REVIEW: “Noah”

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Darren Aronofsky wasn’t the first person I would expect to make a serious Bible-based epic, but that’s exactly the task he has chosen. In fact he has been wanting to bring the story of Noah to the big screen for years. Now armed with a $150 million budget and a stellar cast Aronofsky has co-written and directed a large-scaled picture that has already been met with its share of controversy.

As a Christian myself there are certain things in the Bible where creative liberties have no place. That may not allow me to be the most objective critic of some Bible-based movies but it is a belief that is inseparable from who I am. On the other hand some stories from Scripture leave themselves open to interpretation while others may stir our imaginations by omitting many of the details. Such is the case with the story of Noah. The story of Noah and his ark takes up only a small portion of Scripture so there are definitely areas where our creative imaginations (in this case Aronofsky’s) may kick in. Yet you always look for respect of the spirit of the story and at least some type of adherence to the material.

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Fans of popular novels or those passionate about a historical figure or account have always expected some degree of adherence to the source material from movie adaptations. That’s perfectly reasonable and why would the approach to this be any different? Instead Aronofsky has taken a well known Bible story and laced it with Tolkien-styled fantasy, weird mysticism, and one of the most heavy-handed environmental and animal rights messages you’ll ever see on screen. In essence he has chosen to tell a story about a man named Noah and definitely not THE story of Noah that many people may be expecting.

The main aim of Aronofsky’s version is recognized early in the film. Noah (Russell Crowe) shares with his three sons that the environment is the true apple of the Creator’s eye. He uses his son’s criminal offense of plucking a flower from the ground to show how callous men can disrupt the Creator’s beautiful and harmonious world. A situation then arises which allows Noah to tell of how animals are the Creator’s crowning achievement and how men endanger them, some going as far as actually eating them (which shocks his sons). All of this happens in one of the film’s opening sequences but it isn’t contained to it.

The main conflict throughout the movie is between the evils of mankind and the innocence of animals along with Noah and his family. In fact, Noah states that the entire purpose for building the ark is to save the animals and kill wicked mankind. Now the movie does throw a couple of bones to those who were hoping for a slightly accurate telling of the Bible story but the similarities between the movie and the Biblical account are strictly cosmetic. This is much more like a poor man’s Lord of the Rings installment filled with giant talking rock creatures, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) who is a strange hermit/wizard, and an huge CGI-heavy battle sequence. Spellcasting, odd relics, and bloody blades take center stage.

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The Creator is also in sharp contrast to what some people may expect. At no point in the film does Aronofsky use the name God. Clearly this was intentional. Was it an act of respect in order to not offend especially considering the massive liberties he takes? I don’t know but the God of the Bible and the movie’s “Creator” couldn’t be more different. In the film the Creator is a cold and distant deity who speaks with veiled visions and sometimes not at all. Aronofsky shows him as an iron-fisted tyrant at times who watches mankind wallow in uncertainty and turns deaf ears on their pleas for clarity. And sometimes it’s the Creator who is portrayed as the villain. While Aronofsky never calls him God, it wouldn’t be a stretch to consider this his view of him.

I could go on about strange and perplexing diversions from the original text, but how does “Noah” stand up as a movie? Is it good cinema and is it good storytelling? The film does have some strengths. Whether you like him or not, Aronofsky has a great visual style that separates his movies from others. There are some stunning shots that were really effective especially when the rain starts to come. There are also several phenomenal performances. Crowe is in top form and he is perfectly cast. We also get great performances from Emma Watson, Jennifer Connelly, and Logan Lerman. And I have to mention Ray Winestone. He’s fabulous as Tubal-cain, the king of the evil meat-eating men.

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But the film has several glaring flaws (aside from my concerns mentioned above). First off, while some of the visuals may be amazing much of the CGI isn’t. The rock creatures look like something out of an early 1990s film and the big climactic battle looked as clunky visually as it felt narratively. Then there were a number of unintentionally goofy moments which were often direct results of Aronofsky’s diversions. The film also grinds to a halt in the third act as a trumped up family drama plays out among those confined to the floating ark. The family conflict angle had a lot of promise, but here it drags the movie down and I began to check my watch.

