Darren Aronofsky’s latest project has inevitably become an object of controversy, faced with criticism from religions around the world (the film was banned in Qatar, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates before it was even released). Withholding these theological concerns, and viewing the film simply as a piece of art, Noah still sorely disappoints, as Aronofsky introduces unnecessary narrative and special effects into a film that could have been epic in the true sense of the word.
Ari Handel and Aronofsky’s screenplay attempts to elaborate on the Noah story from Genesis. Noah (Russell Crowe), his wife (Jennifer Connolly), and his three sons live in a world fraught with sin-descendants of Cain, these savage murderers cannot feel the same love for the world that Noah’s family does. For this reason, God speaks through Noah in coded visions. God tells our protagonist to build an ark and fill it with his family and two of every animal to ensure creation will live on when God sends a flood to kill the sinners of mankind. Aronofsky’s version also includes giants made of stone, who are actually fallen angels. This strange addition to the story has the giants assisting Noah in making the ark (ensuring the job gets done a lot more quickly) and protecting his family. As the ark nears completion, the descendants of Cain-led by Tubal-Cain, who is played by Ray Winston, in his usual gruff way-are eager to be saved, too, believing they are made in God’s image and therefore worthy of his salvation. Save for maybe the stone angels, the film does not deviate too dramatically from the well-known narrative, even including some of the ambiguous aspects of the Genesis story.
Similar to his 2006 film The Fountain, Aronofsky truly focuses on the visuals rather than the narrative in Noah, and while the biblical story lends itself to beautiful imagery and grand locations, Aronofsky’s decision to use CGI where it is not needed undermines the film. The story of God’s creation and the fall of Adam and Eve is told numerous times, and although aspects of this retelling are visually interesting-look out for a sobering version of the Cain and Abel story-the film makes no attempt at realism with its CGI. The bright green, impassive snake is perhaps the worst rendering of Satan’s serpent that I have seen on film. Aronofsky’s vision of the dystopian world pre-ark conjures an imagining of times long past, as the stars can be seen clearly night and day and the colors of the sky are glorious. This is an instance wherein CGI is used to magical effect, but unfortunately, this is not a common occurrence in Noah. The stone angels are perhaps the most distracting visual. This addition to the story takes away from the realism that Noah was expressing and actually made its action scenes more boring rather than striking. Regardless of what initiated Aronofsky’s misguided decision to add in these creatures, it inevitably weakens the overall film. With strange hybrid animals and CGI babies, most of the visuals are distracting and undermine the movie’s serious tone.
Matthew Libatique’s cinematography is also disappointing. Although he previously worked on Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan with Aronofsky, in Noah the camera does not involve the audience as much as it has done in his previous work. Their other collaborations were painful to watch because you felt the anxiety that the characters were feeling through Libatique’s use of shadows, close ups, and quick camera movements. Noah‘s visions would have been the perfect opportunity to display these successful methods, but instead, the scenes feel like a cheap re-do of Scorsese’s work in The Last Temptation of Christ and Kundun.
Although none of the actors stood out in Noah, Russell Crowe did a decent job as the conflicted hero. It is difficult to draw the audience’s attention when surrounded by a CGI boat, animals, landscape, and sea-certainly there was a concerted effort to do so, but it seems that Aronofsky was too focused on his grand vision to worry about the details.
Noah truly is a disappointing version of a fascinating story, especially when it comes from a director who has more than proved his talent in the past.