For years Darren Aronofsky tried to get his epic version of Noah off the ground, but it never seemed likely to really happen. His only previous foray into big budget filmmaking, The Fountain, turned into a bit of a disaster, with only part of the movie actually made (due to studio intervention) and what was left being confusing and making little money at the box office.
However after the success of Black Swan and with biblical epics looking like they might be coming back into fashion, Paramount decided to take a punt on the movie. However this is Darren Aronofsky, the man behind the likes of Requiem For A Dream and Pi, so it was always clear this wasn’t going to be your typical $125 million studio movie. That said, it appears even Paramount was surprised by how strange and intense it turned out. After viewing Darren’s preferred version they made their own, more traditional cut, but it turned out audiences liked Aronofsky’s take better and so that’s what we have.
The movie takes the biblical story of Noah and expands upon it – although interestingly a lot of the things people have complained about, saying that they’re not from The Bible, are actually based on things that are part of the Old Testament that few people know (such as the fact it appears Noah did get drunk soon after the Ark found land), while much of what is completely made up there’s been less fuss about.
Noah (Russell Crowe) is the last of his line, with the rest of the world taken over by the wicked sons of Cain, who murder, rape, pillage and destroy everything they come into contact with. After having a vision of drowning men and visiting his ancient grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins), he’s convinced he’s been given a mission to the save the innocent – the animals. He therefore sets about building an enormous ark.
However with the threat of a deluge destroying humanity, the rest of mankind – led by the brutal Tubal Cain (Ray Winstone) – isn’t prepared to allow Noah to rescue animals and allow him and his people to die. Noah is determined to continue his mission, which he believes isn’t just to save the animals, but that he and his family, along with adoptive daughter Ila (Emma Watson), will be the last ever humans on Earth. His single-minded determination about his mission soon begins to rip his family apart, but nothing anyone says will sway him from what he thinks he has to do.
All the basics of the story are there, but many will be surprised about the tone and ‘additions’. For example many may wonder where the stone giants, the Watchers, came from. While some have railed against them as a stupid, made-up addition, these former angels are from biblical lore. While not specifically mentioned in the Noah story, they’re logical to include even though few have heard of them.
The real difference is that when the Noah story is normally told, the focus is on saving the fluffy animals, however Aronofsky takes the other tack – that this is the story of a man who follows his orders from God, knowing that he is condemning millions to death while doing so. He’s goes about it without questioning it, and the film suggests that necessarily makes him a rather hard, sometime callous and often unlikable man. It’s a movie that’s often dark and intense, and once Noah and his family are on the ark, it goes to some pretty disturbing places.
Instead of the jolly bearded boat builder from Sunday School, we get a Noah who’s dead set on infanticide. Indeed there are moments that wouldn’t be out of place in a Greek tragedy. While all this could have come across as overly melodramatic, it’s surprisingly engrossing and thought provoking.
There are some very blockbuster type moments but it’s clear Aronofsky is actually more interesting in the familial drama and, as is his tendency, he doesn’t want to tell a happy, jolly tale. In fact while the ending has hope and an interest in the idea of mercy, it leaves open the distinct possibility that it really thinks the world would have been better off if humanity had been wiped off it. That’s certainly not a typical theme for a mega-budget movie.
Parts of the film are strange and somewhat ethereal and in many respects it comes across as an incredibly expensive art movie – but a very good one. Even after reading this review I suspect few people will find Noah to be what they expected – that’s not to say they won’t like it, but this is a very different type of biblical epic and not quite like anything else out there. Indeed reading some other reviews, most of the negative ones seem to come from people who decided what the film was going to be before they saw it, and purely judged it against that, rather than looking at the actual movie they got.
It’s also worth watching on Blu-ray if possible, as it looks absolutely gorgeous. Along with some cool special effects, it’s full of incredible landscapes (much of it was shot in Iceland), memorable images and it’s generally a bit of a visual feast. The disc also features a good ‘making of…’ documentary, which is split into three parts and gives an excellent overview of the creation of the film, both in practical terms of what was a massive undertaking, and also talking about exactly what the filmmakers were trying to explore with their idiosyncratic take on the famed story.
I did wonder how on Earth someone like Russell Crowe was supposed to have managed to have kids as gorgeous as Logan Lerman and Douglas Booth, but that’s a relatively minor complaint.
Overall Verdict: Sometimes odd and often surprisingly dark, Noah certainly isn’t your typical biblical epic, but it’s an impressive and engrossing singular vision with some big ideas that may linger in your head long after the credits roll.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac