In the Beginning, back in 1966, there was a much derided movie called The Bible… In the Beginning, directed by the great John Huston, and starring himself as old Noah A contemporary review said: ‘A bad film of a good book’.
The great Darren Aronofsky’s film about Noah brings this to mind. Despite all his talent and good intentions, he to has created ‘A bad film of a good book’. And, lo, like the great John Huston’s movie, it is bad, but it isn’t unbearable.
Russell Crowe is cast as a one-note grimly serious Noah, and he has a dream in which he sees man’s fall from grace in the Garden of Eden (cue digital snake) and ‘The Creator’ tells him he wants to punish mankind for their wickedness (humans have eaten the forbidden fruit and Cain has slain Abel). So he’s going to send an all-consuming flood to destroy everybody, but commands Noah to build a huge ark to save the ‘innocent’ animals, reptiles etc. Noah, loyal wife Mrs Noah (Jennifer Connelly) and the kids will hove up in a new Eden, but they will die without progeny, the human race will end and the state of grace will be restored with an animals-only zone.
Only trouble is, wicked old Tubal-cain turns up, the cockney warrior Ray Winstone, to put Noah permanently out of action, with the help of his army. Luckily, then, the stone warriors Watchers turn up, and put old Tubal-cain and his warriors out of action just when the animals and crawlies have boarded the ark and Noah fancies getting the heck out of there, what with the waters rising and all.
The other problem is that Noah’s son Ham (Logan Lerman) has fancied this girl and Noah hasn’t saved her life, so Ham’s in a bad mood with Dad. And his other son Shem (Douglas Booth) fancies a young, barren girl Ila (Emma Watson) the family’s adopted. Noah’s gone to seeks out his granddad Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) for help and advice, but that backfires when Mrs Noah gets Methuselah to make Ila a woman again. After a bit of romping with Shem, Ila gets pregnant, enraging Noah, who swears he’ll kill the baby if it’s a girl because he has to stamp out the human race on his mission from ‘The Creator’.
Those are the plot problems. The troubles with the film are:
(1) it’s long and boring, and there’s not enough plot and characters to fill 140 minutes
(2) it’s all CGI visual special effects, and they’re really not very special in a movie that has a cost-cutting look to it but cost $125million;
(3) the story and dialogue largely defeats these good actors, though they carry on regardless, even if some of them are fighting miscasting;
(4) it doesn’t adhere to The Bible, so it may upset The Pope and some Christians;
(5) it offers a religious view of the Creation that is of course discredited by science, so it may upset non-Christians;
(6) the flood you look forward to is done and dusted in a few brief, unspectacular moments;
(7) the animals, who seem important to the story, just vanish after they’re tidily aboard the ark;
(8) Aronofsky doesn’t explain why, with biblical epics so outmoded, he thinks this story is relevant, or reveal his take on it;
(9) bizarrely looking like the talking, walking trees in Lord of the Rings, the stone warriors Watchers are pathetic monsters, and deserve a special Razzie award as Year’s Worst Monsters (really sure there are no giant stone monsters in the Bible);
(10) Russell Crowe’s hair-do keeps changing without explanation, and even if the movie’s called Noah, we really get to see too much of this grumpy old geezer;
(11) Noah’s change of heart at the end is totally unconvincing, even if you’ve been convinced by anything else in the story;
(12) there’s a ghastly, bombastic, era-splitting score by Clint Mansell that just seems to announce that the story and images are too weak to stand on their own;
(13) gratuitous battle scenes are dragged in to pep things up, but Aronofsky is no Peter Jackson with the battles and monsters;
(14) the seven days of Creation are conjured up in a spectacular sped-up stop-motion sequence that’s the best thing in the entire movie, but it’s so fast it’s blink and you’ll miss it, and again it emphasises the weaknesses of the rest of the film.
Paramount Pictures were worried about Noah and its religious theme, so they test screened three different rough cuts of the film, both without Aronofsky’s knowledge and all of the versions met with resounding criticism from Christian audiences. Aronofsky was upset: ‘No one has ever done that to me. In dramas, I’ve never been open to it.’ The studio announced on February 12 2014 that Aronofsky’s version is the final cut of Noah.
Aronofsky says he and his crew had to create an entire animal kingdom, using no real animals in the production but slightly tweaked versions of real creatures. Industrial Light and Magic said their work on the film represented the most complicated rendering in the company’s history
Aronofsky says the Watchers’ designs were inspired by three images: the six-winged Seraphim angels, a seagull trapped in oil and by ballet dancers with blocks attached to their feet. ‘These are angelic forms captured, malformed imprisoned by the earth; winged creatures who got encased and had to use their wings as arms and legs.’
Aronofsky was fascinated with the character of Noah since childhood, seeing him as a ‘dark, complicated character who experiences real survivor’s guilt’.
© Derek Winnert 2014 Movie Review
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