They May Actually Want A Smaller Boat – Noah (2014)

noah5The real problem with Darren Aronofsky‘s new movie Noah isn’t really its “controversial ” take on the Biblical story of The Great Flood. No, the actual problem is that it really just isn’t that good a movie.

Okay, so by now anyone going into the film should know that it isn’t exactly what some people might expect when they first hear the name “Noah”. Which really isn’t that surprising, considering that a) this film was developed to be more of a Hollywood special-effects summertime blockbuster and b) director Aranofsky has never been one to shy away from taking risks with his movies or from delivering films that are decidedly different and challenging to audiences.

And while those aspects may be the ones that a lot of people focus on, arguing that “it’s not like the book”, well when is the movie ever like the book?

noah3Lets face it, Hollywood has a long history of changing certain elements whenever they delve into the area of “biblical epics”, and Noah should never have been expected to hew strictly to the story as it can be found in the Bible’s Book of Genesis. And even some of the more outre elements of the movie, such as the fallen angels who now inhabit the Earth in the form of stone giants known as “Watchers” are something that, again, knowing as I did before I went in to see the movie that they were there, I was willing to accept as a part of this movie’s world. No, the real problem with the Watchers is that once again, the completely computer-generated characters not only fail to convince and completely drew me out of the movie every time they appeared because i couldn’t help but wonder why the choices were made to make them look and move the way that they do, but then also participate in some of the most ridiculous fight scenes that have “graced” the screen in a long time, with rocky arms flailing and bodies being cast this way and that, completely strewn about seemingly without any rhyme or reason.

NOAHEven in its quieter scenes and set-pieces the green screen and computer animation fails as often as it works, as in one scene which has characters supposedly walking across a black-sand plain that is clearly simply them walking in place while the background is imposed around them, or another in which characters are obviously being brought into a computer-generated mountain range. Honestly, there are effects in this movie that made me harken for the old days when these types of shots were done in camera with matte paintings that at least gave one a sense of wonder as opposed to making one wonder why they didn’t looks better.

And once again, as I did in the case of The Life of Pi, I have to ask why anyone would settle for such obviously fake looking animals as this movie does at times, as once again, it only serves to bring the viewer completely out of the movie.

noah1Oh, and speaking of the animals, while I was completely on board with the way they were handled once they were on the ark – basically being lulled into a kind of incense-fueled hibernation and thus removing from the film any real concern about how much food or other supplies would be needed to care for them and how to keep them from constantly fighting with each other – I don’t know that we really needed to see the same overhead shot repeated three times as the various types of animals were being brought on board.

Of course, I could just mark a lot of the above down to technical quibbles, except that it also points out one of the main flaws of the movie which is that Aronofsky simply seems like he’s not completely sure what kind of movies he wants to make. If he simply wanted to make a great spectacle-fueled action movie, then perhaps he could and would have spent more time on those aspects of the movie to make sure that they looked better and were more seamlessly integrated into the film. However that actually seems to be less what drives him than the more humanistic questions and human drama – or perhaps I should say melodrama – that forms the actual main plot line of this story.

noah2In some ways, it is these scenes that seem the most Aronofsky-esque which is really no surprise, since they allow him to dig into the smaller moments and scenes that typically are more associated with the director while at the same time giving him a chance to really bring those short bursts of imagination and flair that one would expect from him to the film. And certainly they are there. Yet there is even a certain…. I don’t really want to say “flatness” because they certainly don’t lie flatly on the screen as they might in the hands of a lesser director, and Russel Crowe and the rest of the cast certainly bring what they can to the script. But at the same time, the entire enterprise simply leaves something to be desired.

noah6Perhaps the problem lies with the ambiguity which seems to drive all of the actions of Noah himself. Aranofski and Crowe’s Noah is a man so obsessed with fulfilling the mission he has been given by The Creator – which is how God is referred to throughout the film – that he at times completely loses all of the humanity that supposedly was the reason he was chosen to be the lone survivor of the devastation that has been wrought. Indeed, since we as an audience never actually witness The Creator speaking to Noah but are only given glimpses of the dreams which lead him to take on this mission in the first place, there is a certain “is he truly sane?” aspect to the film that might work better if we as an audience didn’t already know the outcome of the story.

And yet as an audience, we really can’t cut Aronofsky too much slack even in that department, because he is far from the only one that has taken on a well-known story and tried to adapt it to the screen, and especially since as a filmmaker he seems quite willing to create his own world for these characters to inhabit and to follow only the basic outline of the plot as set forth in Genesis, taking liberties in all of the other aspects of the story, he could have made many of these subplots and character developments much more challenging than they ultimately are. Yet so many of them seem to have truly paint-by-number resolutions that this really does have the feel that the director really needed to give himself more of a challenge or at least to visually engage the audience more. Instead, he simply seems satisfied to repeat certain shots over and over without any real engagement.

noah7Actually, I take that back. there is one aspect of his characters that Aronofsky does seem engaged with, and that is the perfect faces – and especially the perfect teeth of his two female leads. Seriously, the last part of the movie is so filled with extremely tight close-ups of both Emma Watson and Jennifer Connelly that when I wasn’t being blinded by their perfectly white teeth, I found myself trying to count their freckles and seeing what kind of patterns they formed. It honestly became so distracting that I had a hard time not only buying into the emotions they were attempting to get across, but simply even following their arguments. Instead I was simply wondering whether the real survivor of the flood shouldn’t have been their dentist. He (or she) was obviously a very good person.

In the end, what we really have in Noah, is a film that is neither one of those epics that will be remembered as one of the greats decades from now, nor an epically-scaled failure. Instead it’s simply another one of “those movies” that come along, make a quick splash, and will, by the end of the year, likely have gotten swept away in the tide of the rest of the films waiting to come out this year.

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