One of the things filmmakers in Tinseltown do best is take liberties with the written word, and because of this movies are rarely, if ever, as good as the books upon which they are based. I’ve never understood why screenwriters seem to feel the need to change a perfectly good story for the movie version.
Some prime examples of books the movie moguls have butchered are Stephen King’s “The Shining,” Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter,” F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” Michael Crichton’s “Jurassic Park,” and Jodi Picoult’s “My Sister’s Keeper.” This is by no means a complete list because throughout the history of cinema myriad source books have been subjected to major changes for their screenplays. Why filmmakers feel the need to do this is beyond my realm of comprehension. BUT NOW THEY ARE MESSING WITH THE BIBLE!
I don’t purport to be the most religious person on the planet, but I can tell you that if you go to see “Noah” expecting a biblical epic like “The Ten Commandments,” “Ben Hur,” “The Robe,” or “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” forget it. Darren Aronofsky, the film’s director who just happens to be an atheist, has been quoted in the media as saying “Noah” is “…the least biblical biblical film ever made.” Amen!
Because the film offers such a departure from the story of Noah in the Bible, it predictably has elicited a flood (yes, intentional) of protests from various religious groups, but Paramount issued the following statement to address their concerns: “The film is inspired by the story of Noah. While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values, and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide. The biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis.” So there!
All right, we know from the book of Genesis and our Sunday school lessons that God (In the film it is the Creator. God is never mentioned.) became so fed up with mankind that He decided to wipe it out and start over with the help of Noah (Russell Crowe), whom He instructs to build an ark capable of carrying a male and female of every living species that flies, walks, crawls, and slithers. Once Noah did this, the rains began.
Now my first problem with the movie occurred early on with the appearance of the “watchers.” These are fallen angels who have be thrown back to earth and covered with a substance resembling lava. They possess glowing red eyes, and when they speak they sound as if they are doing a bad impersonation of Mercedes McCambridge from “The Exorcist.” These giant rock monsters clomp around like Transformers, and when I saw these laughable creatures, I was ready to leave the theater. But if I had, I would have deprived myself of seeing the watchers morph into carpenters so they can help Noah build the ark.
If I were to attempt delineating all the discrepancies between the Bible and movie version of the Noah story, this column might rival “War and Peace” for length. Instead of listing all deviations then, let’s play a little bit of the Never Mind game. Here we go.
Never mind that only one of Noah’s three sons has a wife on the ark. Never mind that we rarely see any animals and that all those we do see are CGI. Never mind there’s stowaway on board. Never mind that while a storm rages outside and the ark is floating in the midst of an angry sea, the scene inside the ark shows not a ripple of motion. Never mind that Noah ultimately turns into a biblical version of Charles Manson and wants to oversee the death of every human being on planet, including his newly born twin granddaughters. Never mind that he orchestrates the death of his one son’s girlfriend. And never mind. Well, you get the idea.
Although this film far exceeds the boundaries of any kind of license, it does have few bright spots among the storm clouds. Academy Award winners Crowe and Jennifer Connelly, who played husband and wife in “A Beautiful Mind,” are reunited as spouses here. Although Connelly doesn’t have the kind of role she can really sink her teeth into, Crowe turns in a typically superb performance. In the film’s production notes, Crowe provided some interesting insight into his character.
“Noah only starts to understand the task he faces as a sort of deduction because he’s not getting a lot of direct input. What he understands is that he needs to look after all the animals, but he doesn’t have any information at all about how he is to address the human question, so a lot is left for him to figure out. One of the cool things about him is that I don’t think he finds there’s any honor in this job. In fact, he sees it as the worst job he could possibly get from the Creator. But he will do everything in his power to finish it.”
Crowe’s performance is the best in the film, but a close second is the one turned in by Emma Watson. She is terrific as Noah’s daughter-in-law, who has the audacity to bear twin girls. Another notable cast member is Academy Award-winner Anthony Hopkins, who is completely wasted in the role of Methuselah.
As you would expect in a hugely expensive ($125 million) film like this, the special effects are sensational, but the overall plotline is so distorted that they couldn’t save the movie for me. Of course I went into the theater expecting to see a traditional rendering of the story, and the last thing I anticipated was Noah and his Transformers. In the production notes here’s what Aronofsky had to say about the movie.
“Audiences can expect all the great moments of the Noah story…the Ark, the animals, the Nephilim, the first rainbow, the dove. But hopefully they are captured in new and unexpected ways. Instead of repeating what’s been seen before, we looked carefully at what is written in Genesis, and then created a setting on screen where we felt these miracles could take place.”
Keeping Aronofsky’s words in mind, see whether or not you think he might be interested in bringing my original take on the divine birth to the silver screen.
Many years ago on Christmas Eve, Joseph (Sylvester Stallone) and Mary (Catherine Zeta-Jones) galloped into Bethlehem astride two white stallions and checked in the Nativity Suite at the five-star Holy Hilton Resort. Soon thereafter, the flying monkeys from “The Wizard of Oz” delivered Mary’s baby through an open window. Mary then quickly wrapped him in a monogrammed terry-cloth robe and laid him in he center of a king-size bed. Soon the Three Wise Men, portrayed impressively by Mothra, Godzilla, and King Kong, arrived to pay their respects. And the rest is history.
Here’s one last thought about “Noah,” which earns the final score of an unholy four. I do applaud the film for its supreme accuracy in one instance. We all know how long God made it rain, and after sitting through this film’s 138 minutes, I definitely felt as if I had been in the theater for 40 days and 40 nights.