I’ll be honest, Aronofsky’s decision to divert so wildly from the source material is an issue for me mainly because there is plenty of good story to tell aside from what we are given. But even aside from that, “Noah” is a film plagued with its share of problems. It’s a movie that teases us with what it could have been but ultimately stumbles because of what it actually is. This isn’t the biblical story of God’s righteous judgement of evil and His mercy towards humanity through Noah. But that doesn’t mean this movie isn’t preachy. Its sermon is on the evils of mankind and how the earth has been in a state of physical decay and animals have been robbed of their innocence since we came onto the scene. Who knows, whichever story you care about the most may also determine how much you care about this film as a whole.

VERDICT – 2 STARS

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49 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Noah”

  1. I wholeheartedly agree with your review Keith and wish the way you worded it would’ve been in my thoughts when I wrote my review. Lack of “Respect” for the source is a good way to talk about it.

    I knew not to expect the film to be in accordance fully with Scripture but I wasn’t expecting it to be such a far cry in some pretty glaring ways.

    All I can say is ditto.

    • Thank you my friend. I’m really puzzled by why Aronofsky was drawn to this. You really have to strain to find any similarities between the film and the source material. And some of the diversions are so drastic and jarring. But the the movie doesn’t even work as a piece of cinema.

  2. Just watched this, didn’t hate it, didn’t love it. It’s too blockbuster-esque if you know what I mean. Also, the film would have been better if they just focused on the story and not big budget effects. I don’t know, it was okay.

    • I thought the effects went from spectacular to absolutely atrocious. I also couldn’t help but notice several scenes that were absolutely ridiculous. I won’t spoil them but aside from the wacky diversions, the writing itself was so strange that I couldn’t buy into it.

    • It definitely wasn’t for me. Really weird story that has little to do with its supposed inspiration. Then there is the goofy bits of story that are just absurd.

  3. I have not seen this film as it has not been released in the uk yet. I am not a Christian, but have a good knowledge of the bible, which makes the fact that the film does not follow the story very disappointing. Noah is a brilliant story, which if followed would make an amazing film. I do still want to see it, but I feel I will leave the cinema quite empty. I believe that biblical stories should be exact to the word and where there are parts which remain unclear it needs a good writer to fill the gaps. Gods importance is vital to the story and it should be explicit in teaching the word. I go into the film sceptical, but look forward to writing a review.

    • Thanks a much. I appreciate you reading and sharing your thoughts. It’s really weird the direction this movie takes. I have no idea why it even attempts to tell a story of Noah. But then there are numerous unintentional goofy scenes. Just a major missed opportunity.

      • I love film good, bad, mundane.. whatever the film there can always be a discussion. I’m not someone who can look at a film technically although I would love to learn more, but I do appreciate great acting and a good story line. If you have those two then sometimes you ignore some of the frailties in a film 🙂

  4. I have been waiting for your review, Keith. This should have been a contemporary Ben Hur. With today’s graphics, it could have been awesome. I think it smarter to call a spade a spade instead of dodging around some politically correct mutation of dogma. I would have had more respect for the film. How awesome the film would have been had Noah said ‘God’ and was comfortable with it.

    • It was such a missed opportunity. I love what you say – it could have been a great modern epic. Instead it’s some weird mutation of the story that has plenty to offer on its own. What a disappointment.

    • I have to say that I was actually okay that they referred to God as the “Creator” because perhaps that IS what Noah referred to Him as. God has many names, not just God. So, to me, it was just as awesome that they referred to Him as “The Creator.” “God” was a term of a diety as opposed to a name per se. So it was plausible and acceptable to me. Does that make sense? I really wouldn’t have expected them to call Him “God” in any other light than as a title. A small thing, but wanted to share that.

      • That’s a very interesting point that I hadn’t thought of. That may well have been Aronofsky’s intent and in that light I can see it as perceivable. For me personally, the name he gives pales in comparison to some of the other character distortions that he lays on us. His version of God is not likable, compassionate, just, etc. For me that’s where the bigger discrepancy lies.

  5. It’s a very strange film indeed! The message I took from it wasn’t that the creator was distant but that he was letting Noah exhibit free will instead of obeying orders. In a way he was letting Noah decide how things played out. Great review Keith

    • I felt he was depicted as extremely impersonal. Different people plead with him for some type of answers. Some horrible things take place because of his lack of answers. Then there is these veiled messages that never offer any clarity and cause people a lot of pain. And he only shows himself when he needs things done such as providing the wood for the ark. I also felt he was viewed as very stern and unsympathetic. He’s painted as very unforgiving when it comes to the weird rock people, etc. and his task for Noah requires some who are called good to perish. I don’t know, I thought there were plenty of things that didn’t shed good light on him.

