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Peter T Chattaway

Ben-Hur (2016)

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"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Looking at the film's IMDb page the other day, it suddenly dawned on me: there were no actors listed for the parts of Quintus Arrius or Balthasar. You *can* have a film without the latter character, if you don't mind ditching most of the biblical subplot (that's what the 2010 miniseries did), but it's pretty much impossible to show Ben-Hur rising from slave to Roman nobleman without the former character. It turns out Quintus Arrius might be played by an actor with a Narnia connection.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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The film was originally going to come out in February 2016 (i.e. four months from now). Now it has been bumped to August 12 -- which happens to be the same date that the film version of The Shack is supposed to come out. Two "faith-based" films, both based on best-selling novels in which Jesus is one of the characters, coming out on the same day? I'm guessing Lionsgate (the studio behind The Shack) will blink. But we'll see.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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"God has a plan for you." Jesus speaks in a new trailer, which to my knowledge has not been posted on any official websites or social-media accounts anywhere *except* on the Facebook and Twitter accounts for Son of God, the other big-screen Jesus movie produced by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Even more new footage of Jesus. Looks like they're making some significant changes to the story.

Bekmambetov talks about the movie's style. And there's a hint about another change that has been made to the story.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Release date bumped to August 19. Not particularly auspicious, that.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I wrote about that trailer (and posted some screencaps) six days ago.

A new featurette about the chariot race (two versions of the featurette, in fact) went online yesterday, too.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I love the story and I admire Jack Huston, but this does look awful.  The trailer seems to give evidence that they are ramping the action up - almost to the point where the film is going to be all about the action.

One of the best things about the 1959 film is the reverential way in which they treat Jesus, here it looks like that's completely gone.

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J.A.A. Purves wrote:
: One of the best things about the 1959 film is the reverential way in which they treat Jesus, here it looks like that's completely gone.

I dunno, in some ways the 1959 film (which I introduced my kids to last night) is *too* reverential. I don't mind the fact that we finally get to see Jesus' face or hear his voice, for example.

What I *do* mind is that what we've heard so far of Jesus' dialogue doesn't get much beyond platitudinous Bible quotes ("God is love", etc.) and 20th- or 21st-century evangelical cliches ("God has a plan for you", etc.). It's reminiscent of how the Jesus in The Bible miniseries said he and the disciples were going to "change the world". Way too modern.

It also bothers me that this appears to be the first filmed version of the story that basically jettisons the relationship between Judah Ben-Hur and Quintus Arrius. I also haven't seen any indication yet that the new film will include Balthazar, the member of the Magi who meets up with Ben-Hur after he returns to Judea.

Side note: one filmmaker I know (who hasn't seen the film) tells me he's been hearing bad buzz from his contacts in the industry. For whatever that's worth.

And the fact that it got its release date bumped to the second half of August doesn't bode well. Yes, heavily-promoted "faith-based" films like War Room have done well in that timeslot, but Ben-Hur is supposed to be a four-quadrant tentpole-ish kind of thing, not a "niche" movie, right? Plus, War Room soared on word-of-mouth, but Ben-Hur is the kind of film that looks like it needs to have a really strong opening weekend in order to be a success.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Well, Godawa likes it, at least.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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A little birdie is telling me that this film might be under two hours. That would make this the shortest live-action version of Ben-Hur since the Kalem company's copyright-violating short film in 1907. (The 1925 film is 143 minutes, the 1959 film is 212 minutes (does that include the overture and the entr'acte?), and the 2010 miniseries is about 180 minutes without commercials.)

There have been at least two animated versions as well that are well under two hours; the 1989 film is 48 minutes, and the 2003 film is 80 minutes.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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The second music video seems to give away the ending. ("Whaddayamean, 'give away the ending'? Isn't Ben-Hur based on a book?" you ask. Well, yes, but the film versions of Ben-Hur have gone in very different directions after the chariot race. So I think revealing how *this* particular version of the story ends would constitute a "spoiler".)

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Nothing short of a miracle is going prevent this poor film from flopping hard.


"A great film is one that to some degree frees the viewer from this passive stupor and engages him or her in a creative process of viewing. The dynamic must be two-way. The great film not only comes at the viewer, it draws the viewer toward it." -Paul Schrader

Twitter     Letterboxd

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I do wonder how the film will perform, box-office-wise. It doesn't really have any movie stars (unless you count Morgan Freeman, but he's a supporting character in So Many Movies that there's no special value to his appearance in this one). And it has been marketed very heavily to the faith-based crowd, the tastes of which can be... erratic.

