‘Noah’ Review: Darren Aronofsky's Biblical ‘Waterworld’ Mostly Runs Aground (Video)

Russell Crowe plays a zero-population-growth Noah in a movie stuck between being a straightforward Biblical epic and a full-tilt-boogie arthouse film

Unlike the thousands of CGI beasts of the land and air who hitch a ride on “Noah,” Darren Aronofsky‘s highly-anticipated epic is neither fish nor fowl; in no way is it a straightforward Bible tale (and given the brevity of Genesis’ account of the flood, such a thing would be next to impossible) nor is it the sort of unfettered freak-out that fans of “Black Swan,” “Pi” or “The Fountain” would expect from its director and co-writer (with Ari Handel).

“Noah” has its share of interesting ideas, from rock-covered fallen angels to Noah's idea that he and his family should be the last human beings on earth, per his interpretation of what “the creator” tells him, but the film winds up feeling like a bit of a soggy slog, both overblown and underwritten.

See video: Emma Watson Introduces New ‘Noah’ Trailer, Full of Epic Apocalyptic Destruction (Video)

The tricky thing about adapting Bible stories into drama is that the characters tend to have only one or two dominant traits rather than emerging as richly complicated people. In the case of “Noah,” we not only have to allow for quite literal deus ex machina — a lot of story elements can only be swallowed with a healthy dose of “because God willed it, that's why” — but we're also forced to deal with the practical implications of a story that ends up with a handful of people being left to repopulate the planet, most of whom are already related by blood.

As “Noah” tells it, the world was divided after Adam and Eve's expulsion from the Garden of Eden and Cain's murder of Abel — the line of Cain built decadent cities and exploited the resources, and the line of Seth lived in peace and harmony. As such, Cain's heirs pretty much wiped out Seth's, until the only one left among the latter is young Noah, who witnesses the murder of his own father.

N-33354Years later, Noah (Russell Crowe) and his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) try to instill his values in their sons. One night, Noah has a vision of a terrible flood; he visits his grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins), who slips him a mickey via some hallucinogenic tea, leaving Noah convinced that he must build an ark to save the animals of the world while the creator wipes out the wicked with a great flood.

Methuselah gives Noah a seed when, which planted, creates a spring (or fountain, for you future MFA candidates looking for motifs in Aronofsky's work) that in turn causes a forest to spring up all across the wasteland. With the help of the watchers (the aforementioned angels, who were encrusted with rock and lava when they fell to earth trying to help mankind), Noah builds his watercraft. (Aronofsky apparently follows the specs from Genesis, leading to a rather boxy and unwieldy ship and not the usual curved-bow boat we've seen in previous adaptations.)

While oldest son Shem (Douglas Booth) is in love with Ila (Emma Watson) — adopted by Noah as a young girl after he finds her wounded and abandoned — there are no potential wives for middle son Ham (Logan Lerman, Watson's “Perks of Being a Wallflower” co-star) or young Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll). Noah goes out amidst the wicked (who have camped out in the area just outside the ark's construction site) to rustle up some more daughters-in-law, but when he sees Satan with Noah's face, he thinks this means God intends to wipe out humanity, including Noah's own bloodline.

Also read: ‘Noah’ VFX Firm Loses a Bundle on Biblical Epic (Exclusive)

This doesn't go over particularly well with the rest of the family, especially after Methuselah blesses Ila's previously barren womb. (If you're prone to inappropriate snickering, bite down hard during this moment.) Once the admittedly impressive flood happens, the third act vacillates between Noah threatening to murder Ila's child and an embittered Ham hiding the evil Tubal Cain (Ray Winstone), who has stowed away on the ark.

“Noah” has snakes and bears and herbalist anesthesia and rock-angels and rampaging armies and panicky sinners, so why is it such a drag? Clearly Aronofsky isn't out to make yet another stodgy Bible movie, but it often feels as though he's reining in his showier artistic impulses lest he offend the faithful. As a result, he's wound up with a movie that will please neither the “Son of God” crowd nor the people excited about a reunion between the director and leading lady of “Requiem for a Dream.”

Also read: Darren Aronofsky Knew Nothing About Paramount's Last-Minute ‘Noah’ Changes (Exclusive)

Crowe pretty much plays it straight, maintaining his hoarse intensity even when Noah goes to some dark places in what he thinks is the service of the creator. All the other characters are too easily summed up (e.g. “loyal,” “loving,” “duplicitous”), leaving little room for the actors to flesh them out.

Some might consider the story of Noah to be as much of a bad-luck charm to the movies as “Macbeth” is to the stage; the 1928 “Noah's Ark,” produced by young Darryl F. Zanuck, infamously led to the drowning of several extras during the big flood scene. No animals or cast members were harmed by “Noah,” true, but this new vessel doesn't do much for the floating zookeeper's big-screen reputation.

  • Dee

    I am glad Noah stars a few Jewish actors (Jennifer Connelly, whose mother is Jewish, and Logan Lerman, who is just Jewish).

    • hsmoke

      Why, there were no Jews in Noah's era.

      • IngeC

        Are you being sarcastic? Noah was jewish!

