Noah (Darren Aronofsky, 2014) – The most remarkable aspect of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah is simply the fact that it exists. It’s not supposed to be possible for an idiosyncratic director to get a massive blockbuster budget to make a challenging and thought-provoking movie no matter how many battle scenes are wrapped around the ideas. More than that, such a movie certainly shouldn’t take source material out of the Bible and then take great liberties with that material to suit the filmmaker’s intent rather than church service rhetoric. And yet, somehow Noah exists, and flawed though it may be, it’s both a fascinating directorial experiment and a satisfying blockbuster. No one could have predicted that. Well, except for Aronofsky of course.
If you know the Noah a story, then you know the basics of the movie and yet you don’t. Russell Crowe does indeed play the descendant of Adam who is tasked by God to build an ark to save two of every creature on the planet from an apocalyptic flood. Except in Aronofsky’s version the message from God comes not from a voice in the heavens, but via two hallucinatory visions: one in a dream and another provided by his father (Anthony Hopkins engagingly overacting as only he can) via a hallucinogenic tea. Then when Noah starts constructing his ark with his family (Jennifer Connelly, Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth, and an adopted Emma Watson), fallen angels assist in the task in the form of rock monsters. Good thing too, since Ray Winstone soon arrives leading a tribe of filthy heathens who Noah and his rock army must viciously fight off once the flood begins.
So, it’s certainly a very different version of the story; one rooted equally in blood and guts fantasy epics as much as spiritually uplifting biblical epics. But those changes to the story are only the ones you’ll see in the trailers. Aronofsky’s most daring work is more character driven and comes after the flood. His Noah isn’t just a bad ass/savior, but also a deeply flawed man perfectly portrayed by Crowe, who finally decided to do some acting in a movie after a few years of coasting on subpar material. Unable to call up his creator for advice, Noah toils and tortures away under the burden of his task. When his son questions why he can’t save a woman to be his wife in the new world, a screw comes loose in Noah’s head and he becomes convinced that his task is to supervise the death of humanity. He lets his son’s possible partner get trampled to death during the great ark battle. Then when an unexpected child is born on the ark, he decides he must murder the infant at birth to finish his task. Aronofsky’s Noah isn’t merely a savior chosen by God, but lost servant driven to the brink of madness by an impossible task. It’s a fascinating interpretation of the story and one that only this director could have imagined.
The film feels very much like Aronofsky’s attempt to make the philosophical action epic that he was unable to properly visualize in The Fountain. Sadly, much like in that film the director’s ambition often outweighs his creation. Noah features some of the finest filmmaking of the Aronofsky’s career (in particular, an absolutely astonishing sequence visualizing the intelligent design version of creation from the big bang through primate evolution), but also suffers from his jack-hammer sense of subtly, his weakness for melodrama, and his unnatural dialogue rhythms.
Admittedly all of those problems are less overt in a Biblical fable suited to them, but they harm the picture all the same. Still, the fact that he’s managed to make a film that works both as a visceral fantasy action movie and a carefully thought out deconstruction of a religious myth is a minor miracle. Noah is certainly a film that demands to be seen and discussed in an over caffeinated fury debate regardless of whether you love or loath the results. We need more movies like that from Hollywood. So well done Aronofsky for pulling this off and well done Paramount for backing the project. Whether or not the final result is perfect is beside the point. Noah is fascinating, challenging, and thrilling blockbuster filmmaking. That’s more than enough to qualify as a success.
The film arrives onto Blu-ray in the type of technical showpiece disc one would expect for a movie of this scale. On a purely technical level, the disc is absolutely astounding. The visuals are crisp, clear, deep, vibrant, and gorgeous throughout. This is a movie in which every dollar in the budget made it to the screen and no expense was spared in ensuring that the Blu-ray perfectly represents the magnificent technical achievement that the filmmakers accomplished. The sound mix is bombastic, deep, and layer, sure to rattle speakers while also providing a rich atmosphere to get lost in. Few Blu-rays can match Noah for sheer technical spectacle and it’s a truly stunning disc.
The special feature section is limited to one hour long documentary spit up into three parts, but it’s a doozy. Divided into twenty minute sections on the Iceland location shoot, constructing the arc, and shooting in its dank interiors, the documentary is mostly technical in nature and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a wonderful portrait of a grandiose, ambitious production with some remarkably candid footage of the production. If you’re looking for input from the actors on the challenge of their roles, you won’t get much. Neither will you get much insight into why Aronofsky was driven to take on such controversy baiting material. That’s a bit disappointing given what a strange movie Noah is, but as a study of the physical pains involved in making a massively ambitious blockbuster it’s such an effective and fascinating documentary that it’s hard to complain. That’s all you’ll get out of the special feature section, but it’s strong enough that it’s forgivable (a commentary track would have been nice, but I ain’t complaining). Overall, Noah delivers spectacularly on Blu-ray and is well worth owning if only because it’s hard to imagine a more ambitious, strange, and unique blockbuster will sneak out through the studio system in the foreseeable future. There’s simply never been a blockbuster like Noah before and like it or loath it, the flick demands to be seen for that very reason. (Phil Brown)