Directed by Timur Bekmambetov          
Starring Jack Houston, Toby Kebbell, Morgan Freeman          
125 minutes           

Most film purists would be rattled by the notion of attempting a remake of the 1959 classic Ben-Hur. However, the new film by Russian film director Timur Bekmambetov, who resides in the US, is not so much a remake as an adaptation of the novel by Lew Wallace.  

Why would anyone try to improve on a masterpiece? It would certainly be presumptuous for this film to attempt to outperform its predecessor. But the fact that there is a generation of young people who have neither seen nor intend to see a film about Romans made nearly 60 years ago cannot be ignored. We are dealing with a new audience that, thanks to this film, will discover the intense and exciting story of Judah Ben-Hur.

There is nothing new in the story line although, as far as staging is concerned, the digital revolution provides some resources that were not available in 1959. Epic scenes such as the naval battles or the famous chariot race in the Roman circus are even more spectacular. There are slight variations from the classic version, but they do not stray from the original plot. Even the subplot about the Nazarene, which could have been succumbed to the prevailing secularism, sticks to the original Gospel message. 

There is a considerable distance from the old version in regards to casting. Whereas the old version relied on the work of film stars like Charlton Heston, this new version opts for a second-rank cast, with names like Jack Huston or Toby Kebbell. The only star, Morgan Freeman, is one of the supporting actors.

The staging is conventional, typical of the adventure genre, but manages to entertain without lowering the dramatic tone required. A good film for the young ones.

Juan Orellana is a film reviewer for Aceprensa. Translated by Isabel Cullen.