Russell Crowe stars as Noah in the film inspired by the epic story of courage, sacrifice and hope. Directed by visionary filmmaker Darren Aronofsky. (from Facebook.com/Noah)
One of the most controversial films this year has to be Darren Aronofsky's take on the Biblical story of Noah. Aronofsky's work has largely been indie films and visually driven, mature-themed stories up until this point. His previous effort, Black Swan, won Natalie Portman an Oscar for Best Actress while the film itself was nominated for Best Picture, Director, Cinematography and Editing. Many were surprised to hear that Aronofsky would be taking on Noah, but to hear the director talk about the story, you realize the project was a kind of labor of love of his--which makes it all the more puzzling how much of a mixed bag Noah turns out to be.
It really may have been a labor of love for Aronofsky, but no one can deny that the target audience for a movie so obviously about the Biblical figure and so blatantly titled after him would be Bible-believing Christians. And while I get why Hollywood wouldn't want to cater to just the "Bible thumpers," it's pretty clear that Aronofsky wasn't exactly the best guy to bring this movie to the big screen (unless, of course, the intent was solely to offend said demographic, but I have a hard time believing that would be so). For starters, it's only a few minutes into the film when Aronofsky introduces "The Watchers," a race of angels that came to earth to assist Adam when The Fall happened. God was displeased with their effort to aid mankind, so he let the earth consume them. So these fiery, light beings became walking rock monsters with glowing eyes. No joke. They don't look more believable than the snow monster in Frozen either. So right off the bat, we have rock monsters helping Noah. Rock monsters. And how else would Noah build the ark? With the help of these rock monsters, of course. There are really no shortage of fantastical stories in the Bible (The mysterious giants called The Nephilim were cited as an example of the wickedness God wanted to wipe out in Genesis 6:4, for example.), but it's really hard to take Aronofsky's story seriously when it seems like he isn't. If it weren't for the enthusiastic way the director and his crew talk about the project in the film's extras, you'd probably never guess they felt that way. Instead, this movie can't decide if it's purely fantasy or a look at a true historical event.
As if rock monsters weren't enough, Aronofsky and his team play up the wickedness and violence of the men of the age. When we first see adult Noah and his young kids, they're on the run from randomly evil people. We don't know why they're being pursued, other than maybe to kill them, eat them or put them into slavery. Take your pick, I suppose. Noah has dreams of wickedness and death and destruction and it helps motivate him to build the ark that would rescue them. While on the run, however, they stumble upon a decimated village where they pick up an injured girl named Ila and take her into the family. Her injury has rendered her barren so it becomes a bit of a catalyst for some romantic drama about what use she'll be to the family if she can't help repopulate the earth after the flood. By the time the ark is finished, Noah's three boys and Ila are all grown up. Shem has already picked out Ila to be his mate, while Ham mopes around about being single, and Japheth is too young and just sits on the sidelines. Ham ends up struggling with feelings of resentment toward his father due to the way his father seems not to care for his needs and desires for a wife (and to become a "man"), and it just adds too much nonsense to the plot. If you revisit the chapters in Genesis about Noah's family, it always talks about Noah's sons and their wives. It never mentions Ila or any of the boys being single actually. It's clear Aronofsky was trying to appeal to the younger demographic with this significant plot change, and it doesn't help the movie any. Meanwhile, Noah's butting heads with a local warlord named Tubal-Cain who wants Noah to know he's the ruler of their land. However, Noah's got God and some rock monsters on his side. But once the rain starts, Tubal leads a charge to fight Noah and take the ark. While it's probably realistic to assume there was some violent opposition to Noah's ark and people wanting to board it in reality, it's unlikely there was a massive battle with Ent-like rock beasts and a Ray Winstone-like ruler involved. (Winstone, of whom which I have not yet forgiven for helping to ruin Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. He dogged every moment he showed up in that already troubled movie. But I digress...)
