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Life-or-death chariot racing takes center stage in first Ben-Hur trailer

Nearly 60 years after the release of the epic historical drama Ben-Hur, Paramount Pictures and MGM’s remake is racing into theaters. The first trailer debuted Wednesday, and the action looks more intense than ever.

Like its predecessor — which, incidentally, is a remake of the 1925 silent film of the same name — 2016’s Ben-Hur centers on Judah Ben-Hur (played by Jack Huston) and is based on Lew Wallace’s 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. Originally a prince, Ben-Hur is falsely accused of treason by his adopted brother, Messala (Toby Kebbell), and then stripped of his title and forced into slavery. After spending years at sea, Ben-Hur survives a brutal battle and is finally able to return home. There, he discovers Messala’s manipulation and seeks justice for his family through the dangerous sport of chariot racing.

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If chariot racing doesn’t sound dangerous to you, the trailer will convince you otherwise. Like Rome’s gladiator battles that cropped up in its wake, losing means dying. “There is no law; racing is a blood sport,” says Ilderim (Morgan Freeman) in the trailer as he mentors Ben-Hur. “Defeat him and you’ll defeat an empire. Then, you will have your vengeance.”

Naturally, the dramatic race scenes feature a healthy dose of CGI. We see horses escape into the crowded stands, chariots launch into the air, and Ben-Hur being dragged behind his horses, to say nothing of the maritime battle shown earlier in the preview. The film looks intense, but it remains to be seen how it will stack up compared to the 1959 version (and its 11 Academy Awards).

The remake is directed by Timur Bekmambetov and written by Keith R. Clarke and John Ridley. Its cast also includes Nazanin Boniadi, Rodrigo Santoro, Ayelet Zurer, Sofia Black D’Elia, and more.

Ben-Hur hits theaters on August 12.