Focus on the Family / Tyndale, 1880/1997.
Gladiator is a razzle-dazzle action-packed film, but for true spectacle, the classics can’t be beat. In the old days, you didn’t create stadiums on computers; you spent months building them, then staging elaborate chariot races before real-life crowds. Sometimes a race was all a movie needed; the first movie based on Ben-Hur, General Lew Wallace’s novel about a Jew who meets Christ, was a one-reel silent flick released in 1907.
The Kalem Company made the film without permission, so Wallace’s estate launched the first serious copyright-infringement lawsuit in movie history. In 1910, the Supreme Court ordered the producers to pay $25,000 in damages. Two more films followed, in 1925 and 1959, and their influence can be felt in such modern films as The Phantom Menace, which paid homage to both films with its pod-race sequence.
But before Ben-Hur was a film, it was an enormously successful stage play that premiered on Broadway in 1899. And before that, it was a novel, published in 1880. Wallace researched and wrote the story after an agnostic challenged him to prove Jesus was the Son of God, and he famously became a Christian as a result.
Focus on the Family has re-issued the novel, with woodcuts and a photo from the stage adaptation, as part of its ‘Great Stories’ series. It features a thorough introduction by Joe Wheeler, with a mini-biography of Wallace, and an afterword designed to generate discussion of the book.