Long before the high profile film ‘Noah’ was green-lit by the decision makers at Paramount Pictures to be what is known in the industry as a blockbuster tent-pole release, controversy began to develop.
Engaging culture of religion and use of scripture as the basis of films is nothing new. Obviously with too many to name, Ben Hur and The Ten Commandments, both considered classics, were addressed at the time as not historically correct to source beliefs, causing public outcry.
Mel Gibson took heat by many, and strange happenings occurred on set during his filming of The Passion of the Christ. Lead actor Jim Caviezel suffered unexplained turmoil and sickness of various kinds during filming. Audiences became emotional to say the least, helping it to a huge amount of box-office money in 2004. It has since become a go to movie for many believers.
The Martin Scorsese 1988 drama Last Temptation of Christ sat as a script on his desk for over five years because nobody wanted to make it because among other unbiblical things, the full frontal nudity from Willem Dafoe playing a rugged humanised Jesus was confronting. Certain cinemas refused to play it, and video rental stores on mass refused to stock copies.
Scorsese recorded a personal introduction which played at the beginning of the tape, for those that played it. There have been many other titles disowned by the Christian fraternity.
To a lesser extent, as a kid I remember walking past the heritage listed State Theatre in Sydney, probably en-route to the now defunct Pitt Centre cinema and being caught up in picket lines and chanting groups holding placards.
It turns out the 1985 film Hail Mary from French auteur Jean-Luc Godard depicting a modern retelling of the virgin birth, was screening, and it was a stand-off of people harassing audiences from purchasing tickets, police cars were zooming down Market Street as I got out of there. More recently in 2006, The Da Vinci Code caused a minor furor, not just because of Tom Hanks sporting a mullet.
Noah was always going to be something different when the visionary director Darren Aronofsky was appointed to take the helm. He was always going to make an arty, eccentric and over-zealous production with little conformity.
The last Arc related film Evan Almighty should have been banned for lack of laughs.
No stranger to controversy himself, Aronofsky is a calculated filmmaker that lovingly made his second film Requiem to a Dream an almost glorifying cocaine weight loss pills and sexual experimentation, not in that order.
His notorious Black Swan switched from the delicate ballet Swan Lake to a psychological sensual double identity crisis. The Wrestler pitted at the time unwanted actor Mickey Rourke into going raw in the real world of second tier professional wrestling; it brought the former Nine and a Half Weeks heartthrob unlikely consummate praise from peers with an Academy Award nomination.
In short, clearly the story of Noah is a straight forward tale of a man saving an animal kingdom from a flood by building a watercraft big enough to hold as many species as possible in the land. Russell Crowe plays the gruff disciple chosen by ‘the creator’ as he is known in this film to undertake the rescue mission.
Noah has two visions, one artificially enhanced by some ‘special’ tea served by Anthony Hopkins, both involve a terrible flood, apocalyptic in scope and his need to build what turns out to be a boxy wooden ship, not the curved arc which is commonly known.
Deviation in the scripture involves a focus on ecological unrest, romantic involvement and family issues. Lord-of-the-Rings-style battle scenes and unique confrontations with fallen angels depicted as rocks talking in voices of such unusual choices as the great Nick Nolte and Frank Langella are only part of the extended narrative.
Crowe has said himself the end result controversy was not unexpected; he did even try to take the film to the Vatican for an audience with the Pope, which was declined (and tweeted about).
Sensing rejection from various countries and an over blowing budget also a concern, Paramount screen various rough-cut versions of the film without the permission or knowledge of director Aronofsky. Creative license by Hollywood took its toll on secret test audiences. Resounding criticism of all kinds hit the comment cards: slow, confusing, frightening and weak. That’s not to mention the abundance of religious discomfort that emerged.
The studio relented and let Aronofsky complete his vision which was on his script from the very beginning that they approved.
As a film critic and by no means a Bible aficionado, I watched Noah as an adventure tale, for which it is magnificent. Already barred from release in certain Muslim countries, if Noah is a global box office flop, it will certainly be a noble failure.
While it may cause discussion, audiences will ultimately see it to decide for themselves.
Filmed mostly on location in Iceland, the sets are amazing while the spectacle of the vast lands turning into a water world, literally rising to the heavens, and the round up of all animal kind is a cinematic wonder. No animals were harmed during the process as—shockingly—not one real animal was used. Look close enough you will see the tweaks. The rendering realism of the odd species by industrial light and magic remains incredible.
The booming orchestral score raises tension, while costumes by Australian designer Michael Wilkinson impress, while an assorted cast including Jennifer Connolly and Emma Watson stand up on the melodramatic human element side. Greenpeace will probably love Noah with all his post ecological ramblings. Central to Crowe, he’s seemingly in a constant dilemma, preparing for the worlds biggest tsunami. He is a fine choice but no Charlton Heston. The movie doesn’t run aground, but Noah remains an own entity that won’t be smooth sailing for everyone.
Noah sails into theaters March 27th.