Tuesday, April 1, 2014


 2 / 5 

Putting aside for a moment the issue of the giant rock monsters (you may think I'm kidding about this, but I'm not), Darren Aronofsky's Noah is one crazy movie.

On one hand, it's a gigantic narrative mess.  I say this with sudden and overwhelming awareness that I have never written a movie, I have only watched them, and I have relatively little first-hand experience of what it takes to assemble a $125-million epic.  It has to take a lot of talent, and a lot of guts, and Aronofsky clearly has both.  But, boy, what is this Noah?

The wacky, mostly incoherent epic doesn't skip a beat getting off to a head-scratching start.  Following some more-or-less by-the-book on-screen titles that set us firmly in the time of Genesis, we learn that after God -- sorry, The Creator -- made humans, they started slaughtering each other, so down to Earth came the Watchers.  Yes, the Watchers.

Wait, aren't we going to see a movie about the guy who built the ark and put all the animals on it?

It's natural to get a little antsy at this point, which is 10 or 15 seconds into Noah.  It's like walking into a Broadway theater to see a musical and getting the Sylvester Stallone-John Travolta vehicle Satan's Alley, instead, which was full of garish, gold-plated gyrations and seemed to be a lot of things, but a musical wasn't one of them.  Sorry, I digress.  Noah leaves a lot of time for digressing.

A couple of minutes later, we're watching strange scaly dog-slash-dragon-type hybrid mammals crossing a rocky desert while marauding brigands kill Noah's father in front of his eyes, and you'll be forgiven if you think you accidentally wandered into the next Star Wars movie, filled with floridly conceived mythologies and mystical substances like the glowing rocks that are coveted by the bad guys in Noah.

About this time, whether you've studied the Bible or merely flipped through it, you may be trying to get a handle on exactly which part of Genesis mentions the fact that stars glowed mysteriously in the daylight way back then.

In other parts of Noah, we get a pretty awesome recreation of the Big Bang that gives Cosmos a run for its money (though I'm guessing Cosmos cost considerably less), and we're treated to the once-in-a-lifetime sight of Russell Crowe, Jenny from The Rocketeer, a pouting male model, an angry-but-horny teenager, and Hermione Granger standing on the deck of an unexpectedly rectangular-shaped ark, all wearing the same kind of stunned look that was a staple of Steven Spielberg films back in the 1980s.

One of the things that stun them is the way their ark has been built -- not, as the Bible indicates, by the sheer will of the old man named Noah, but by the aforementioned giant rock creatures, who are angels who got trapped in mud.  (Yup, trapped in mud.)  These are really tall, really powerful creatures and their presence makes you wonder if someone didn't get their Bible and their Tolkien mixed up in the research room while writing the script.

Later on in the movie, the evil king Tubal-Cain, who represents all the atheistic, selfish greed and violence that exists in this relatively small world, manages to stowaway on the ark, which is filled with who-knows-how-many-hundreds of elephants, horses, lions, bears, spiders, snakes, birds, raccoons, field mice, hoot owls, storks, ravens, dogs, cats, lemurs, chimpanzees, gorillas, remember, every type of creature … all of whom, conveniently enough, respond exactly the same way to a set of herbs that, when burned, put them into a nice, deep, sound sleep.  The sleep lasts exactly as long as it needs to, and that also keeps the CG budget in check, because moving creatures cost a lot more to animate than sleeping creatures.  For nine months (we know it's nine months -- please don't ask how, you'll figure that one out as soon as you see lovely Hermion-- er, Emma Watson's face) Tubal-Cain lays low, but on the last day, everything goes to pot, and near the climax of Noah, there are at least three full-on fight scenes happening in that ship.

There are a lot of spectacular action scenes in Noah, make no doubt.  If you came to Noah to see how the three-chapter story in the Bible might have made it to the screen, you've come to the wrong place, because this is far, far from a literal adaptation of that short story.  The Bible doesn't give much to go on in its several hundred scant words about Noah and his ark.

