How do you sell the same ol’ Bible story of Noah to modern audiences? Change it… a lot.
In the Old World before the Great Flood, Adam and Eve sinned and Cain killed Abel. Cain went into the world and started the first industrial age – who knew, right? – with the help (get this) angels who chose to fall because they felt sorry for humanity being thrown out of the Garden of Eden. While the world is full of sinners AND destroyers of the environment, “bad people” also eat meat because “they think it makes them stronger” (pre-flood Godly men were apparently all vegans). When the Creator decides to wipe the slate clean, Noah gets the call to save the animals, but will he make the conscious decision to save all humanity as well?
Welcome to the all-new, all-improved Noah – now fortified with fallen angels and extra preachiness. If you think about this as the non-Biblical, alternative history version of the Great Flood, there’s some interesting stuff going on here. Forgetting that this is a Bible story, the post garden-paradise world seemed to start with the Dark Ages and rolled right over into the Industrial Age – either that or the production designers were really big fans of the computer game “Myst.” While there IS a bad guy (Ray Winstone), it all comes down to choice; while that may not sound like the command of an all-powerful Creator, it is quite the self-fulfilling prophecy.
Russel Crowe usually plays, well, Russel Crowe – who knew Superman‘s dad was Gladiator? – but he manages to emote differently as the title character and fortunately sings only ONE song. Both Jennifer Connolly and Emma Watson (acting much more Hermione-ish here than she was in Perks of Being a Wallflower) steal plenty of emotional scenes, mostly concerning the questionable actions of their patriarch; the other male roles are mostly forgettable except for Anthony Hopkins’ too-brief scene as the berry-loving Methuselah. Good listeners may pick out the voice of Frank Langella as helpful fallen angel #1, but the remaining rock monsters and soon-to-drown folks are mere plot points who appear and disappear as the script demands; this isn’t a bad thing, but it does make their passing less emotional since we didn’t know much about them other than they lived before they died.
Director Darren Aronofsky reportedly admitted that Noah would be “the least biblical Bible film ever made,” and that appears to be the truth. That said, imagine that the story was instead timeless, not a part of Biblical cannon but an original vision taking place not on this Earth but an alternate universe or on a different planet entirely. Taken from that persepctive, the concept widens into a grander scale: what if this IS what happened and we haven’t heard the correct version of it until now? Pro-vegan and anti-industrial messages aside, what appears on the screen is a grand epic that feels powerful; the word “God” isn’t mentioned, but the hand of an all-powerful Creator is felt throughout. The studio reportedly attempted to screen various cuts of the film to several Christian groups – against Aronofsky’s wishes – but all of them fell flat.
Aside from the changes in the story from the Book of Genesis itself, the only real misstep is a character’s previously unrevealed ability to quickly ferment fruit into alcohol within an unbelievably short time; was it meant as a metaphor about drowning your sorrows not being a solution? No booming voices or burning bushes here, just prophetic dreams and their interpretation by one mortal; while the will of the omnipotent off-screen being isn’t exactly clear, the entire film points directly to faith. Will this be the first morality tale inspired by the Bible while at the same time stripped away from it, or is someone already scripting an alternate version of The Passion of the Christ that doesn’t have the word “superstar” in it? Only the dollars voted at the box office will tell us for sure.
(a three skull recommendation out of four)