We all know the story of Noah’s Ark, right?  

The Lord said to Noah: “There’s gonna be a floody-floody.  Get those children out of the muddy muddy!”  So Noah, he built him an Arky-Arky.  Made it out of hickory barky-barky. The animals, they came on by twosies-twosies.  Elephants and kangaroosies-roosies.  It rained, and poured, for forty daysies-daysies.  Nearly drove those animals crazy-crazy.  The sun came out and dried up the landy-landy.  Everything was fine and dandy-dandy.  And that is the end of the story-story, everything is hunky dory-dory.   

Despite all the dark visionary talk, the liberties he takes with the source material (the Bible’s flood myth is only chapters 6-9 of Genesis, around 2000 words), the controversy over Noah’s hippy eco-warrior credentials and his assertion that his movie is the least Biblical Bible movie you’ll ever see (really Dazzer?  Have you seen Scorsese’s muscular The Last Temptation Of Christ?  Or Mel Gibson’s The Passion Of The Christ? Or Monty Python’s Life Of Brian?), the floody-floody version of events is pretty much what Darren Aronofsky serves up in Noah – an admittedly visually stunning but ultimately safe, reverential (Nephilim-inspired rock monsters aside) telling of the Flood that ducks the thornier, less-audience friendly elements inherent in the tale and is more bloated than Russell Crowe’s Twitter selfies after a two-week booze binge. 

The sole good guy in a bad, bad world, Noah (Russell Crowe), last descendant of Adam’s 3rd son Seth, ekes out a hermetic, vegan existence with his family, scavenging moss and berries for sustenance from the blasted, almost post-apocalyptic landscape while constantly hiding from the rest of humanity, hedonistic, carnivorous savages descended from Cain who have spread across the Earth, over-populating and proto-industrialising the land.  Plagued by nightmares and visions, Noah consults with wise old berry-fetishist, his grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) and realises that “the Creator” (always called the Creator – never God) intends to wipe out humanity with a catastrophic flood and that he and his family have been chosen to save a pair of every animal species from the deluge by building a really big boat.   

Aided by some petrified fallen angels, jerky rock monsters voiced by Frank Langella and Nick Nolte (and if anyone was born to play a jerky rock monster it was Nick Nolte!), Noah’s family build their Arky-Arky, in the process attracting the avaricious attention of warlord Tubal Cain (Ray Winstone) who wants the Ark for himself and his army.  Cue a final Tolkein-lite battle between rock monsters and man as big Ray and his boys try to crash big Russ’ cruise as God unleashes his watery apocalypse… 

With it’s epic, thunderous score from Clint Mansell (that sounds uncomfortably like that of outtakes from The Fountain), dream sequences that feel like Malick’s The Tree Of Life re-shot as a Smirnoff ad and deploying the customary comic book visual sensibility that gets geeks around the world tumescent every time it’s announced he’s going to make an actual comic book movie (remember when he was attached to The Wolverine and Man Of Steel?), Aronofsky has essentially taken the flood myth and crafted a superhero movie, a Biblical action flick, repositioning Noah as a brooding, antediluvian Dark Knight, full of righteous anger and nascent meglomania, sitting in judgment on Mankind while battling both his own demons and Ray Winstone’s Tubal Cain, the yin to Crowe’s yang.  “What do you want?” one desperate unbeliever screams just as Noah smites him, “Justice!” growls Crowe in the kind of voice that sounds like Bale’s Batman with laryngitis.  All he needs is the cape.   

Throw in a bunch of really bad CGI animals, some Treebeard-style rock monsters, one memorable image of wholesale death and destruction (a desperate multitude climbing over one another to get to high ground as the waters rise and swallow them), an infanticide sub-plot that owes as much to The Searchers as it does to Abraham and Anthony Hopkins playing Peter Ustinov in Logan’s Run and you pretty much have Noah.   

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As Noah, Crowe chews the scenery and grows the kind of beard he normally only gets to grow when he and the missus fall out.  He’s obviously having fun as is Ray Winsone, once again stretching himself this time by playing a prehistoric Ray Winstone (“Noah you fackin’ slaaaaag!”).  It’s just a shame no one else is having much fun.  As adopted daughter Ila, Emma Watson plays a whinier Hermione devoid of magic powers and saddled with being the last marriageable female on Earth (the spectre of her adopted brothers/brothers-in-law circling her baby daughters as potential wives looms heavy over the film’s last third) while the reliably bland Jennifer Connelly gives a performance so grey and inconsequential as Noah’s wife Naameh it’s almost as if she’s trying to tiptoe through the film without Aronofsky noticing her, possibly in case he tries to make her go ass-to-ass with Hermione in a Biblical reprise of Requiem For A Dream.  There’s not a lot to say about Logan Lerman’s portrayal of number 2 son Ham other than at least he’s not Douglas Booth who’s “playing” number 1 son Shem who, on the evidence here, is just a purty face.   

