By on April 9, 2014

When telling people I was going to review “Noah” this week, I tended to get one of three main reactions, all of them telling in their own way.

Amongst the non-believers, I tended to get a big, fat, across-the-board “Why would you do that?” sort of reaction. Meanwhile, the religious faction was divided amongst themselves, as per usual.

There were those who couldn’t wait to see it and were first in line, attending with like-minded individuals and their religious groups of choice (i.e. Bible Study groups, Sunday School classes, etc.).

Then there were those who, often without having even seen it, had already condemned the film, based on hearsay (imagine that!) and negative word-of-mouth, proclaiming it a heathen’s take on the classical Biblical tale. Holy ship!

Of course, the hilarious thing is that the latter group all-too-often haven’t even actually read the Good Book they so vehemently rise to protect against any perceived slight, thus rendering their ridiculous protests all but pointless- much less have they seen the movie in question. For if they had, then they’d know that, for all of its modern-day flourishes, this is full-on Old Testament stuff that would do the sinners-in-the-hand-of-an-angry-God contingent proud.

I hate to break it to those who have fond memories of Noah as an all-around great guy that saved his family and two of each and every animal on the planet against the wrath of God when no one else believed him that a Great Storm was coming, but newsflash: Noah wasn’t that likable, nor were his actions strictly heroic.

I mean, we’re talking about a guy that sat back and watched scores of people die when they most needed help, not because he was a hero, but because God told him to. Do that sort of thing today, and see where that gets you, least of all with the so-called believers.

Naturally, this being a movie, liberties are taken. For one, only Noah, his wife and three sons are onboard, plus Ila, the wife of son Shem; and a stowaway, King Tubal-Cain, who slew Noah’s father, which he witnesses at the beginning of the movie. In the Biblical story, it’s actually Noah, his sons and their respective wives.

The movie also adds such neo-Biblical subplots like Ila being barren but later becoming pregnant with the help of Noah’s grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins), which Noah sees as going against God’s will, leading him to threaten to kill the child when born.

These additions are, of course, thinly-veiled representations of, respectively, Mary’s miracle pregnancy by spiritual means and Abraham being tasked by God to kill his own child, Isaac.

“Noah” haters can take the movie to task for such additions, but like it or not, they’re already there in the bible, just simply transposed to other sections. If you take issue with the plot elements themselves, you’re still essentially taking issue with the Good Book, so deal with it, people.

A bit more understandable, objection-wise, is the decision to involve fallen angels that look like rock monsters out of something like “John Carter” or one of the “Transformers” movies. They aid Noah in completing his task, as well as in helping defend himself and his family against the people who come late to the game, trying to gain access to Noah’s ark after initially disbelieving him.

True, it does help explain how Noah and his family managed to stave off what must have been essentially an army of latecomers, but at the same time, it does sort of launch the movie into fantasy territory, almost like something out of J.R.R. Tolkien or what have you, so I completely get that complaint.

That said, there’s nothing here that’s more inherently unbelievable than some of what’s already present in the Bible in general, so naysayers need to just deal with it before acting like a pot calling the kettle black. If you’re that determined to take the Bible as the absolute truth, you have to take the bad with the good, and not when it’s most convenient.

To that end, “Noah” basically gets the spirit of the Old Testament tale right- which is to say, it’s not a pretty story overall. Basically, the overarching theme is that humanity has gotten so out-of-control, their own Creator has opted to wipe them off the face of the Earth and start over with a few chosen people and animals to start anew.

That’s not an easy pill to swallow for some people, and it’s understandable that many churches lean towards a slightly more kid-friendly version or the New Testament in general. Old Testament God doesn’t play around, after all.

In terms of the movie itself, I thought director Darren Aronofsky did a great job repurposing the material at hand to include various themes found throughout the Bible, and the film is nothing if not visually stunning.

The Great Storm is thrilling and horrific, as it should be, and there are some images here that believers won’t soon forget the next time they think about sinning. And isn’t that what you want in a Biblical epic? Part-spectacle, part-“you better be good- or else” cautionary tale?

Aronofsky has always had one foot in hand realism and another in the decidedly fantastic, whether dealing with finding truth in mathematical equations (“Pi,” his directorial debut), escape in addiction (the superlative “Requiem for a Dream,” still arguably his best), escape from death (the flawed-but-fascinating “The Fountain”), contending with growing older and unrealized dreams (“The Wrestler”) or healing oneself through art (the Oscar-winning “Black Swan”).

He’s easily one of the best, most fascinating directors out there, and “Noah” is very much in keeping with the rest of his oeuvre, despite throwing some fans for a loop, in terms of the Biblical angle. But remember, even Martin Scorsese did his own take on religion, with the controversial “The Last Temptation of Christ,” and this isn’t nearly as rabble-rousing as that film was.

Indeed, it’s not even as bad as the Biblical-epic-cum-torture-porn of Mel Gibson’s notorious “The Passion of the Christ.” Most of the hard-core Christians I know loved that film, even dragging their kids to see it despite the nightmares it undoubtedly caused for those poor kids subjected to Gibson’s needlessly over-violent vision.

“Noah” isn’t without its terrifying and violent moments, but it’s nowhere near that bad, so Bible study groups/et al. should be okay, regardless of age. (And no- spoiler alert! – Noah doesn’t kill the aforementioned children like he threatens, so you’re fine there.)

The cast is fine, though Jennifer Connelly’s part as Noah’s wife- her second turn as the wife of Crowe- is a tad thankless.

“Harry Potter” star Emma Watson fares a good bit better as Ila, and the up-and-coming starlet Madison Davenport (“From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series”) manages to make an impression in a brief turn as the ill-fated Na’el, who Noah’s son Ham (Logan Lerman, who previously co-starred with Watson in the excellent “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”) takes a shine to.

Ray Winstone, of “The Departed” fame makes for an excellent villain, as the nefarious King Tubal-Cain.

As for Crowe, he certainly doesn’t shy away from making Noah unlikeable, more of an anti-hero than an actual hero, which is as it should be.

All in all, “Noah” is a solid addition to the oft-ridiculed Biblical epic subgenre, no matter what your respective take on the Bible may be. Whether you believe or not, it’s an entertaining watch, with some impressive visuals and genuinely exciting and moving scenes.

Some may quibble about the content changes from the source, but it really doesn’t change the overall message at hand, whether you care for that message or not, which basically boils down to: in the apocalypse, it’s every man (and woman) for themselves.

This apocalypse may not be perfect, but it’s good enough to earn an A for effort from this erstwhile heathen.

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About Mark Trammell

Mark Trammell is the resident entertainment critic at UAB, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he is also a Graduate Student and does a vid-cast movie review show. He is a life-long fan of films and has a pretty whacked-out, all-over-the-place movie collection that would give most sane people pause. He loves horror movies and Disney flicks and isn't entirely sure there is a difference. He one day hopes to put his money where his mouth is and inflict his own perverse vision on society, entirely so that he can tell people who ask: "If you think you can do better, why don't you make a movie yourself?" to shut up.
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