  6. It’s the large-scale movie I expected to see from Aronofsky, and while it definitely isn’t perfect, it still showed me that he’s more than capable with something as odd as this. Good review Keith.

    • Thanks. I thought it was pretty ridiculous. As for Aronofsky, I thought he was erratic and all over the place. His writing was sometimes just silly. Winestone’s little hatchet cutting a hole in the ark while massive waves crushed against him. Methuselah’s weird sex drug given to Emma Watson, etc etc etc.

  7. Hi Keith, as you might’ve known from my comments here and there, I wasn’t looking forward to this one. Well you seem to have confirmed my dread. “As a Christian myself there are certain things in the Bible where creative liberties have no place” Yep, that’s my viewpoint as well and even from the comments Aronofsky made before the film came out, I knew he didn’t respect the Bible nor our Lord.

    I think I’ll just wait until it’s out on rental. I like Crowe but I just don’t think I’d enjoy this film nor would it sit well with me even with all that visual grandeur.

    • It’s one of the most absurd rewritings of a story I’ve ever seen. Quite honestly the similarities between the movie and material are practically nonexistent. But it’s not just that. It’s so ridiculous, at times dopey, and other times amateurish. It doesn’t work in any regard.

      The real shame is that it could have been something spectacular. Instead it’s a preachy agenda picture torn from a rich Biblical story.

    • Maybe so. But I’ll be honest with you, it is low-grade even for an epic. Theological diversions aside, the movie has moments of ineptness and the CGI sometimes looks as corny as anything I’ve seen in years. In a nutshell it’s just not that good. There are a number of scenes where I just stared at the screen shaking my head. It was so ridiculous. I won’t spoil any of those moments but normally critics would rail on a movie for that. But I believe since it’s Aronofsky it is getting a pass.

      • You know what, I think you are right about Aronofsky. He does seem to be getting off lightly. It does mean he has to come up with something good next time though, because you don’t stay a critical darling for long in that business!

        As for CGI, I have noted many, many reviews recently stating that the CGI looked cheap and nasty. Do you think there has been some sort of decline in that business? I mean, a lot of those companies went bust I think. Maybe it’s starting to have an impact. Mind you, the less CGI used in movies the better if you ask me!

      • Those are two great and interesting points. You are exactly right, even entranced critics soon have to recognize if a filmmaker is off course. I guarantee you, Aronofsky would do something much smaller next time.

        You may also be right about the CGI stuff. I hadn’t thought of that but that could be the case. This movie’s visuals are all over the place. Sometimes they will blow you away while other times leave you shaking your head.

  8. This is dividing opinion left, right and centre it seems! Not being religious I’m not overly concerned about it not sticking to the Bible story, so I don’t see that being an issue for me, but it does seem like it has some issues aside from that. Interesting review mate!

    • Putting my theological differences with the movie aside, it really has tons of problems as a piece of cinema. There are a number of goofy and poorly written moments that I would love to share but I won’t since they may spoil certain things.

      Then there is the whole ludicrous heavy handed animal rights things. Don’t think for a second that this movie isn’t preachy. It’s probably more preachy than a movie that would have stuck close to the biblical account. There’s no subtlety or smarts behind its message at all.

  9. Some really interesting points there Keith, and a good review. I can’t really comment further as I haven’t seen it…and to be honest I don’t think I’ll bother, I’m enjoying a blockbuster-free couple of months at the moment!

    • I think you’re making a good decision. There are plenty of better blockbusters on the way I’m sure.

      I really hope I was able to separate my personal theological concerns with the concerns I had for it as a piece of cinema. But when you take both of these sets of issues together, the movie as a whole just isn’t as good as it should’ve been.

  10. Nailed it Keith! As I noted in my review on LTBM, there were some liberties taken that I was totally fine with and may even defend from a biblical sttandpoint, but this piece went over the line, then drew another line and jumped over it. That said, I thought Emma Watson did great with the emotionally intense moments given to her. Connelly, not so much. I just didn’t buy it from her. Winstone also seems like the exact right guy to play that role.

    • Thank you very much and I appreciate the comments. I couldn’t believe how many liberties were taken in this film. I always give filmmakers wiggle room but when you’re dealing with a biblical story and you go so wildly off the tracks it’s hard to get past.

