by Bob Garver
March 31, 2014. “Noah” stars Russell Crow as the Biblical hero tasked with building an ark to save two of every animal from a flood that destroys most of humanity. It’s a story that can be filmed pretty straightforwardly given its epic nature. There’s no need for director Darren Aronofsky to embellish or deviate, especially given how many viewers will surely be unhappy with any changes that don’t stay true to the source material. And yet, the story of “Noah” goes in some strange directions that some will find offensive, some will find imaginative, but all will find different from what they expect.
For example, I don’t recall the part in the Bible where Noah is assisted by giant rock monsters filled with the spirits of fallen angels. I guess this does make the construction of the ark seem more, “believable”is the wrong word because it involves rock monsters – feasible. Nor do I remember a bad guy stowing away on the ark waiting to overthrow Noah as the leader of the new world (a whole story line I find particularly unnecessary). Oh, and I’m also unfamiliar with the part where Noah is certain that humanity is supposed to end shortly after the task is completed, to the point where he resolves to murder his newborn granddaughters.
This depiction of Noah going all “Shining” on his family is the part most likely to upset and anger people. It does, however, present an interesting question: what did Noah think God’s policy on killing was, exactly? Remember, the story takes place after God punishes Cain for murdering Abel, but before the book of Exodus where “Thou Shall Not Kill” became a Commandment. At any rate, Noah considers the lives of the animals more valuable than the lives of humans.
Speaking of humans, Jennifer Connelly plays Noah’s wife Naameh, whose high point comes when she pleads with her husband not to misinterpret God’s plan. Anthony Hopkins plays his aged father Methuselah, who begins as a source of wisdom and ends up as comic relief once he starts craving berries. Emma Watson plays his adopted daughter Ila, whose shocking pregnancy by his son Shen (Douglas Booth) sends him into madness. Ray Winstone plays a local king who sneaks aboard the ark and survives by eating animals who I assume are the end of their line. Logan Lerman plays his son Ham who hates his father for costing him a chance at a wife. And Leo McHugh Carroll plays his son Japheth who has zero personality and whose name you struggle to remember.
The visual style is where the film has room to be creative. The ark, for example, is depicted more or less as a giant box instead of a boat as is often the case. I’m not sure how the characters plan to steer it, but at least it’s an interesting choice. There’s also a neat way to mark the passage of time, featuring one of the best versions of time-lapse photography I’ve ever seen. But problems arise when it comes to the CGI: the animals and water look incredibly fake. I got a funny picture in my head of one of the characters trying to hop up on an animal to ride it and instead they pass right through it and fall on the ground without the blatant hologram even blinking.
“Noah” would have worked better as a straight-up retelling of a classic story. Sure, it would have been predictable, but at least all the changes wouldn’t be such a distraction. As it is, we spend much of the film wondering just how the story is going to be warped next. Add in a near-villainous Noah and terrible CGI and you’ve got an ugly, unpleasant film that provides none of the inspiration that we are supposed to gain.
One and a half stars out of five.