Review: Noah

Noah Movie one sheet posterLet’s start with my creative retitling of the epic drama Noah from director Darren Aronofsky. I suggest that it makes more sense as Transformers: Revenge of the Righteous. Yes, somehow a film about a guy who gets a message from God that tells him to build a huge ship to rescue every animal because a storm of, well, Biblical proportions is on the way has been turned into a fantasy epic complete with 15-foot tall rock creatures called the Watchers and a remarkably self-contained Ark that could just as easily have been shooting through space as the ship from 1972’s classic Silent Running.

The element that I just can’t wrap my mind around is the addition of the giant Watchers. They’re inspired by the Biblical Nephilim, except in the Bible these fallen angels are described as heroic and able to mate with humans. In Noah, however, they resemble the ugly love children of an Autobot and The Thing from The Fantastic Four. And they’re just bizarre.

The story is loosely based on the Bible tale, with Noah the last descendent of Seth, one of the three sons of Adam and Eve (the other two are Cain and Abel, the former of whom murdered the latter), being chosen by God to save his family and all the innocent animals of the Earth from the apocalypse. We’ve seen this one before on screen, and in one scene when Noah’s grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) fights off thousands of scroungy locals with his staff of power, it’s a scene that seems inspired by Gandalf’s epic staff slam and “You! Shall! Not! Pass!”

Noah (Russell Crowe) is married to Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) and they have three boys, Ham (Logan Lerman), Shem (Douglas Booth) and Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll). In the original story each has a wife, but in the film there’s only one woman along for the journey, the rescued orphan Ila (Emma Watson). The lack of women causes great dramatic tension, as does the presence of the evil tribal king Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone), who sneaks aboard the ship in a highly improbable manner and hides in the furthest reaches until a climactic – and predictable – mano-a-mano battle with Noah himself.

The film starts with a slick photo montage of the creation of the universe, the creation of Earth and the evolution of single-celled organisms into man (though it is actually unclear whether Aronofsky is supporting creationism or evolution since we never actually see dinosaurs or other extinct animals in the sequence). Then we meet Noah and it becomes clear that he is a gentle, righteous man in a world of dangerous roaming bands who eat meat — horrors! — and believe killing others is the ultimate proof of manhood. Think Mad Max, from which a lot of the early exteriors seem to steal inspiration.

Noah has vivid but rather ambiguous dreams that inspire him to build the ark. In a miraculous scene a small bubbling brook in the midst of a massive lava field begets a lush forest. Why? Wood for the ship. Makes sense, but it’s odd that the hoards of bad guys seem completely unfazed by this terraforming magic and happily harass the odd old man and his goofy, but impressive construction project in the middle of a forest that hadn’t been there just a few days earlier.

noah publicity still photo russell crowe
Ham (Lerman) and Noah (Crowe) walk away from the Ark in “Noah”

Then there’s the epic pre-flood battle scene which is perhaps the most unlikely part of the entire movie, when thousands of uniformly dressed vandals rush and attack the great ship as the rain starts to pour. But wait! The Watchers defend Noah and his family so they can get the ship underway, mercilessly slaughtering hundreds of attackers. They may be 15-feet tall, magical and made out of stone, however, but wily humans like Tubal-cain can kill the Watchers anyway. That’s okay because the long-misunderstood stone Nephilim then finally ascend back up to heaven, a happy ending that clearly isn’t shared by the people they’ve killed while defending the Ark.

The waters quickly rise , soon it’s an endless ocean and everything then transpires in the well-lit ship interior where we learn Ila has become fruitful and ready to multiply. Which is a problem because it also becomes apparent that Noah’s gone round the bend and is convinced that God wants all of humankind to die, with Noah the instrument of His will. Kinda hard to share a boat with a guy who wants to kill everyone, but it’s a sly trick of casting that it’s Crowe, not Hopkins, in that murderous role.

Finally, as anyone who has studied even the most basic of Judeo-Christian stories knows, the rain stops, the dove flies back with an olive branch and the ship crashes into the peak of a mountain. The waters gradually recede and, well, the humans reseed too, though not before Ila has to convince Noah that the death of everyone on Earth wasn’t his responsibility. Shades of Ender in Ender’s Game?

Let me be fair, though: if you can accept the sometimes rather wild additions for dramatic purpose and the fanciful visual effects, Noah is an entertaining film. It’s just hard not to see the Watchers as Transformers and hard not to be confused about how a civilization from thousands of years ago is so darn similar like the city-states of Game of Thrones.

The special effects are terrific, the flood is indeed epic, and there are some really slick touches, including how the animals lead themselves onto the ship and then how Naameh concocts an herbal sleeping gas that puts every single creature to a calm, peaceful sleep for the requisite 40 days and nights, without affecting any of the humans.

I enjoyed Noah and for modern audiences to appreciate the tale, it is probably necessary to add the dramatic visual flourishes, bad guys and vengeful defenders. Maybe I’m just jaded. Then again, maybe not.

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