By Darryl Budge
BEN HUR (3D) Rated PG, out August 25
In a time when movies appeal to our lowest impulses, the new Ben Hur film shines with forgiveness and mercy over vengeful violence.
Produced by Mark Burnett of MGM's Survivor and The Apprentice, the new 3D blockbuster is a thrilling and beautiful reimagining of the original 1880 novel rather a remake of the 1959 classic.
"The 1959 movie was about revenge, not about forgiveness," says director Timur Bekmambetov.
"For me that was the main problem, as I think that the novel is mainly about forgiveness... a human being learning how to forgive."
Our modern world, says the director, "reminds me very much of a huge Roman Empire...where the most important values were pride, rivalry, power, strength, the dictatorship of power, and self-love.
"This kind of world does not have any prospects today. Humanity has to learn how to love and forgive. This would be our only solution."
The novel, by US Civil War Union General Lew Wallace, has been hailed as "the most influential Christian book of the nineteenth century" and is set during the time of Jesus Christ.
The new movie casts Jack Huston of Boardwalk Empire as Judah Ben-Hur, a Jewish prince whose adopted brother Messala (Toby Kebbell) has returned after commanding a Roman legion of soldiers.
As some Jews mount small, violent rebellions against their Roman rulers, Messala falsely accuses Judah of attempted assassination after a Roman commander is shot. He sentences his brother Judah to life in the Roman sea galleys, and falsely imprisons Judah's mother and sister.
After years of slavery, aided by wealthy horse trainer Ilderim (Morgan Freeman), Judah returns to his homeland to seek revenge.
A new spirit of radical forgiveness is changing Jerusalem, however. The old rationale of 'an eye for an eye' and 'love your friends and hate your enemies', is being replaced.
Judah finds a new path when he watches Jesus' confronting crucifixion. He looks at the crucified thief alongside Jesus and then looks at the soldiers responsible for carrying out the executions, and realises that their sinful deeds can be cancelled by His sacrificial death, His perfect love.
The two paths before Judah become clear: revenge and the cycle of perpetual hatred and violence, or pardon and peace through the mercy of God.
He chooses to turn away from a world that praises revenge, tyranny, and the spilling of blood.
When Jesus taught that true joy comes after body-and-soul surrender to His sacrificial love, it swept through the ancient world and changed the history of the world forever.
Estimated to cost $70 million, Ben Hur uses convincing CGI unlike the 1950s-era film, which used great crowds of extras, grand sets and real stunts that cost US$15m ($129m today) and killed a stunt man and 100 horses.?
Check out the trailer at ShareBenHur.com.au