Most unforgivably though, the audience isn’t having any fun – Aronofsky’s Noah being a ponderous, po-faced affair that, in it’s desire not to offend believers, leaves out that vital ingredient that made most Biblical classics bearable.  Biblical epics were always campy fun whether it was 1922’s Noah’s Ark, De Mille’s The Ten Commandments, Samson And Delilah or the likes of Quo Vadis? and The Robe.  We used to get to peek at the debauchery, taste the bacchanal, party hearty with Herod, before condemning it.  Not this time round gentle viewers, Aronofsky’s Noah’s like watching Salome dance the 7 veils in a burqa.  You hear about Man’s wickedness but you’re not going to get to see it, evil being reduced in the film to meat eating, bullying stone giants and a young Ray Winstone offing Noah’s dad over a snakeskin tefillin thus securing his place as the film’s antagonist, usurping God’s role as villain.  And make no mistake, God is the true villain of the flood myth, not Man.    

In a nutshell, the God of the Old Testament is a lot less touchy-feely than the Judeo-Christian God of the New Testament; less loving father, more genocidal sociopath.  Pissed off after giving humanity free will that the talking monkeys actually have the temerity to exercise it; building societies, eating meat and general littering of Creation, God gets himself a bit worked up and decides to punish mankind for its wickedness BY WIPING THEM OUT!  However, he’s put in a lot of work intelligently designing all those critters that walk and creep, so entrusts their salvation to a 500-year-old prehistoric, obsessive-compulsive animal collector who hears voices.  Who after the Flood, he decrees is allowed to eat meat after all despite that being one of the main reasons he drowned everyone.  God, quite frankly, is a psychotic nutbag!  While it’s a wise decision by Aronofsky and Handel not to personify God in the movie by having him played by an actor (like Morgan Freeman needs to play the voice of God again anyway!) you have to wonder if their decision was also motivated by just who in God’s name they’d get to play the psychopathic Big Guy?  Christopher Walken?  A giggling, lip-licking Steve Buscemi?     

Possibly the most overt and lengthy Hollywood celebration of incest since the original Star Wars saga (Luke and Leia totally did it!), Noah’s pretty safe, far from the dark vision of the Bible you’d expect from a supposedly visionary director, Aronofsky and writer Ari Handel rounding of the tale’s spikier edges, sweetening it’s unpalatable pill, leaving out the sexual and racist undercurrents of the story’s aftermath – Ham’s possible sexual assault on the drunk, naked Noah in that uncomfortable ninth chapter of Genesis leading to Noah’s cursing of his offspring – traditionally used as an excuse for centuries by patriarchal Judeo-Christian society for the subjugation and slavery of African peoples (Google Curse of Canaan if you don’t believe me).   

Treading much the same thematic and aesthetic ground as he did in the far superior The Fountain, Aronofsky’s Noah is an ambitious but rather shallow, empty spectacle which sees the director recycle himself, the Bible and some of Hollyweird’s most iconic moments into a stew that lacks the intellectual nourishment its so obviously straining for.   Sure, the film’s full of the kind of big questions that obsess film students and teen poets – Who are we?  Where do we come form?  Are we alone?  Can goodness exist without mercy?  Is love the root of sin?  Is our need to reproduce driving us to destroy our environment?  Should faith transcend reason?  What are we without hope? – but all of them go unanswered.  Aronofsky doesn’t even tell us what happened to the dinosaurs (would a shot of some dinosaurs, dragons and a couple of unicorns missing the boat have been too much to ask?) instead devoting time to his usual visual fetishes; falling raindrops, close-ups of moss and bark, sprouting flowers.        

Ambitious but flawed, Noah unfortunately is exactly what you’d expect to get if you gave two nice, intellectual, middle class, Jewish Ivy Leaguers $125million dollars to go off and shoot their favourite Bible yarn.

VERDICT: [rating=3]

 

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