Noah (2014)
By: Stuart Giesel on August 23, 2014 | Comments
Paramount | Region A & B | 1.85:1, 1080p | English DTS-HD MA 7.1 | 137 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins
Screenplay: Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel
Country: USA
What's this? Noah? A fiercely religious film with seemingly no extreme bloodshed, gratuitous nudity or other exploitative content is being reviewed on Digital Retribution? Well, you may or may not know the following about Noah. It's directed by auteur Darren Aronofsky, who has Requiem For A Dream and Black Swan to his credit, to name a couple. It purports to tell the story of Noah not in the way you might be accustomed - that is, not the whitewashed Biblical story you'd hear in Sunday School, but rather something quite a bit uglier and less Disney-fied. And this cinematic reenactment, as fantastical as the story might be, takes it a few steps further, well into Lord of the Rings territory at times. It also contains some pretty dark material, beyond the whole "God drowns the entire population of Earth" motif. So, yes, I firmly believe this has the makings of a cult film. It's a weird mix of arthouse, blockbuster and something else altogether. It certainly is also the weirdest mainstream would-be blockbuster that has come along in many a year, and that is absolutely to its credit. Take a famous Bible story, flavour it with some Terrence Malick, a hint of Michael Haneke drama and heaviness, and some truly spectacular visual effects and cinematography. Then, for good measure, sprinkle in some Peter Jackson-style grandeur. Oh, and hints of infanticide and incest. So, yeah... anyone looking for a straightforward retelling is bound to be disappointed. Ignore the moronic quote on the back of the case that blurts "if you liked Braveheart, Gladiator and Titanic, you will love Noah". Um, nope. Those three films are are barely thematically similar, and liking those certainly won't guarantee you'll like Noah. That's like saying you'll love Drive if you liked Knight Rider.

Most people will be familiar with the story of Noah, and things are pretty much as expected in Aronofsky's version, at least up to a certain point. God is majorly pissed at humanity, given that it has descended into depravity and wickedness. Being the benevolent being he is, he decides to wipe mankind from the face of the earth, not with fire but with water. A fuck-ton of water. He speaks to a simple but righteous man, Noah (Russell Crowe), telling him of his plans, and orders Noah to build a vessel to survive the flood, one large enough that Noah can ensure the safety of two of every animal, in such a manner that the world can be repopulated after the flood has done its thing. The catch here is that Noah is well aware that this stipulation doesn't factor in the animal known as man. Unfortunately, whilst Noah understands this, and is the sort of chap devoted enough to see the job through, his wife Naameh (a seriously gaunt Jennifer Connelly) and sons Shem (Douglas Booth, as wooden as one of the ark's planks), Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll) and Ham (yes, Ham! - played by Logan Lerman) aren't aware of this little sticking point.

So much of Noah involves the man and his family creating this monstrous ark. However there are a few additions to the story. One is the introduction of Ila (Emma Watson), a girl left for dead but rescued by Noah and brought into the fold. She cannot have children thanks to a stomach wound. Then there are the Watchers - essentially these are archangels who have been cursed and put into stone form, so they lumber around earth like the clumsy cousins of that rock beast from Galaxy Quest. Thankfully for Noah, they decide to help him build the ark, because presumably there was no conceivable way Noah and his family could have built the ark in the time that God expects him to. And we need an antagonist for the film - other than the shitload of water - so who better than Ray Winstone, who plays Tubal-cain, a self-proclaimed king of the region and who insists on using the ark as his own life capsule. He and his band of rapists, murderers and butchers plan on making Noah's life even more complicated, particularly when it becomes clear that God isn't pissing around and the rain starts a-comin'. Oh, and Anthony Hopkins shows up as Methuselah, Noah's grandfather, but he's not really given much to do except provide exposition and lament about berries.

Obviously the story of Noah is in no way grounded in reality, so Aronofsky and co-writer Ari Handel take pains to introduce elements that attempt to explain how this may have happened in "the real world". Aside from the rock creatures, who bring their own brand of incredulity to the proceedings and are there to explain how Noah and his family could have built something the size of the ark, you have Noah formulating a sort of incense to put all the animals to sleep for the duration of the ark's voyage, thereby showing why the animals didn't eat each other. Plus it's made clear that they're guided by God into the ark thanks to some divine and instinctual guidance. Personally, I would have simply preferred that Aronofsky relied on audience suspension of disbelief more - when you try to start introducing logic to an illogical story, you kind of get boxed into a corner. And unfortunately the film relies on a contrivance to ensure that we get something of a "showdown" in the film's last quarter.

So Noah is a seriously strange film. The first half-hour is an unbelievably weird experience, as we're presented with an apocalyptic landscape inhabited by strange people, looking like a spin-off of Mad Max, and that's before we're introduced to the Watchers, which takes the film up to a whole new level of strangeness. But once the story settles down into the building of the ark, we're treated to some seriously impressive visuals. Industrial Light & Magic's work is pretty monumental, despite the occasional dud effect - the first dog-thing we see doesn't look real at all, even taking into account Aronofsky's requirement that all the creatures are variants of animals we have on Earth today. The scenes of the animals heading into the ark is startling indeed. Even better, Aronofsky gives us two 'creation' scenes which simply have to be seen to be believed, the second of which is by far the most remarkable scene in the film, and some of the best stuff Aronofsky's ever directed. Matthew Libatique's cinematography is usually striking, if not downright breathtaking, thanks as well to the unusual Iceland locations. And thankfully we have a handful of performances that ground the film.

