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“Noah” Takes on Water But Barely Stays Afloat

Paramount Pictures

David Ives - published on 03/27/14

Amid a flood of sci-fi effects and creative "elaborations," Darren Aronofsky's "Noah" manages to ask some deeper questions.

You know what movie I used to love to watch as a kid? Robinson Crusoe On Mars. In case you never caught that one on a lazy Saturday afternoon, it was an excellent 1964 science fiction film that borrowed elements and plot points from Daniel Defoe’s classic 18th century novel, Robinson Crusoe. It had a shipwrecked traveler, vicious pirates, an escaped prisoner who is given the name of Friday, and a cool monkey in a space suit.

Okay, so maybe the space monkey wasn’t actually in Defoe’s book, but rather something the filmmakers added to go along with the flying saucers and Martian landscapes. Still, it was a space monkey, and who doesn’t enjoy that? Of course, with such bizarre additions to the story, nobody’s ever going to mistake Robinson Crusoe On Mars for the real thing, but it’s well made and an entertaining story in its own right. Now, why do I bring up a fifty year old sci-fi flick about a guy and his space monkey? Because, honestly, it’s the first thing that came to mind about two minutes into Darren Aronofsky’s Noah. That’s about the time the twelve foot tall multi-armed rock monsters show up.

What’s that, you say you don’t remember any twelve foot tall multi-armed rock monsters being in the story of Noah? Well, don’t worry, you didn’t fall asleep in faith formation class the day they covered that section of Genesis. There is, of course, no such thing in the Bible. But, hey, Darren Aronofsky, the Academy Award-nominated director of such films as Black Swan and The Wrestler, gave us plenty of advance warning that he wouldn’t be sticking solely to Biblical sources for his adaptation of the Noah story. Along with the canonical texts, he and his co-writer, Ari Handel, also sought inspiration from rabbinic literature (not a big surprise considering both guys are Jewish) and similar apocalyptic flood stories from various other belief systems. And then they just made a bunch of stuff up.

If you spend any time browsing Christian entertainment websites, then you probably already know Aronofsky’s stated approach to the material sent a small number of biblical literalists, who seemingly forgot they had movies like The Ten Commandments and The Passion Of The Christ in their DVD libraries, into something of a tizzy. Months before the movie was even completed, the inevitable calls for boycotts began to be heard. The more interesting reactions, however, came from some of my peers in the faith-based movie reviewer community. Folks who had come darn close to slitting their wrists over Peter Jackson’s slapdash handling of J. R. R. Tolkien’s material were suddenly appearing online urging their readers to relax and reserve judgement until Noah was actually released. After all, a few changes to Holy Scripture here and there didn’t necessarily mean the film was going to end up being another Last Temptation of Christ, did it? I imagine they were probably just trying to distinguish themselves from the boycott crowd, but it still felt as if once objective critics were becoming de facto promoters for a film they hadn’t even seen yet, breathlessly reporting every minute detail about the production on an almost hourly basis. Basically, each side got a little carried away.

Well, the movie is here now, so we can all see for ourselves whether the film warranted all that pre-release hullabaloo. As to the first group’s concern about additions to the story, yes, Noah is pretty much their nightmare come true. In fact, if you prefer your Bible-based movies to stick reasonably close to the Good Book, it would probably be best if you quit reading this review right now, because your heart won’t be able to take what I’m about to describe.

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