*Plus*, it's coming out in the second half of August, which is traditionally something of a dead zone. A few exceptions do exist (e.g. Inglourious Basterds, which had Brad Pitt and Quentin Tarantino), but still.

Looking at the first-weekend grosses for Christian films, here's how things stack up (and I'm ignoring the Narnia movies because I don't really consider them "Christian films", certainly not the way Disney made 'em):

  • FEB 2004 -- The Passion of the Christ -- $83.8 million
  • FEB 2014 -- Son of God -- $25.6 million
  • APR 2014 -- Heaven Is for Real -- $22.5 million
  • MAR 2016 -- Miracles from Heaven -- $14.8 million
  • FEB 2016 -- Risen -- $11.8 million
  • AUG 2015 -- War Room -- $11.4 million
  • APR 2011 -- Soul Surfer -- $10.6 million
  • MAR 2014 -- God's Not Dead -- $9.2 million
  • SEP 2011 -- Courageous -- $9.1 million
  • AUG 2014 -- When the Game Stands Tall -- $8.4 million
  • DEC 2006 -- The Nativity Story -- $7.8 million
  • APR 2016 -- God's Not Dead 2 -- $7.6 million

So as you can see, there is only one "Christian film" that had an opening of more than $10 million in August, and that was War Room, from the much-hyped Kendrick brothers. That film went on to gross $67.8 million -- or about six times its opening weekend, which suggests phenomenal word-of-mouth -- but films like Ben-Hur generally make only two or three times their opening weekend.

Instructive here, perhaps, is the fact that Son of God, the *last* big-screen Bible movie produced by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, opened to $25.6 million in February 2014 but topped out at $59.7 million -- just a little more than double what it opened to. Risen, meanwhile, opened to $11.8 million in February of *this* year and ended up with $36.9 million, or a little more than triple what it opened to.

I have zero idea at this point whether Ben-Hur can open to even those kinds of numbers.

And what about top August openings in general? Specifically, top *second half of August* openings?

  • AUG 21 2009 -- Inglourious Basterds -- $38.1 million
  • AUG 17 2007 -- Superbad -- $33.1 million
  • AUG 17 2012 -- The Expendables 2 -- $28.6 million
  • AUG 28 2009 -- The Final Destination -- $27.4 million
  • AUG 31 2007 -- Halloween -- $26.4 million
  • AUG 16 2013 -- Lee Daniels' The Butler -- $24.6 million
  • AUG 18 1995 -- Mortal Kombat -- $23.3 million
  • AUG 19 2005 -- The 40-Year-Old Virgin -- $21.4 million
  • AUG 27 2010 -- Takers -- $20.5 million
  • AUG 27 2010 -- The Last Exorcism -- $20.4 million
  • AUG 20 2004 -- Exorcist: The Beginning -- $18.1 million
  • AUG 27 2004 -- Hero -- $18 million
  • AUG 31 2012 -- The Possession -- $17.7 million

I'll stop there. As you can see, a decent opening weekend in the second half of August is not impossible, particularly if you're a horror movie or an early Judd Apatow comedy. Whether any of this films set a precedent for Ben-Hur, though, I couldn't say.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Ben-Hur Tracking for Alarming $14M-$15M U.S. Debut

Another big-budget 2016 summer event film could be in trouble at the U.S. box office.

Early tracking suggests Ben-Hur will open in the $14 million to $15 million range over the Aug. 19-21 weekend, a sobering start for the faith-centric ancient epic, which reportedly cost just under $100 million to produce.

Edited by Nathaniel

"A great film is one that to some degree frees the viewer from this passive stupor and engages him or her in a creative process of viewing. The dynamic must be two-way. The great film not only comes at the viewer, it draws the viewer toward it." -Paul Schrader

Twitter     Letterboxd

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Yeah, saw that earlier today. Thought about writing a post on it, then decided it isn't big enough news to warrant that; so instead, I've added it to my "news round-up" pile for next Monday. (There's been enough of a steady trickle of interviews and whatnot that I've been able to post a "news round-up" nearly Monday morning for the past few weeks.)


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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