Christian actress and producer Roma Downey, who starred in "Touched by an Angel' TV series, urges followers of Jesus Christ to bring their friends and family to watch the MGM's 'Ben-Hur' remake that is slated for release on August 19th. Like the 1959 version, Ben-Hur is an action-adventure movie that intertwined the lifelong struggle between two brothers with the life story of Jesus Christ, but in the remake, Christ will be featured much more prominently with the emphasis on the theme of forgiveness and reconciliation.
"For us as filmmakers, who are committed to telling stories of faith and stories that bring hope, we can only continue to do it as long as people come and support and come out to see them," said Downey, who, together with her husband, was the executive producer of 'Ben-Hur' 2016 remake and has been actively producing faith-based T.V. series and movies, including The Bible Miniseries, Son of God, A.D. The Bible Continues, Woodlawn, The Dovekeepers, with The Bible Miniseries seen by 100 million viewers. The popularity of these productions revealed the deep longing of the public for movies and entertainment that will inspire them with the message of faith, hope and love.
Downey, who is getting a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame on Hollywood Blvd this Thursday, shared with The Gospel Herald on how the film's message of forgiveness and reconciliation is so needed at "such a time as this," in light of the social unrests in this country and the wars and conflicts persisting abroad. "It is our hope and prayer in that moment of (forgiveness) that this message (inspired by the words of Jesus himself) will resonate out to our country and out to the world," she said.
The film Ben-Hur follows the journey of Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston), a Jewish prince in Roman-occupied Jerusalem, whose childhood friend and adoptive brother Messala (Toby Kebbell) became his mortal enemies because of the choices that they made in life, which brought a series of misfortune upon Ben-Hur. After losing everything and spending five years as a Galley slave underneath a Roman battleship, Ben Hur is washed ashore after a shipwreck and is found by a wealthy Sheik Illderim (Morgan Freeman), who trains him to be a charioteer to get revenge on his brother. Together, they plot to defeat the Romans in the Romans' game of grand chariot racing.
In the film, Ben-Hur says that it was hatred and vengeance that kept him alive, but his conversion is the watershed moment when he receives healing and experience of wholeness in his heart. His several encounters with Jesus Christ culminates in Christ sentenced to death by Pontius Pilate, followed by an incredible scene where Christ is crucified and cries out, "Forgive them, father, for they know not of what they are doing," and Ben-Hur kneels before the cross weeping in 'a moment of salvation.'
Given how popular their latest films about Jesus and the Bible were, Downey and Burnett hope that their latest production, Ben-Hur, will be able to bridge the generation gap between those who have seen the 1959 version of Ben-Hur with Charlton Heston and those in this generation who have no idea about this story based on Lew Wallace's book, 'Ben-Hur: The Tale of Christ,' published in 1880. It was the best-selling book of the time, second to the Bible, until Gone with the Wind took over in the early 1900s.
Ben-Hur remake was produced with a 100 million dollar budget. Downey said that they have hired the best crew, including director Timur Bekmambetov, legendary actor Morgan Freeman, the very best horse teams of trainer from across Europe. Moreover, CGI special-effects added extra intensity to several scenes of this action-adventure film that keeps viewers on the edge of their seat. They hope that this film will appeal to both young people and secular audiences.
In the movie, there is a climactic scene when Judah Ben-Hur competes against his brother Marsala along with other chariot riders inside the stadium. Downey revealed that the actors did not use stuntman, but had to train with great courage for months in preparation for their roles in this scene, "They are indeed riding those chariots."
The 'Ben-Hur' remake not only will show the formative years between Judah Ben-Hur and Messala, but also a strong connection between Ben-Hur and Jesus in two major scenes, with one being Ben-Hur, beaten and broken on the ground before he was send off to the Roman Galley as a Galley slave, and Jesus comes to give him water. In a later scene, Jesus is now the one being beaten and broken on the ground as he carries the cross, and Ben-Hur comes to give Jesus water, but a soldier said, 'no water for him,' and they kicked Ben-Hur. Ben-Hur picks up a stone to hit the Romans, but Jesus stops him and said, "I give my life on my own free will." When Judah follows him up that hill, he is still clinching that stone unconsciously. At yet in that moment of salvation, he drops the stone in front of the cross.
Downey explains the significance of this subtle scene, "I think for so many of us Christians, there have been so many opportunities where we have stood in front of the cross, and we have dropped the stones, the stone of disappointment, stone of anger, stone of bitterness, whatever the stone is that each of us might be carrying in our lives there is always a chance to kneel in front of the cross and let that go."
Roma also shared how it has been a privilege to be able to produce stories that tell the gospel through their work, and how they have been able to do it together as husband and wife.
"We feel a calling on our life," she said. "I had such an amazing decade of my life on 'Touched by an Angel,' and got to deliver a message every week in front of 20 million people as a messenger of God's love for us. To some extent, here we are still doing that again, weaving that message throughout the works that we are making."
Ben-Hur 2016 was produced in collaboration with MGM and Paramount. Downey said to have Jesus on the big screen in summer is extraordinary, where the message of hope, mercy, forgiveness, and reconciliation is delivered.
"For such a time as this when a message like this is needed more than ever," said Downey. "We are just grateful that we get to work on material that we love, and we get to combine what we can do with what we believe, and we get to do them with all these excellent people."
When asked about her getting inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Downey said she came to this town many years ago with a dream herself.
"It's just amazing, Pastor Rick Warren is going to speak on my behalf, and Della Reese. I have my pastor and my angel speaking for me on Hollywood Blvd, and there is going to be a Salvation Army band coming to play, so it might be a first for someone getting a star. A pastor, an angel, and the Salvation Army band all gathering together," she said. "It is humbling and fun. I worked very hard throughout my career that God will be up front and center."
Downey hopes that this film will be able to spark a conversation on topics of faith, so she encourages Christians around the country can come and support this film. "We can only continue to do it as long as people come out to see them and support. It is a great opportunity to not just bring yourself, but your friend."
"I'm always happy about the idea that people can talk about Jesus around the water cooler," she said.
More information and resources for sharing Ben-Hur can be found at Sharebenhur.com.