The Noah story is a good one and you can see its attraction for a film-maker. It’s easy to forget how little detail is given in the Bible, but important to take a look at what’s there, to put yourself in Darren Aronovsky’s shoes when he started off. Here’s the outline in twelve points.
- The world was corrupt and full of violence.
- God regretted that he made the world and wanted to destroy everything.
- Noah was a just man, the outstanding man of his generation.
- God told Noah to make an ark of gopher wood and to seal it up with pitch and make sure there were plenty of rooms in it. God gave Noah the measurements in cubits.
- God said “I’m going to make a covenant with you. You and your wife and your sons and their wives can come into the ark.”
- And then he told him that an essential part of the deal involved Noah bringing a male and a female of every kind of thing in the world.
- Noah was six hundred years old at this point in his life.
- Forty days and forty nights of rain. “And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth”.
- The waters prevailed upon the earth a hundred and fifty days.
- A good way into the seventh month, the waters began to subside and the ark came to rest on Mount Ararat.
- When Noah and his family got out God told them to be fruitful and multiply and Noah built an altar to the Lord and, without any irony, sacrificed some of the animals he had saved on it.
- “And the Lord smelled a sweet savour.” Enjoying the smell of the burning animals the Lord said to himself that there was no point cursing the world because of man, because, the Lord reasoned, they’re an awful shower and why should I expect anything good from them ? (“the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth”). End of Noah story.
A lot of room for a story-teller to expand. I think Darren Aronovsky’s film expands in all the wrong directions. Three hundred and twenty visual effects artists worked on the film and maybe that’s warning enough as to the kind of product you’re going to get.
Here are a few examples.
- Noah lives apart from the rest of mankind, surviving on berries, being careful not to pick flowers out of respect for creation (“we take only what we need”)
- Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) has magic powers.
- Noah invents a special incense that puts the animals on the ark asleep as soon as they get onto it, increasing the “realism” (otherwise, presumably, we all would have wondered: did the animals not get restless? And where did they take a shit?)
- Fallen angels who helped mankind, only to have mankind turn on them, are invented (“the Watchers”). They help Noah build the ark (necessary for realism; otherwise we might have wondered: how did he build that huge ark on his own?). They make reasonably short work of it because they’re made of stone, have six arms, and are sixteen foot tall (the Watchers look like the Ents of Lord of the Rings).
- A villain is invented to kill Noah’s father, Lamech. He is a villain with a catchphrase (something like “ever dance with the devil in the pale moon light?”) whom the hero will have a duel with in the penultimate scene of the film.
- Noah’s brothers and sisters are written out of the story (leaving them behind would have been interesting). A battle scene is written in to the film (a small section of humanity gets wind of the coming flood and want on to the ark).
- Noah’s sons, who had wives, are made teenagers, and their wives are written out of the film. One wife is replaced with a girlfriend (Emma Watson) who will become pregnant by the magic of Anthony Hopkins.
- For a while Noah becomes Abraham, ready to do God’s will by knifing a family member. (Aronovsky likes having Noah as “the antagonist and we’re almost rooting against him”)
- One of Noah’s sons tries to escape the ark with his pregnant girlfriend and Noah uses magic powers to throw fire at the raft they’re about to get on.
Noah is a good example of an “auteur” director refusing to listen to his studio (Paramount), and the studio being right (for example, Paramount didn’t want the Watchers and it didn’t really want Noah to be someone the audience didn’t like). The film uses as much CGI as you might expect in Godzilla or Transformers – and like those kinds of films, the more CGI, the less heart, the quicker it will date, and the more it will lack any drama that draws out your emotions. And why did Aronovsky not write a decent female role?
Far better would have been: scale down the budget, scale down the “action” – have Noah living in a small community – film it in Ait Benhaddou in Morocco, or somewhere like Bam in Iran – leave out the magic – keep the dreams – leave out the Watchers and the large-scale battle – Let Noah leave Ait Benhaddou with his family and go and build the ark – let people call him mad – let there be a much smaller-scale attempt by a small community, who live near the place where Noah’s ark is, to get onto the ark after the first week of rain, when their houses have been flooded – let Noah, or somebody, wonder whether God hasn’t been a bit simplistic in treating everyone bar Noah’s family as deserving to die – and so on…What do you think?