Paramount Pictures should have known what they were getting into when they decided to move forward on a big-budget telling of the Biblical fable of Noah and his ark as conceived by fiercely independent-minded filmmaker Darren Aronofsky (2010's "Black Swan
"). The original story from the book of Genesis can be read as an allegory if one so choosesit is about a man who allegedly lived to be 950 so one should automatically decipher that it's not to be taken factuallyyet once rumors got out that the writer-director was approaching the material with a certain creative license, fundamentalist Christian literalists sprang into outrage mode, sight unseen. The title character in "Noah" is no longer described as being hundreds of years old, thank goodness, but he might as well have been since Aronofsky and co-writer Ari Handel (who received story credit on 2006's "The Fountain
") have seen fit to turn an already-far-fetched story into an even sillier, threadbare bit of nonsense. In terms of money spent and talent procured, this is a major creative fiasco in the annals of big-screen turkeys. This is also the reason why it will be difficult to ignore.
Plagued by nightmares involving water and visions of flowers growing instantaneously from the earth, Noah (Russell Crowe) senses a storm is coming to rival all that the planet has known. He, wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), and their three children set out to seek guidance from Noah's grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins). On their journey, they are accosted by The Watchersthat is, early beings shunned by their Creator for disobeying orders and transformed into stone giants as punishment. Believing that God has tasked him with saving all species of animal while annihilating the rest of mankind for their evil ways, Noah and The Watchers build an ark large enough to protect them from an oncoming catastrophic flood. Meanwhile, the murderous Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone) and his tribe of nameless cronies prepare to ransack the ark and take it over for themselves.
"Noah" gets off to a rocky start with visual effects of a slithering snake and forbidden fruit looking about as photorealistic as video game graphics from 1994, then turns even rockier with the appearance of The Watchers, a ridiculous cross between the Ents from "The Lord of the Rings
," Rockbiter from "The NeverEnding Story," and the alien robots from "Transformers
." Darren Aronofsky can be a fine director, and sometimes more than that, but his work here is gaudy yet bereft of wonder, self-serious but sorely lacking in complexity or plausibility (even by the standards of an out-there fantasy). The characters are generally one-note creations, some with tidy personal conflicts and others so negligible as to be glorified day players. Brothers Shem (Douglas Booth), Ham (Logan Lerman) and Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll) barely exchange any words at all and share no detectable bond. Noah and Naameh feel less like their parents and more like adopted daughter Ila's (Emma Watson), whom they saved from injury and death when she was a young child. Now that the rest of the world is due to perish and Ila and Shem are a couplealthough, from what they can tell, dismayingly barrenHam comes to the haunting realization that there will be no one left for him to be with. Meanwhile, Japheth looks on.
When the apocalyptic rains begin and the flood ravages the globe, interest rises slightly with the waters, then settles down when it becomes apparent that Aronofsky has missed the boat on fulfilling this story's full potential. The animals show up two by two prior to the relentless monsoon, then are promptly sidelined by a cockamamie plot device in which they're collectively put to sleep, then totally forgotten about. As months pass inside the wooden structure, human tensions heighten and arguments between a schizophrenic tyrant and his denigrated family members break out. If there is a thoroughly indelible image to be found, it is one in which Tubal-cain's men, desperate to survive, wretch, scream and writhe in a literal mountain of agony. Otherwise, the action centerpiece is as perfunctory as its human element and themes are clunky and two-dimensional. A scene where a man searching for berries finally finds one to taste seconds before being wiped out by a wave of water is as heavy-handed as it sounds.
Russell Crowe (2014's "Winter's Tale
") has the brawn and gravitas
to play Noah, but he can't work miracles when faced with such a stubborn, megalomaniacal character. Speaking for a Creator whom he never sees nor hears, Noah's increasingly crazed, masochistic behavior makes him intensely unpleasant to endure for two-plus hours as he rants, raves, refuses to listen to any semblance of reason, and still has time to spin the tale of the universe's creation campfire-style. It takes an awfully long time for Emma Watson's (2013's "The Bling Ring
") Ila to come into her own, but this is the fault of the negligible screenplay rather than the actress. When she does, Watson sells her life-and-death predicament with tangible commitment. Sadly, Logan Lerman (2013's "Percy Jackson: The Sea of Monsters
") is fitted with a subplot that bypasses grounded existentialism for hamstrung histrionics. Seeing Watson and Lerman together again but unsatisfactorily used is enough to make a person long for 2012's "The Perks of Being a Wallflower
." As Tubal-cain, Ray Winstone (2012's "Snow White and the Huntsman
") isn't nearly hateful enough to counteract would-be protagonist Noah's own spiteful personality. And then there is Jennifer Connelly (2010's "Creation
"), whose tour de force
performance as Noah's beaten-down but not broken wife, Naameh, is all the more shattering because it is in service of a film that pays her nothing in return for her troubles. A late scene where she confronts her out-of-control spouse is riveting to watch, full of so much pain, regret, love and disdain that it single-handedly overshadows all of the bunk surrounding it.
What will Christian audiences think of "Noah?" It is hard to say. The film takes a pro-Creationist's stance and follows the general outline of the Biblical lore of Noah, but Aronofsky has embellished things to such a degree that he turns the project into a farce. The opening text and prologue is so awkwardly handled it took a full minute to realize what was on the silver screen was the movie proper and not another Alamo Drafthouse pre-feature spoof reel. Once that is over, things only marginally improve, the only emotional weight within having nothing to do with the asinine storytelling and everything to do with the actors (usually Connelly and Watson) transcending the confines of their roles. Equipped with wildly uneven effects ranging from fleetingly evocative CGI to primitive green screen work that resembles people pasted onto 1970s rear projections, "Noah" is akin to an eye-opening study in how even visionary cinematic artists are not immune to getting virtually everything wrong. It's enough to make a person nostalgic for the far grander, far more miraculous sights of "Evan Almighty