Friday, April 11, 2014

The Cinema File #333: "Noah" Review

And the Lord said - "Let there be a crap load of religious themed movies in 2014!" And it was...kind of middling really.

Ever since a pre-blacklisted Mel Gibson shocked the box office with his vaguely anti-Semitic masterpiece The Passion Of The Christ, Hollywood has been desperately searching for that next big Christian zeitgeist film that will once again spur churches around the country to bus their parishioners to theaters on mass. Darren Aronofsky's Noah feels like a bit of an odd way around this demographic, serving up an indie director with a penchant for depressing nuance and a biblical story with a lot more carnage than relevant moral teachings to an audience that apparently prefers their Christian movies a bit more preachy and life-affirming. In many ways, Noah feels deliberately designed to alienate its target audience in favor of appealing to someone more like me, raised on the secular sorcery of fantasy epics, but ultimately it tries to do too much with too little material and accomplishes very little of what it sets out to do.

Noah is the story of, well, you should know that I suppose. If not, go read the Bible. That's not an appeal to faith, certainly not from this atheist, just basic literacy. Then again, its been a long time since I read my King James, but I don't quite remember the charcoal rock monsters, and I'm almost certain that I would have, as that might have been enough to sway me on the whole attending church thing. Yes, this Noah is a bit different than the one you remember from Sunday school, a mythical action hero with superpowers including mysterious visions of the future, the ability to summon vast flocks of animals to his location, and the awesome power of being a callous bastard even to his closest loved ones. And yes, also, his friends are giant rock monsters. Specifically, rock monsters who used to be angels. It probably sounds like I'm bashing this movie for being too silly, and honestly, I'm not sure if I am or not. In a way its exactly the kind of movie I always look for, but there's just something nagging at me that I can't quite shake.

As I mentioned, I'm not a Christian. In fact, I'm about as far from a Christian as you can get. That being said, I sympathize at least with the criticism levied at this film from Christians who feel it departs too drastically from its source material. Oh, most of the examples they give are still stupid. The fact that the word "God" is never used, instead replaced with "Creator" is picayune, but the tone of the film is pretty far from what you would expect, or what I imagine I would want if I were looking for a faithful adaptation of a story from a book I find sacred. Its easy to dismiss the issue of a biblical story treated with the same brush as a magical fantasy film if you can remove yourself from it and see the parallels between the bible and other great myths, but if you're one of the many people who base their lives around these stories, the Neverending Story with muscles approach can come off as more than a little insulting. At the risk of diminishing the importance of faith to those who have it, I imagine many of them feel the way I do when I see the comic book characters I love routinely raped of their integrity in every year's batch of superhero movies, which is coincidentally a genre this film would feel right at home in, which for obvious reasons it shouldn't.

Or maybe I'm just bitter because I didn't get the epic, insanely dark live action Pokemon movie I've always secretly wanted. Yeah, I know, technically its closer to the book, but the idea that all the animals just come to Noah's ark really seems a little lazy to me. I want to see Russell Crowe wrasslin snakes in each hand, or trying to coax male and female bears into his boat. Instead, our major source of conflict is the world's deadliest animal...Man! One man in particular leads a tribe of apparently too far gone degenerates and also happens to be the man who killed Noah's father, and since Noah's desire for revenge just so happens to coincide with God's edict that everybody but Noah and his kin die in a flood, we get a battle to see who can force their way onto the last ship out. This is the stuff of climaxes, but regrettably we have a whole second movie to deal with after the rain comes, dragging out what was already starting to drag for another hour of suspense as we wonder if our leading man is going to kill a baby.

Not sure if that was in the original story or if we suddenly slipped into Abraham's tale, but in any case, I could have done without this. Its not that its bad, but its such a jarring tonal shift that it took me out of the movie even though I was prepared for it by spoilers from friends who had already seen it. Noah is two movies in one, and I wouldn't have minded either of them occupying my time for 90 minutes, but with only an extra half hour, we get both, and neither is really given its due. Ironically, given my historical distaste for movies growing increasingly too long, this is one story that I could see being expanded to closer to the three hour mark, though I would much prefer trimming it down into either a great superficial action movie or a dark and gritty ark based thriller. As it stands, its a bit hard to follow or engage with, hinging on a lot of poorly explained supernatural mechanics and flashy gimmicks no doubt meant to distract from the fact that you're watching a bible movie. It almost comes together enough to be worth it, but only just misses the mark.

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