So, it has been a while since the Ben-Hur remake (review here) was released and has bombed at the box office, not even breaking even with its budget. This lack of financial success has not been a great shock seeing as it seems as though everyone but those who made the film predicted its failure.
This seems to have brought about the question of why they thought to remake it in the first place. Why remake the film that jointly holds the records for most Oscars won and is heralded as a true classic? Do you think you can do it better? The odds are certainly against you in that respect. Now, that’s not to say that no remake can better its predecessor, the 1959 rendition of the story was a remake in itself, but the astronomical success and reputation of that film seems hard to beat, and unnecessary to even try. So I’m going to attempt to unravel the mystery that is Hollywood executive decision-making and try and fathom some possible reasons for why this was even entertained as a good idea.
Perhaps the first thing that comes to mind when considering the obvious differences between modern films and older ones is the technology available nowadays that lets you do pretty much anything with CGI. So, theoretically, it would allow you to expand the world and do more with it. However, with Ben-Hur, the 1959 version was famed for its production as much as anything else. 100,000 costumes, 8,000 extras and 300 sets (including the stadium set – one of the biggest ever built) made the manual production of the epic a feat in itself. A CGI rendering of these would never match up to the marvel of creating them in real life, and improved CGI with much weaker storytelling will still result in an overall weaker film.
So if the CGI reasoning doesn’t equal a good enough reason, maybe its down to making the film ‘more accessible’ for what many in Hollywood deem to be the modern audience. This mainly consists of assuming they do not have the patience to sit through a near four-hour picture and thus need it trimmed down to around two. This, first of all, makes a big assumption about the kind of people watching films today and what they want. Of course there are people who won’t watch a film over two hours but that will have always been the case. It also assumes that you can squeeze an epic into half its running time whilst maintaining a similar impact, which, logically, seems unlikely (and proven to be incorrect).
So maybe it is just the belief that films have to be reinvented for new generations, and films, even classics, need to be renewed every several decades. However, often what makes a classic a classic is that it is timeless, it speaks to the human experience and isn’t dependent on a context of its audience to reach them. Similarly, many films are passed through families down generations; your parents or grandparents will likely show you their favourite films. Alternatively, you’re likely to seek out any classics you are interested in, and the majority will not simply ignore it because of its release date. Thus this reasoning may work for the few, but not many…which wouldn’t help with the weak box office.
Overall, it appears as though it’s pretty hard to find good reasons for remaking Ben-Hur, so I guess the Hollywood logic will remain a mystery for now.