I have absolutely no doubt that Aronofsky and his co-writer Ari Handel studied the Bible with enormous intensity.  They understand variations and interpretations of the Bible most of us don't even know exists.  Noah must have been an exhaustively researched film, and I believe Aronofsky made it because he wants to say something.

I'm just not clear on what that something is.  There is one stirring and visually clever moment where Noah talks about man's proclivity to murder man, and we see shadow images not just of Old Testament deaths, but flash cuts that show us soldiers dressed in Civil War uniforms, in World War I attire, in World War II and Korea garb.  It lasts about three seconds, and it's the only time Aronofsky attempts to relate his film to larger world issues.  It's a good moment, but lost in a sea (no pun) of half-formed ideas.

There are no characters in the traditional sense, no concept of what motivates or moves these people.  There's little dialogue worth remembering or quoting, there are few (some, but few) dramatic scenarios that prove memorable in any way.  The humans, pretty as they all are, become overwhelmed by the sheer CG spectacle of the thing.

But, really, digital effects could have been used to create an even more visually exciting presentation about Noah's Ark for your local science center.  Maybe Crowe could have narrated.  It would have been a visually impressive 20-minute IMAX spectacle, and it wouldn't have contained the uncomfortable mom-sister-son-father sex triangles you can't help stop thinking about.  Noah's made it clear that there are going to be just five people left on the face of the earth.  Everyone else is dead.  The Creator wanted it that way.  So, if humans are to multiply, it's all gotta start … where, exactly?  Noah knows many people will think that way, so it just avoids the issue altogether.

Crowe is decent as Noah, though he doesn't get much to do except spout the orders that apparently have come from an (unspeaking) Creator and insist that his family follow his orders.  Curiously, the film does find a few seconds to get him to sing.  And this is probably the only time you'll ever see Noah both sing and threaten newborn children with murder(you've gotta see the film if you want to know more), and one big problem Noah has is that it never, ever manages to make the singing, Creator-hearing, obsessive-compulsive, possible child-murderer version of Noah into a sympathetic figure.  You wish someone would shove him off the boat and then get on with the whole wake-the-animals-and-repopulate business, and Noah really never gives one good reason why they don't.

Noah is a giggle-inducing, head-slapping mess that nonetheless does often look beautiful and majestic.  And it's never, ever boring. I'll give it that.  It may be convoluted, bizarre and frequently non-sensical, but it's not boring.

As Bible study, Noah likely fails on every possible level.  (Noah wants to begin again on the new land, free from violence, but within the first five minutes of landing there are no fewer than four attempted murders.  Not a great start, I gotta tell ya, Mr. Noah.)  It is beyond credibility that anyone could be inspired by this movie to be a more faithful Christian or be a better person according to the Bible's entreaties.  It's just a big-budget action epic.

As movies go, it fails -- but does so so spectacularly it's really worth seeing.  You'll learn more about armored dogs, rock monsters, glowing rocks and the proper use of certain herbs to induce sleep in elephants than you ever imagined might be possible.

So, let's be fair, on some levels, Noah is a massive success: It is the most gloriously crazy, wacky, bizarre big-studio spectacle you are likely to see for a very long time.  Appreciate it while you can.  Especially the talking, glowing rock monsters.  I think I liked those more than I care to admit.

(P.S. I saw this in a Dolby Atmos theater.  Dolby Atmos certainly made it … loud.)

Viewed April 1, 2014 -- ArcLight Sherman Oaks



  1. Interesting. Sounds like he used apocryphal texts (Book of Daniel, Enoch, Jubelees, etc..) for the story. Those books at one time were considered "official" bible books, but at another time were discarded. The Watchers are in those books, sometimes called the Nephalim.

  2. Nephalim seems a much more appropriate name for a Biblical angel. "The Watchers" sounds like an action figure based on a comic book.