HURry It Up: A Commentary on Ben-Hur (2016) and Religious Movies

Hollywood makes it money off of smooth calculations on the trends, who are involved in the film, and even the month the picture is released.

Ben-Hur and its players failed to do the math.

“Ben-Hur” in Yiddish means “son of fine white linen.”

While the story is fictional, as is most of the tales that stem from the Bible, the actual person named Hur is questionable. The son of Moses’ sister, Hur, exists in the book of Exodus in the Bible.

Also, he was either the son or father of Caleb (depending on what part you read from in Chronicles) and was slain by the Israelites under the leadership of Phinehas. He is most associated with being with Aaron, holding Moses’ arms up high to defeat the “enemies” (see Exodus 17 and 24 for the legend).

This film, a remake of the Charlton Heston smash by the same name (which is the third film based on the 1880 Lew Wallace novel), has nothing to do with this alleged Old Testament character. Instead, it’s a fictional (yes, like, really fictional) being.

As with religious films, you have to attempt the feat several times before you strike gold, and even when gold is struck, the same area can come up dry. This is essentially what has happened with this particular remake of a remake of a remake of a remake.

We in the mainstream make fun of these all of the time—remakes. And religious films. We wouldn’t do it if it weren’t so god-damned easy.

Religious—more specifically Christian—films are indeed the curse of the world. If there were a devil, he would be writing and directing Christian movies. Christian movies not being very good is truly the actual history lesson here. Saving Christmas, C Me Dance, Fatal Flaw, Fight, Miracle Man, God’s Not Dead, Fireproof, Soul Surfer, Persecuted, Mom’s Night Out, Heaven is For Real, Son of God, and the remake of Left Behind are several newer films that are absolute rubbish.

Long gone are the desire to see films of biblical times. Shawls, swords, camels and sandals don’t appeal to the mass market these days, at least not since the release of Gladiator.

The exception would be the torture porn of Passion of the Christ, a 2-hour film where Christians can put themselves into the abusers’ feet and beat Jesus to death, only to then have it pardoned when he becomes a zombie and floats into the clouds. A good way to emotionally vent, as a friend once said.

A few things could have saved this film:

  • Change the title (or revamp it)
  • Use some of that budget and put a star on the payroll—who is this “lead?”
  • Market it better—the only way I heard about it is through an atheist website making fun of it
  • Make it somewhat relevant. Remakes are always incorporating modern interests

On the other hand, even with these tweaks, the film still maybe couldn’t be saved. It was probably doomed from the beginning. Most religious films only have decent profits, I assume (as a former Evangelical), because of the quantity of the fan base: almost 25% of America is Evangelical (a belief sect of Christianity).

These social martyrs see it as their mission to support and exploit anything remotely Jesus-centered, and they rally up the troops to see the film in large church groups, even if the product lacks quality. It has gotten so bad that Christians take what is popular and try to make a churchy version of it.

You also see this copy-cat behavior with music, and even in their apparel. They’ll take the font of the Coca-Cola® logo and print it as “Jesus Christ.” There are musical versions of any successful secular band out there, usually marketed like, “This band is similar to ____ but has Christian lyrics.” And usually, the Christian band sounds nothing like their comparison, and are usually only half as talented. You’d think the “creator” of the universe was more, um, creative!

Ben-Hur cost Paramount/MGM $100,000,000 to make, and is expected only to rake in a quarter of that. In a business sense, this is devastating. Can you imagine buying a $100,000 home to flip, and it sells for only $25,000? Or buying a $100 in stocks and the same week they sell for $25?

Unless you can bring in loads of new people who don’t expect a rehash of a tired old 1950s film, a remake will almost never be successful. You’re almost better off making a sequel or prequel. But loading up a boring film with CGI is the best the director can do. This is not unlike a Plain Jane wearing layers of makeup and spilling her breasts out.

The best thing I can say about this remake—and the one it’s based on—is that both leave off the novel’s subtitle: “A Tale of the Christ,” as it really has little to do with the mythical being, Jesus the Christ (Messiah).

– a exclusive