imagery, so be prepared! He fancies blood and vampires, so it'd be interesting if "Ben Hur" has some super-natural aspects, but Wiki states that the film is intended to present a more grounded version than its predecessors, with a new interpretation.

The 1959 "Ben Hur" is passe, always shown on Easter holiday, I've-seen-it-a-thousand-times yawner for me. I can't deny that the 1959-version was a great film, but definitely more appealing to the mythology of the bible-thumpers.

Twilight said...

mike ~ Well...they say there are only 7 basic plots in the realm of fiction (possibly fact too ?) so it follows... ;-)

Thanks for giving me the impetus to look for other movies in which Tim Bekmambetov was involved in their making - the only one I've seen is "9" - I did a post on it, way back. I must see that one again. Will check Netflix and Amazon tonight.

Not sure Tim B. sounds like an ideal one to steer a new version of Ben Hur, but I'll reserve judgment.

I always enjoyed old Biblical-tale movies back in the 1950s and later, so I guess Ben
Hur became the pinnacle of that genre for me. I often wonder if I've some Mediterranean bits in my DNA - Italy or Mid-East, but didn't find anything in my genealogical searches, other than 3 "brick-walls" which might be possibilities. Travel from Europe to Britain back then, though, wasn't common, so illegitimate kids fathered by foreigners would be unlikely in the nearish past. Further back there's no record. Maybe I'll do one of those DNA test thingies sometime (when my ship comes in).

Anonymous said...

Have you read this? It's pretty funny.

Twilight said...

Sabina ~ I read about a half dozen reviews at the weekend, trying to decide whether we should go see the 2016 version, as it's showing at our local. I hadn't seen that review! That's about all the respect it deserves from what I've gathered. Hardly anyone has a good word to write about it. When I read that the dialogue is in "modern idiom" - that was the decisive point for, no, no! I had a bad feeling when the preview we saw had the words uttered, during the chariot race, "Are you having fun yet?"....Dearie me!! And why make Judah and Messala adoptive brothers?

Apparently the producers are "into" Christian audience movies. From reports of the film bombing at the weekend it appears many prospective audience members have lately lost their religion, as far as big dollar movies are concerned. ;-)

Anonymous said...

I'm sort of with the young woman who wrote the review: why not something new if you can't make a decent 'reboot'. I much prefer the old Chas Laughton 'Mutiny on the Bounty' - pace Mel Gibson - and the Zeffirelli 'Romeo and Juliet' - pace Leo DiCaprio - for example. On the other hand, 'The Thomas Crown Affair' remake was superb and had fun referencing the also excellent original.

Yes, I agree about the modern idiom. But then I'm wedded to the King James version too so I guess I'm really just an old fogie.

I'd love to see the original Ben Hur on the big screen it was made for - ah, well. Perhaps TV is really the future - 'I, Claudius' and 'Rome' were both riveting.

Twilight said...

Sabina ~ Yes, some thing completely new, or a creative re-imagining, using bare bones of the original storyline, as was done in "The Magnificent Seven", a re-imagining of "Seven Samurai". It wouldn't take a lot of imagination to dream up a different version of the "Ben Hur" tale, set in the present, or in some different period of history - or even in the future (that'd be good!)

I did first see "Ben Hur" on a big Cinemascope-type screen, back in the 1960s. It'd be a good film to convert to be shown on Imex - if that could be done for such an old movie. :-)

Anonymous said...

Yes about re-imagining. I've been lucky enough to stumble on some excellent filmic re-workings of Shakespeare, eg, these -