Darren Aronofsky’s Biblical fantasy epic was spawned from his fascination with the character of Noah. On the surface, Noah was a man commissioned by God to build an ark and gather two of every bird, animal and reptile before the floods cleansed the earth of humanity. The retelling of this Old Testament story tends to focus on the creatures, but Aronofsky turns to the characters and their near-apocalyptic plight.
Russell Crowe plays the title role of Noah. He’s a strong actor, famous for his melancholic disposition and roles in historical epics like Gladiator and Robin Hood. He turns in a complex performance that positions him as hero and villain, visionary and executioner. The title role is where Noah thrives as a film, planting us in the middle of a dark, majestic fantasy adventure.
The film has received a lot of attention thanks to controversy surrounding the handling of its religious subject matter. Aronofsky is an atheist and as such has put his own spin on a “simple” Bible story that has become popular among children. His dark reimagining is more savage and could have taken place on Mars. The desolate landscape has an other-worldliness to it and could have easily featured in a film like John Carter.
It’s loosely based on Noah and the Ark, setting the film in a fairly timeless era that could be in the past or future, much like the Wachowski siblings did for Cloud Atlas. This makes the film more relevant today, echoing or reflecting issues affecting present day society. The ecological slant is the most preachy thing about Noah, targeting our “scourge” as meat-eaters, users of the earth and its creatures to the point that God would want to hit the reset button.
“Ahhhhhhhhh’m singing in the rain!”
The CGI is integral to this story and as such Noah relies quite heavily on it, depicting the creatures, the landscape and the colossal ark. It’s integral and inconsistent, delivering truly epic moments and then functioning like an afterthought at others. The over-reliance on CGI, epic disaster format and loose interpretation is reminiscent of Roland Emmerich and while notably darker, it wouldn’t have been surprising to find Emmerich’s name attached instead of Aronofsky’s.
The high concept story would be an ambitious undertaking in any director’s hands. The miraculous nature of the story requires that you go with it. Out-of-context, or even in a somewhat grounded reality, it just seems ludicrous and this is probably why Aronofsky decided to play up the fantasy elements. Despite his best efforts, the miracles still seem beyond our realm and this will open it up to some serious lampooning.
The Noah we’ve come to know through Sunday school and popular culture was a strong, old, faithful, hardheaded and God-fearing man. He was considered to be mad by his peers for building an ark, but Aronofsky’s revision depicts him as a man whose obsession to fulfill the Creator’s plan turned him against the wretched people, as orchestrator of a global genocide. This controversial slant, the empirical nature of the miracles and the addition of ‘The Watchers’ are probably the most deviant aspects of this adaptation.
Russell Crowe is supported by a host of actors, including: Anthony Hopkins, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman and Ray Winstone. Hopkins is the wisened old man and spiritual advisor of the family, Methuselah. Connelly plays Noah’s wife, Naameh, a woman forced to endure much. Watson and Lerman play Noah’s children, Ila and Ham, each with their own hesitations surrounding their father’s great plans. Winstone is Tubal-cain, a self-proclaimed king of the fallen humanity, playing one of the biggest additions to the story.
Noah is a grand and majestic film, but Aronofsky’s story probably would’ve suited television better. The frequency of the miracles would have had more impact if the story had been extrapolated, the vast array of characters warranted further unpacking and there are definite synergies with the mini-series The Pillars of the Earth.
What we have is something that while not faithful in terms of adaptation, is visually spectacular and suited to the big screen. They seem to be scaling the tip of the iceberg and this symbolic revision could be a trailer for a much broader work. Crowe’s kingpin title performance is the main drawcard apart from the allure of CGI magic and it makes a deeply flawed, yet thought-provoking Biblical adventure fantasy and drama.
The bottom line: Ominous
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