1959's Ben-Hur had the subtitle: “A Tale of The Christ” – or, in other words, a story involving The Messiah or “The Chosen One.” This all seems fitting as Ben-Hur’s often imitated chariot race is clearly referenced in Phantom Menace’s podrace with Anakin Skywalker (aka “The Chosen One”).
Having assisted on set of the 1926 version of Ben-Hur, William Wyler approached his 1958 production of this Tale of the Christ differently. Wyler focused on the love/hate relationship between Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston) and Messala (Stephen Boyd). The famous chariot race – epic in scale with 8,000 extras, teams of horses, and so – is so powerful and often imitated due to its use of dramatic close-ups to emphasize the characters and danger.
This same dramatic use of close-ups to emphasize the danger of an epic race was utilized by Lucas in Episode I’s famous podrace.
Other borrowed elements include the racetrack design elements, parade of racer flags and, of course, a snide, pompous, bloated ruler starting the race. Ben-Hur won 11 Oscars including Best Picture.
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