        • hsmoke

          Um no- Abraham was the first Jew, thousands of years later. If you believe in any of this to begin with.

          • IngeC

            My mistake – you are right!

          • Agni Ashwin

            Abraham wasn't Jewish.

          • hsmoke

            Jews consider Abraham the first Jew (retroactively). Other interpretations are perfectly fine. (It's all nonsense anyway!)

  • MoiraB

    I saw a sneak of this and agree almost completely with this review – except I thought the lava angels were full-on stupid. Ripped off from Lord of the Rings, except LOTR would have conceived of and carried them out better.

  • R2D3

    Go to

    musemash (dot) tumblr (dot) com

    and read:

    WILL PARAMOUNT’S NOAH SINK OR SWIM?

  • Paul Comeau

    “and Abel's murder of Cain” – wait… typo or does the movie actually reverse the Cain/Abel story? – Never mind all fixed now. :-)

  • Arvin Marvin

    “why is it such a drag? Clearly …he's reining in… lest he offend the faithful.”

    Yup, that pretty much summarizes the review. It doesn't offend those silly “faithful” therefore, it is boring. *rolleyes*

    • shaun McAlpine

      So by boring u mean no click baiting put downs for people activity looking, not for a reasoned its-not-great review, but for a hyperbolic smack down to amuse them.

  • http://dogwarddown.net/ Mark O'Neill

    Why would you just leave God out of it? Why try to please everyone with a shot down the middle? Just make a flood film that will please the people who believe the biblical version of the story.
    The studio could reshoot a couple scenes and re-cut it and make all their money back.

    • Zack Daley

      You are fucking stupid. The draw to this movie, is seeing Darren Aronofsky spin a unique take on the story of Genesis, which has haunted and beguiled his creative voice since he was a child. THAT is the draw for this movie.

  • R2D3

    WILL PARAMOUNT’S NOAH SINK OR SWIM?
    http://musemash (dot) tumblr (dot) com/post/79845349511/noahs-powerful-international-trailer-can-be

  • George

    Maybe the movie is “safe” because it doesn't dare mention God.

  • IngeC

    Reading this re-cap makes me wonder what the purpose of this movie is because Noah was a very faithful servant of God. The story of Noah is important in The Bible because it has a teaching to it.
    Understanding that Crowe and Aronofsky are Atheists now it makes more sense; one can not re-tell nor make a film of Noah if the person involved doesn't know or understand the meaning and content of The Bible.
    If they think that leaving God out of the movie is ‘splitting the baby down the middle’ and no problem – they should just admit that they wanted to make Noah but, not related to The Bible at all nor to have this movie anything to do with God at all.
    That's a big misfire and, I suspect that this movie will not even make the money back they spend to make it.
    One does have to be a Christian to understand; turning this into a pushing of ‘global warming or environmentalism is ok, just be honest about it.
    Why did these two guys insist on meeting with the pope? They don't believe in God at all so, why do they want an endorsement of the Vatican or catholic church?
    Help me out here?

    • Hmm

      I agree with this. I'm not Christian, but even I knew from reading the recap that this is not at all faithful to the Noah story in the Bible. This movie feels very ‘splitting the baby down the middle,” as you said. To me, it feels like an example of cultural appropriation. And to answer your question: I think the story Aronofsky really wants to tell is about the peaceful environmentalist. The problem for Aronofsky is that he himself doesn't understand what it's really like for environmentalists, the “hippies” in our society. So he was completely ill-equipped to tell that story, so he tries to fall back on the Biblical epic kind of movie. But that doesn't work either because the two DO NOT MIX.

      I mean, say what you will about Mel Gibson, but at least he actually had conviction about The Passion of the Christ. Again, I'm not even Christian, but I have more respect for someone who actually believes in their own religion instead of appropriating someone else's religion to make a big movie, you know?

      • Agni Ashwin

        “I have more respect for someone who actually believes in their own religion instead of appropriating someone else's religion to make a big movie, you know?”

        Aronofsky was raised culturally Jewish.

        • Hmm

          But he's a self-admitted Atheist as an adult.

  • Jacob Greenwood

    If Noah never existed, why can his sons and their descendants be traced through Chronicles in the Bible and archaeology to people and places that exist today? Why do the seven Noahide laws, which Abraham and the civilized world followed, still resonate?

    1 You shall not have any idols before God.
    2 You shall not murder.
    3 You shall not steal.
    4 You shall not commit adultery, incest or bestiality.
    5 You shall not blaspheme God’s name.
    6 Do not eat flesh taken from an animal while it is still alive.
    7 Set up a governing body of just laws.
    READ “Finding Noah” at www NoahIsReal com

  • Tim Connelly

    It's horrible when a reviewer can't hide his own prejudices. Yes, Alonso, a Bible story would clearly have been better without all of that silly Bible stuff. What a bonehead.

  • Pablo

    writing the movie is about is not a review.

  • FilmDoctor

    The movie shows the Creator is both just and merciful. The reviewer missed the premise of the story as Aronofsky and his co-writer envisioned it.