So you might be expecting that Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly are the standouts here - and you'd be half right. Crowe, as expected, can really deliver the gravitas when called for, and he certainly does that in Noah, giving us a quite disturbed character who feels the pressure of the world on his shoulders, yet at the same time questions whether he's doing the right thing, suggesting he's not at all sane. And come the film's third act, Crowe is fearless as he takes the character down a really dark route. Connelly, surprisingly, isn't as effective - there are moments where she balances Crowe's performance well enough, but other times it feels like she's wildly overplaying her character when more subtlety is called for. No, the other standout performance is Emma Watson, which may be something of a surprise for those who believed her Hermoine Granger was merely a wealth of facial tics and eyebrow raises as opposed to a real flesh-and-blood character. Ila's arc is the most compelling of the film, and Watson's scenes with Crowe are the true heart and emotion of the film. Watson absolutely nails her role, going head-to-head with Crowe with aplomb.

Unfortunately, whilst Lerman is fine as Ham (I assume there was a character named Ham in the original story, but I just can't get over that name), you couldn't find a more wooden performance than Booth's Shem. Sure, he's got the looks, but he's also got the presence of a box of old sandals. Winstone can always be relied upon to play the heavy, but it's nothing we haven't seen before from him, although he gives the character a nice edge of desperation. And Hopkins plays his usual wise old man, something we've seen in Thor and every other film he's been in lately.

Performances aside, most people will be watching Noah for the spectacle: the building of the ark, the animals boarding the ark, the flooding, all that good stuff. There is also a superb action scene involving Tubal-cain's army trying to board the ark, which shows Aronofsky flexing his cinematic muscle. And the spectacle is eye-popping at times, even though you have that niggling reminder in the back of your brain about how this story is about the destruction of humanity. And beyond the eye candy, there are scenes and moments that are sure to linger in the mind long after the film has ended, some that are quite disturbing for a PG-13 rated so-called "blockbuster".

You have to hand it to Aronofsky. Fresh off the critical and box office success of Black Swan, he had the cred to make anything he wanted, and he chose a big-budget version of the story of Noah, and did it in a way that was sure to piss off many Christians, who I would assume would be turned off by the film's darker or more fantastical elements (despite the story being patently absurd if you took the time to think about the logistics involved). Plus, the film is careful not to mention God other than as "the Creator", so I assume that's another black mark against it. Agnostics and atheists might be turned off by the very fact that this is a story about a famous Biblical story (they shouldn't be, but there you go). My advice? Think of Noah less as a Biblical retelling and more as an apocalyptic survival film inhabited by creatures that wouldn't have looked out of place in Middle Earth. It's a heavily flawed but amazing spectacle, utterly strange and utterly unique.

The Disc
Noah's picture and sound quality on Paramount's Blu Ray is simply outstanding. From the apocalyptic wastes to the even-more-apocalyptic flooding, not to mention the stunning creation scenes, Noah looks an absolute treat in hi-def, the disc being reference-quality stuff. The English 7.1 soundtrack is equally as impressive, presenting the scenes of destruction in immersive style, bolstered by another typically excellent and fitting score by Clint Mansell.

Features are on the sparse side, though there are undoubtedly more in some sort of ultra-deluxe version soon to grace our shelves. Iceland: Extreme Beauty documents the film's stunning shooting locations. Darren Aronofsky, cinematographer Matthew Libatique, production designer Mark Friedberg and others weigh in on how they used the striking and unique landscape to create Noah's distinctive look. It's a little bleh, as far as makings-of go. The Ark Exterior: A Battle for 300 Cubits is more interesting stuff, detailing the design and construction of the ark and shooting the ark in various conditions. The Ark Interior: Animals Two by Two is, as the title suggests, a look at the ark's immense interior design. All three of the features run for about twenty minutes each. Unfortunately features involving the actors or a look at Noah's visual effects are nowhere to be seen.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
The phrase "not for everyone" absolutely applies to Noah. For every two people who will absolutely hate it and believe it to be indulgent or misguided, another person will admire its audacity and visual design. This undoubtedly isn't the story of Noah that most were expecting, though considering Aronofsky's pedigree maybe we shouldn't have been surprised. Look at his Noah as less a straightforward retelling of the tale, and more a detailed look at a man's struggle with his faith in the most staggering and stressful situation imaginable, and you get the idea of what Aronofsky was aiming for. Russell Crowe and Emma Watson are the standouts, and if nothing else Noah is an absolute feast for the eyes and ears. It's an incredibly strange film, but one that truly gets under the skin at times, and if you're willing to stick with it you may find the film to be a rewarding experience. Just don't blame me if you hate its guts.
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