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Ben-Hur news round-up: Lew Wallace’s novel has been “modernized” by his great-great-granddaughter, and more

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Another week, another round-up of Ben-Hur-related news items.

First, Publishers Weekly profiles Carol Wallace, whose great-great-grandfather Lew Wallace wrote the original 1880 novel. Carol Wallace has written a new version of the book as a tie-in for the film, though it’s not clear whether she has written a novelization of the movie’s script or simply made her own revisions to her ancestor’s story (e.g. Ben-Hur’s mother is not named in the original novel, but she is called Naomi in the new film and also, apparently, in Carol Wallace’s novel — are there any other ways in which her novel adds to the story the same way the film does?):

The new edition of Ben-Hur uses modernized language and shorter chapters. Plus, Wallace cut out much of the description of the landscape and scenes in the Middle East, where the story is set. Readers of previous generations had never seen the region, but modern readers have what Wallace called “a warehouse of images” of it. She also gave women larger roles, including that of Naomi, Ben-Hur’s mother; his sister, Tirzah; and the slave, Esther. Women played background roles in the original book, as was typical in Lew Wallace’s time. “I had to give the women more to do,” said Wallace.

Second, the Deseret News has an interview with producer Roma Downey:

As for the film, Downey believes that audiences will be “thrilled” with the viewing experience, promising “big sequences [that are] dazzling.” But in addition to being entertained, she said that there’s a broader take-away embedded in the narrative.

“We see a man who has been brought to his knees, empty and angry, filled with the desire for revenge,” she said. “Then, through an encounter with Jesus, he is forever changed. It’s profoundly moving.”

Downey is praying that the movie and the music video “will help transform hurt into hope” and will drive home the message that two wrongs will never make a right, as audiences watch how protagonist Ben-Hur is set free from his anger.

Third, the gospel duo Mary Mary released a music video inspired by the film.

Fourth, Patheos now has a ‘Movie Club’ page dedicated to this film, and Deborah Arca spoke to both Downey and her husband Mark Burnett at a recent press event:

There’s such a tenderness in Rodrigo Santoro’s expression of Jesus. Could you share a bit about finding that Jesus?

Roma: Casting is always one of the more fun parts of putting a film together. We compile lists and try to figure out who would be the ideal person to play the role. And Rodrigo Santoro def was always on our wish list… and he himself had been hoping to play Jesus sometime in his career. He brought such a sincere, loving heart to this project. The morning The Passion sequence began, he went into prayer and fasting to prepare himself for that sequence of shooting, and allowed us to pray with him as well. He brings a stillness and strength to the role.

Mark: Also, I like the idea that Jesus is tough. If you isolate what Jesus says in the Bible, it’s a lot of pretty tough stuff. It’s not all soft at all; he’s a tough guy. That ‘s what had God chose to come to Earth and I think that Rodrigo embodies that. He’s a carpenter! He’s a guy’s guy.

Fifth, DeWayne Hamby spoke to Jack Huston and director Timur Bekmambetov:

Timur: Yes, for me, the 1959, unbelievable best movie with best action scene ever made, the chariot race. But at the same time, it’s out-dated. Not technically, it’s outdated ideologically, because the idea of forgiveness. What we have in this movie is unique. I don’t know another movie, Hollywood movie, because there’s a lot of European movies about how we can forgive each other. In America, it was not so popular. Because during post-production, I felt it, because at the end of the chariot race, it’s the end of the movie for big wide audiences. Usually, the movie is finished at this point. What’s great about this story is that it’s only really the beginning of the real drama. When you won the race, when you destroy your enemy, you destroy your brother, your family, your life, and your world, he’s absolutely empty. Then there’s a whole process of discovering something real, how to survive and it’s forgiveness. It’s the whole reason to make this movie. It’s not about technicality. One of the ideas we had from the beginning, the whole team, all of us, DOP, director, we’re just trying to stay behind the story and let the story play itself. For very specifically, we shot the style of camera work, it’s very realistic and there’s no perfectly designed shots, because otherwise it would take away from the story and from acting. . . .

And carrying the rock at the end.

Jack: That happened on set! That completely happened organically on set! It wasn’t in the script. I held this rock and I said “I don’t want to let go of this rock” and Timur said “Don’t let go of it.” We did a whole scene where I wouldn’t let go and then he goes, “you should let go of it.” That was Timur when he said, “Let go of the rock there.” That’s what I mean about the movie, that you find certain things. That rock was symbolic of all the things he carries. It’s amazing what he feels when he releases that.

Sixth, the studio released a new 55-second trailer this morning that has just a few new bits of vehicular mayhem from the chariot-race sequence:

Finally, the studio posted a “360° photo” of the chariot race to their Facebook page:

The film comes to theatres August 19, or about three and a half weeks from now.

Check out earlier trailers and other videos here:

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