  • XxxYODAxxX

    why read a review, when you can already tell this guy just hates anything “religious”? just review the damn film as a film, and not based on your own personal beliefs. thanks.

  • Pauline Novak-Reich

    Darren Aronofsky’s Noah ― A View with a Twist

    “Beware
    the consequences of climate change” is said to be the message Darren Aronofsky’s latest film, Noah, conveys. Yet, the legend of Noah and the Great Flood told in the Book of Genesis
    celebrates survival rather than serving as a dire warning. It has its origin in the Gilgamesh epic, which relates
    the story of Utnapishtim, the Mesopotamian Noah, whom the gods ordered to build
    an Ark. The most overlooked aspect of these legends is that Utnapishtim and
    Noah built their arks ahead
    of the Flood.

    Some
    may think of them as fictional heroes representing the righteousness of men in
    awe of God, however, when stripped of theological content, their legends hail three
    technological milestones. Those are the engineering
    of a seaworthy ship, the formulation of the astrological zodiac for maritime
    night navigation, and the use of a spiral as a forecasting instrument. The
    latter projected the upcoming disaster, whereas the three ensured survival,
    first in Mesopotamia, then in Egypt.

    The absence of
    archaeological evidence to attest to Noah’s existence makes the Old Testament’s
    legends our main window to the Biblical era of 3000BCE. However, the legendary Ark
    is a metaphor for the mega ship-building projects that took place in Babylon in
    order to tackle catastrophic swells. The specific measurements and dimensions
    of Noah’s vessel ensured a seaworthy craft capable of navigating through waters
    with no landmarks.

    His legend is the first
    account of a much broader story underpinning the Old Testament’s legends. It is
    linked to the patriarch, Abraham, Noah’s tenth descendant, who along with his
    wife, Sarah, set out from Babylon for Egypt’s royal court to sell his country’s
    secret sacred knowledge to a pharaoh beleaguered by drought. As told in the
    legend of Isaac, Noah’s instrument, in addition to forecasting the behaviour of
    rivers, could also locate bore water in deserts during drought.

    In
    contrast to the Egyptians, who believed the Nile flood was a blessing from the
    gods, the Babylonians dreaded the annual deluge. Widespread flooding in
    southern Mesopotamia became a metaphor for human destruction and a fertile
    ground for epics like Gilgamesh to arise. However, as the survival of each
    depended upon flooding, the periodic excesses of the Tigris, Euphrates and the Nile Rivers turned the
    inhabitants of these lands into brilliant problem solvers obsessed with
    patterns, symmetry and time sequences. No less greedy civilisations than ours
    displayed more preoccupation with climate than we today.

    The Babylonians celebrated the
    spiral by building ziggurats with temples for their deities atop, while the
    Egyptians enshrined it in the pyramids where the block arrangement of tiers
    forms a spiral like that of the Milky Way. Embedded with a clock and calendar, this
    spiral is a time measuring device, which, other than forecasting the ebbs and
    flows of rivers can also forecast the money markets’ ups and downs.

    The legends of Genesis, the
    ziggurats and pyramids, along with the Rind and Moscow mathematical papyri and the
    Nile inundation records form the story of the odyssey of secret sacred
    knowledge from Babylon to Egypt and beyond. It is a story fraught with greed, betrayals,
    fraud, persecutions and wars triggered by the deceitful marriage of Sarah to the pharaoh. Abraham told the King she was his sister rather than
    wife. The union forged the Egyptian-Hebrew lineage of a highly intelligent succession bonded by knowledge rather than
    blood. The most prominent of that succession are the Greek philosophers, as
    well as Copernicus, Galileo, da Vinci, Kepler, Newton, Tesla and William
    Delbert Gann ― the man who named Noah’s spiral the Square-of-9. Each, in his own right, discovered the secrets of the
    universe, yet left no clues for posterity.

    Sarah’s successors bring to mind Max Cohen, Darren
    Aronofsky’s main character in the1998 movie, Pi (TT), who believed that God had chosen him to discover the
    universe’s DNA. Armed with Pi and 216 illegible digits his makeshift computer
    spat out, Cohen is certain that when cracked they would form the spiral that leads
    to Mother Nature’s black box.

    The Square-of-9 is
    indeed Mother Nature’s black box. It won’t disperse pollution, nor will it avert
    a disaster. It will emit an early warning signal instead. It will warn against avalanche, drought, earthquake, mudslide, torrential rainfall, tsunami, and
    even war. It’s all just a matter of tapping into nature’s clock.

  • Bill Yo

    Bill Yo

  • Bill Yo

    “Don't undermine the creator” got cha Rus – thanks mate. The inanity of the dialogue is right up there with Troy ‘are you sure you wanna do this”. Who wrote this drivel? The film almost made it as a comedy. Who cares what Adronovki or what ever his name is did before. All the reviews yak on about his past films of Adronisovksi – who cares accept the creatures of the dark ( with the prominently displayed ‘exit’ sign). I had to sit through this one. Thank God it only cost me $8. This is a disgrace to intelligent dialogue. Kill the baby, Rus – there'd be much more press.