Review: “Noah” departs from scripture for sake of story

April 6th, 2014 at 4:56 pm by under Entertainment
"Noah" poster courtesy Paramount Pictures

“Noah” poster courtesy Paramount Pictures

“Noah” (2014)
Rated: PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and brief suggestive content

Runtime: 2 hours, 18 minutes
Genre: Adventure/Drama

My not very spoiler-free review (sorry its vital to this review):

It’s often said that reading the book is better than the movie.  While I frequently prefer the latter, I would agree in this case that one should brush up on their Noah reading before or after watching Darren Aronofsky’s version of one of the biggest tales of the first book of the Bible.  The filmmakers take many liberties or Hollywood-izes parts of the story that it must be clear that this is based on the story, not a true-to-the-Bible theatrical version of the story.  This is not a substitute for Sunday school teachings!  The movie enriches what may have happened while on the Ark during the flood with a intriguing family drama in a post-apocalyptic setting, but its several jumps from accuracy making it jarring to watch at times… I give it 6.0 out of 10 … despite its controversy, it does promote conversation about Biblical tales.  I’m not here telling you what to believe… just what to expect when you see the movie.

Warning to parents: this is not for little kids with its PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and brief suggestive content

What tha?  I am sure that trying to depict the events leading up to the story of Noah, visually to audiences both domestic and foreign was a challenge Aronofsky had to know was going to be difficult.  So I accepted the visuals of the first few minutes of the movie as we get a backstory of Noah and the world he was living in before the biggest storm in history.  But then a scene involving a fantastical element of giant walking rock creatures that reminded me of the Ents in “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” (2002).  Yes.  That’s right, instead of a Charlton Heston-esque epic like “The Ten Commandments” (1956) we get more of a Peter Jackson/Steven Spielberg sci-fiction/fantasy retelling of a classic Bible story.  They are later explained to be this movie’s understanding of what the ‘watchers’ (fallen angels) are, but you lost me for more than 30 minutes before you explained what I was supposed to be seeing.

Plot details?  I also suspended belief and accepted the way the movie chose to visually present some of the supernatural events of this story that has been told with many interpretations throughout history.  Taking Noah’s story from Genesis 5:21-9:25, about 4 chapters or  several pages from the Bible and turning it into an epic-feature length movie is quite the undertaking but why take so many big steps to differentiate from a well published account of Noah?  Interpretation is one thing… but… what is going on here?

1) In the Bible, God talks to Noah about what is coming, but in the movie, its presented as dreams or visions
2) In the Bible, God gives Noah instructions on how to build the Ark, but in the movie, its not included
3) The Bible tells of Noah and his father, but in the movie, its portrayed with an abrupt difference
4) In the Bible, Noah’s grandfather is a mere lineage mention, but in the movie, Methuselah is in several scenes and he’s got supernatural magical powers
5) The Bible describes in detail how the animals were selected for the Ark, but in the movie, they just show up
6) In the Bible, it tells us that only 8 people are on the Ark (Noah and his wife, his three sons and their three wives), but in the movie, it omits two of the sons’ wives, and it’s a pretty big conflict in the movie between Noah and his second oldest son
7) In the Bible, only 8 survivors were on the Ark, but in the movie, it adds another survivor, and this is big because the ‘great flood’ was meant to cleanse the earth of the sinners and the lineage of Cain, but the movie depicts that very differently (avoiding spoiler)
8) In the Bible, Noah sent out a Raven to discover if the flood waters had receded enough to reveal dry land, but in the movie, his youngest son Japheth is the one sending out the birds on this mission
9) In the Bible, the rain continued for 40 days, but in the movie, it’s not really mentioned… throughout this story, the passage of time in Bible verses is more clear, while in the movie it’s I more vague
10) The Bible gives us two very important symbols at the end of the flood: the dove with the olive branch and the rainbow, but in the movie, they are just shown but never explained the significance of peace and that a flood would never again be used destroy the earth

Whether you take Noah as fact or as a myth, its jarring to see many of these plot points changed!

It does a pretty admirable job… trying to explain the events leading up to the great flood, like how the Ark was built and how Noah and his family were protected from the rest of the world (so the ‘watchers’ work in this version of the story).  Their visualization of how the materials were created for the Ark, how the animals got to the Ark and didn’t create problems on the Ark were all interesting.  I wish it showed more of the interaction with the animals inside the Ark, the people who thought Noah was crazy for building the Ark in the middle of a dry landscape, the flood waters rising, and the rush of the sea level lifting the Ark higher than mountains.  Unfortunately, some of these “explanations” created more questions than were “answered”.  While Aronofsky’s ‘Noah’ is more like Russell Crowe’s ‘Maximus’ in Gladiator (2000), which may be different than many pictured him, Crowe does a solid job portraying the strong willed faithful patriarch that is written in the screenplay.  The added/expanded character of Emma Watson’s ‘Ila’ adds a kinder, softer character to the group and to Noah’s character depth, whether or not is accurate is up for debate.  The rest of the cast including Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins, Logan Lerman, and Ray Winstone are good but its clearly not the acting that I had trouble with while watching this movie.

Yes there’s a message in the movie, but this is clearly not the same story I learned as a child.   These radical changes in plot are distractions from what had the makings of being a very solid movie based on a Biblical tale.  It didn’t have to sway so much from the original material just to appeal to the general public to make millions of dollars and attract both believers and non-believers… but it did and that’s too bad because there’s a pretty compelling story there already.

MORE INFO (possible spoilers):

PS- I did not see the “disclaimer” in the movie that was added to the marketing of the movie, just the typical “persons and events depicted in this movie” that we see at the end of every movie.

That marketing disclaimer attached to the trailers said:
“The film is inspired by the story of Noah. While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values, and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide. The biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis.”


Cast: Russell Crowe (Noah), Jennifer Connelly (Naameh), Ray Winstone (Tubal-cain), Anthony Hopkins (Methuselah), Emma Watson (Ila), Logan Lerman (Ham), Douglas Booth (Shem), Nick Nolte (voice of Samyaza), Mark Margolis (voice of Magog), Kevin Durand (voice of Rameel), Leo McHugh Carroll (Japheth), Frank Langella (voice of Og), Marton Csokas (Lamech), Finn Wittrock, Madison Davenport, Gavin Casalegno, Nolan Gross, Skylar Burke, Dakota Goyo

Director: Darren Aronofsky [Black Swan (2010), The Wrestler (2008), The Fountain (2006)]

Writer(s): Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel

The Plot: A man is chosen by God to undertake a momentous mission of rescue before an apocalyptic flood destroys the world.

So what did you think?  Please post a comment!

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