As if all of that isn't enough, there's [needlessly] still almost an hour of movie left once the flood comes and Aronofsky really goes for the creative jugular, so to speak, by amping up the tension between Ham and Noah, an evil stowaway, and the future of the human race. By the last half hour or so, Noah has pretty much become a villain and he's absolutely unlikeable. The finale is also a bunch of disjointed scripture references and feel-good sentiments. They portray God as not feeling sorrowful about the wickedness of His creation and so He causes the flood to start over, but as a heartless being who wants Noah to make sure the line of man ends after the flood (which makes absolutely no sense. Why save man at all then? For the animals to make it to land safely? God really NEEDS man to do that?). Noah's really just an absolute mess.
What works in Noah? Not much. The players are pretty good, and Darren Aronofsky's visuals are topnotch, but not much else keeps the movie together. I consider myself pretty patient with movies and even so-so movies. The only times I really lose my patience is usually with really poorly acted or poorly filmed movies (like a lot of indie or low budget Christian-made movies, sadly), or movies that cross the line content-wise. But with Noah, I couldn't wait for it to end. I have a soft spot for Jennifer Connelly ever since The Rocketeer but she didn't add much to the movie and, while Russell Crowe can be pretty bland (Robin Hood), I really liked him in Man of Steel. Here, he just can't do much but brood and look hefty. Logan Lerman is okay as Ham, but he's still stuck in that Percy Jackson kind of young teen stereotype role. He's going to need to work at not becoming the next Shia LeBouf. Emma Watson was alright at times as Ila, but toward the end of the movie, her whining and screaming was nigh unbearable. Finally, Anthony Hopkins is reduced to residing in a cave and blithering on about berries, to the point that it's rather sad. And no help to the actors are the costumes in the film. They often feel far too anachronistic. They don't seem at all like what these people might have worn in their time and it really bumps the viewer out of the story.
The content for the film doesn't help things much either. It's pretty violent at times--maybe not as bloody as the recent Hercules, but it comes close. One of the worst moments comes when Noah has a violent vision of hungry people begging to be fed when they literally rip apart a screaming lamb while it's still alive. It's quick but it's pretty graphic, disturbing and surprising when it happens. There's also some blood-spurting action violence as well. There's lots of talk about the teenage characters being able to reproduce, and Shem and Ila have a few pretty passionate encounters with each other. The only language is four uses of "d*mned," which, given their usage, could go either way. Otherwise, the film plays it about as safe as it can spiritually too. God is only ever referenced as "The Creator" and there's never a mention of God or Jesus or anything. And the film really doesn't show Noah himself in a very good light, which is unfortunate given that scripture says "Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God." in Genesis 6:9 (NIV).
Overall, Noah is a big budget shipwreck of a movie. It has its moments (none that come to mind though) and it looks great visually speaking, but the actual story and Aronofsky's ambitious but sloshy pacing bog down a story that doesn't need to be. If you're looking for a decent Noah story--and I can't believe I'm saying this, but--you might be better off watching Evan Almighty.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 8/7/14)
Iceland: Extreme Beauty focuses on filming on location in Iceland. The segment opens by quoting Genesis 6:17, interestingly enough. They explain that they chose the location for its volcanic makeup, to capture the "new earth" look of a post-flood world. Aronofsky makes some strange, unexplained references to appeasing unseen "elves of Iceland," while filming there, that isn't clear if he's joking or being oddly serious. This portion also covers the unpredictable weather and shows lots of on-set footage.
The Ark Exterior: A Battle for 300 Cubits - Here we find that they'd built much of the ark on a field in Long Island. They also provided physical rain effects that dumped 2,000 gallons of water a minute onto the actors! This portion also features a great story about how Aronofsky had written an award-winning poem for his 7th grade English class. We then get to meet his teacher and hear her account of the story.
The Ark Interior: Animals Two by Two - The inside of the ark was built as a set inside of a hangar in Brooklyn. They talk about the set design here and we see some takes being filmed. There's also a detailed look at a scene that appears to have been cut out of the film in which Ham helps Tubal set a compound fracture in his leg. They show the fake rubber leg as made by the prop team and then some footage of the scene being filmed. Some of the cast and crew also talk about the story with the cowriter delving into the scriptural account of Noah and how they translated it to film. It's pretty interesting. Ray Winstone also talks about the differences between Tubal-Cain and Noah's characters and God's plan for the flood. It all wraps up with some footage of stunts being filmed.- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 8/6/14)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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