Reviewed by Danny Sarnowski
Darren Aronofsky's Noah is not a success. It just isn't. And I am someone who really was hoping that it could be. I am a fan of Aronofsky's other films and have found them to be thrilling, engaging, and visually arresting. Noah was a challenge, but not for the reasons I (or Mr. Aronofsky) was hoping.
It is beyond my comprehension that any filmmaker or studio executive would screen this movie and suggest that it be marketed to religious movie goers. This movie is not a religious epic. This is not The Passion of the Christ. That movie was a literal adaptation of Biblical work. It was in Aramaic, for crying out loud. Noah, by contrast, has been so sanitized of any religious or Biblical connections as to render it unrecognizable to the billions of people around the world for whom the basic story should be familiar. It is a bait-and-switch of Biblical proportions.
From the first moments, this movie is off-putting. It works to stiff arm the audience from connecting to the material or characters on any level other than intellectual. I can imagine the filmmakers working to delicately walk the fine lines that are present when crafting a "faith-based" piece of work. At times it seems they were overly sensitive to not offending anyone and at others it feels as though they were purposely trying to piss people off. Many reviewers will comment that "this isn't your father's religious epic," and it isn't. It is a science fiction movie. Then a war film. Then a horror picture. And finally a totally hollow family film (with rather gross undertones).
To be fair, Aronofsky and his team are working with one of the very oldest stories that humanity has to offer. The chapters in Genesis do not provide a wealth of detailed material with which to adapt a two hour-plus work of cinematic fiction. Artistic license needed to be taken. In order to tell this story at all, in any way, choices had to be made and those had the opportunity to drive the picture one way or another. Too often, though, the choices made result in a confusing, muddled, angry, far-fetched film. With rock monsters. Oh, did I not mention the rock monsters yet?
The rock monsters, or Watchers (fallen angels rendered in CGI and voiced by Nick Nolte and Frank Langella), are one of several "magical" elements that this film uses to move the story forward. If this movie's title card read "In the beginning, on Planet XERNON, there was nothing..." I think the whole endeavor could have been salvaged. I think to own up to the fact that this was a reinterpretation of a more-than-famous tale that uses fantastical elements and science fiction devices would have helped a lot. To try to tie this movie back to the Bible, however, immediately dooms the whole production. And our enjoyment of it.
This movie is filled with anachronisms (from the costumes, to the mining operations, to a silhouette scene showing contemporary soldiers being murdered), pointless battle scenes, and seriously screwed up family dynamics. It lacks emotional depth, mystery, or characters we connect with.
- The production values are well done. People on this planet are extremely dirty and the landscapes are either gorgeous or savagely ugly.
- Some of the visual elements are startling. When Russell Crowe's Noah recites the creation story for his family, we are treated to some of Mr. Aronofsky's trademark visual work. It feels like these passages were the only moments of the film which truly inspired the writer/director.
- Jennifer Connelly does a very nice job as Noah's wife Naameh.
What didn't work?
- Rock monsters.
- Random magic that is used to get the story out of corners it paints itself into.
- Making Noah a soldier/warrior. He is the last decent man on Earth, a pacifist bent on following God's orders to save the innocent. He's asked to spend years slaving to build the ark that will carry them to safety and to sit idly by while ALL OF HUMANITY is killed. This movie wraps all that up in an axe-wielding, ass-kicking package of bottled rage played by Russell Crowe.
- The rock monsters build 88% of the ark.
- The animals all just show up. They walk or fly into the ark and fall asleep.
- It seems that only hard part that Noah has to do is get his family ON the boat as the storm comes. He almost doesn't do this.
- The months that Noah spends lurking on the ark waiting to murder his own grandchild.
- The about-face reversal in the final moments of the ocean voyage resulting in two additional females with which mankind can repopulate the world. (This will require a young boy to sleep with his nieces and their children to sleep with each other and so on for several generations - ewww)
- The final shot of the movie - a pale rainbow indicating that "It's all good" now.
I give credit to Darren Aronofsky for having the stones to attempt to bring this story to the screen and to give it such a large canvas. I wish he had not used those stones, however, to build rock monsters.
As a stand alone sci-fi action movie: C+
As a Biblical epic meant to inspire and bolster faith: D