      I have to think that there is a bigger motivation behind Aronofsky’s attraction to this project. I don’t know, maybe not. But as I mentioned, aside from the theological ramifications, the film itself is ripe with shortcomings.

      • Lol. Hmmmm… well I’m not much of a Stewart fan 🙂 You weren’t impressed with her in that moment on top of the boat with the babies and Noah about to do the deed???

      • she just didn’t do it for me this time. and I quite like her having really fallen in love with her in Perks. but I didn’t buy her tears. maybe it was just me, but she disappointed me this time around. haha.

  11. It’s interesting. We both disliked this but for different reasons. As a Christian (and as a film lover), I would’ve appreciated a more thoughtful examination of Noah’s faith in The Creator and how he came to terms with what God was asking him to do. How many people would interpret a dream about a flood to mean that God was telling them to build an ark because he was going to kill every living thing? The movie doesn’t explain that. Noah is so saintly so unwavering in his devotion to God’s plan he doesn’t even seem human. So there is no emotional component. But then we get to the storytelling aspect and it fails there as well. It’s just so bland and the rock creatures are just silly.

    • Oh I agree with you completely. I don’t think we’re that far off at all. There is so much there that could’ve been explored. For example the struggles that there must’ve been between Noah and his family over this task God has given him. I wouldn’t even be opposed to an imagination of what others must of thought about Noah and his mission.

      But I don’t think Aronofsky was ever interested in telling a biblical account. Instead I found it to be a platform for his heavy-handed environmental politics and his view of God, Christianity, etc.

      But that is only one thing that is so nutty about this movie. He goes so radically off the cliff with this. His diversions from the source material are mind-boggling mainly because some of them are just so stupid. And then the writing isn’t that good at all. There are several unintentionally dopey moments and I can’t believe critics (who normally pound a movie for those type scenes) give it a pass.

  12. Excellent review man! I can see this would upset some viewers but in all honesty, Aronofsky is not exactly known for his conventionality. It doesn’t surprise me that he has went his own way with this. That being said, I’m still undecided on whether I’ll be rushing out to see it.

    • Thanks man. But like I wrote, there is so much more wrong with this movie than his deviation (and sometimes intentional misrepresentation) of the source material. It’s just stupid in many places. Critics drool all over Aronofsky but some of his writing here is so amateurish. Other times his heavy-handed preachiness this is stunningly absurd. Not an ounce of subtlety or even skill in presenting his message.

      And then there are other problems such as lackluster CGI and the pacing which literally runs into a wall in the third act. There’s just so much here to dislike whether you’re a Christian or not. But I truly believe some of the mainstream critics give this guy a pass simply because who he is. I may be wrong but otherwise they would hate a movie like this.

  13. Nice review. I though Noah was kind of a mess, though it did have some good moments. Aronofsky’s not the right director for this kind of material. He’s good at making small personal pictures, not large blockbusters. Also, I think in one scene Russell Crowe was wearing jeans.

    • Jeans??? LOL! I never noticed that. It wouldn’t surprise me though.

      Small personal films. I’ll 100% agree with you. I don’t fully understand his motivations or attraction to this material but it certainly didn’t work for me.

  14. I always respected Daren for not being preachy, sounds like this is really not the case with this movie :/ I so wish he would just stick to psychological thrillers he does so well.

    • Oh it’s very preachy Sati! Ridiculously so! And there are so many head-scratching moments. You will wonder what on earth they’re going for. Then there are the questionable narrative choices and this sometimes lame CGI.

      Not good. Should have been a lot better.

  15. Keith, I completely agree. This could not have been any further from the truth. But, with that set aside, it is still just as preachy as a Christian film would be. This is nothing against Christian films, being that I am one. Though, you are correct for stating it’s preachy quality.

    I had a feeling that this film would fail to enhance the story of Noah. I hoped with all my heart to see that Aronofsky would do it justice. I mean, the trailer did look pretty fantastic. And the effects. Beautiful (for the most part). Though, over effects, I am all about plot and story. And, truthfully, I can’t stand the fact that the story was rearranged.

    Anyway, fantastic review (as always).

    • Thanks so much. I really appreciate you reading and sharing your thoughts. I’m with you completely. Don’t you get the sense that there is a much better movie to be made here? It’s so frustrating to see such underwhelming end results.

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