Movies based on and inspired by previously existing stories/events originally told in other mediums is a risky and tricky business. Historical events occur (like slavery in America), and stories/novels are written about said events. When motion pictures enter the arena, events and people are often changed, added, removed, etc. due to the change in the medium (12 Years a Slave, Lord of the Rings, and Passion of the Christ are some examples). Stories in the written form allow for different detail, gives the reader permission to understand the thoughts/motives of the characters, and grants access to back-stories and histories. Should movies attempt to capture every written detail appropriately, they would not be a single 2 hour movie. Instead, they would end up being a mini-series for the theater (can anyone say Hobbit trilogy: three movies from one book?). Given the expense of film production, theater admission, and the infamous concessions equaling a small mortgage, such endeavors are usually dismissed as a viable option by movie companies. Therefore, liberties are almost always taken to the original stories to increase the likelihood of turning a profit (done epically by James Cameron with the film Titanic).
The notion of requiring stories to be 100% verbatim of history is a rather modern construct. People today get upset when a movie does not line up with previously existing material. Today’s average American viewer struggle with understanding and appreciating changes in the story when the medium changes.
Sometimes the changes can actually improve upon the story, being better than the book (I often feel this way about many Shakespeare movies, especially those involving Kenneth Branagh). Other times changes really detract from the original story (like with Michael Bay’s Transformers). Occasionally a movie is actually very close to the original story when in reality changes should have been made because the book just does not translate very well to the screen (like with the DaVinci Code).
Given this preface and foundation, the questions can be asked, is Noah a good stand-alone movie? Is Noah a good adaptation of the original story; in other words, Noah may not be 100% accurate to the original text, but does it capture the heart and essence of what the original story was about (did the changes made/liberties taken detract from the story)?
Make no mistake, Noah is not your typical Bible film. Usually Bible films are in desert lands, people are in simple brown robes with head coverings, and the dialogue tends to be delivered with a wooden “awe” like stage players give Shakespearian lines (appropriate for the stage, but boarder-line melodramatic on the big screen). Noah, on the other hand, has beautiful mountains, plush forests, modern-feeling outfits, all of which participate in graphically showing the rise of industry and technology, and how such advancement can influence people towards a life of self-pleasure, greed, and arrogance.
The outfits/costumes are very unique: they feel modern-friendly yet have an old-world aura. Along with the weapons and civilization, the movie Noah has a highly advanced feel, allowing for a more medieval tone rather than an ancient middle-eastern feel. A risky and bold choice, but allows the audience to connect more to the situation and characters rather than feeling thousands of years removed and displaced. It is almost like the director is wanting to give a warning to the audience: humanity has been down this road in the past, and in a parallel manner society is treading that path yet again; perhaps we are not so removed from the evils of the story as we would like to think.
NOAH: the Positive.
The wizards at Industrial Light & Magic said they had never had a project neither as ambitious nor as involved as they have had with Noah (this said from the gurus who made Jurassic Park). Their work paid off as the effects are astounding. The camera work done by Matthew Libatique (same director of cinematography Darren Aronofsky used in all his past films) is profound, grand, and sweeping. Matthew and Darren clearly work well together to allow the camera to speak as powerfully as the people on the screen.
Russell Crowe gives an amazing performance as the titular character Noah. Not since Gladiator and A Beautiful Mind has he given such life and heart to a character. In Noah’s darkest hours, Crowe lays out his heart, and brings the audience with him in his journey of love, determination, near madness, and restoration. Jennifer Connelly also gives probably the best performance of her career (who also played Crowe’s wife in A Beautiful Mind). It was also a pleasure to see Emma Watson grow beyond her Harry Potter starts, showing she is an acting force to be reckoned with…and should she continue to grow as an actress, she will one day be taking home a little golden statue of her own. As for the other characters, they do what they need to do, with no performance neither standing out as superb nor detracting from the film’s atmosphere.
NOAH: the Negative.
Despite all the liberties taken from the original story, one element of change really bothered me: at one point I did not like the character Noah. After the film was over, and Noah was restored and accepted grace and mercy, I was relieved. Until then, when Noah fell into utter darkness and madness, I actually did not like him, and had no idea how the story was going to end.
On one hand, Noah’s darkness reveals his humanity. In the Bible Noah was a Godly man. Because God’s favor was upon him, because of God’s forgiveness, Noah was “blameless.” However, Noah was also a fallen human being, and therefore a sinner like everyone else. It has been my experience many within the church read Genesis 6-9 and place Noah on a pedestal: a man who had it all figured out, didn’t struggle, and didn’t sin. This is far from the truth, and Darren Aronofsky reveals this reality very well. At the same time, it was extremely difficult to watch because of how dark Noah became all the while thinking he was doing exactly what God wanted him to do. As a result, the third act is very dark, disturbing, and will be hard for many to watch.
NOAH: the Final Product.
Overall, as a stand-alone movie, I like the film. Since Noah is a movie done as just that, a movie, which happens to have Bible-Noah-likeness in it, I went into the film not expecting 100% Biblical accuracy. After all, the moment we rely upon Hollywood to be the teacher of history and religion we all have a large problem on our hands. Yes, the movie changes a lot from the Biblical text (for example: not all of Noah’s sons are married on the ark, fallen angels encrusted in rock help Noah build the ark, and the main villain Tubal-Cain – played by Ray Winstone – stowaways upon the ark for a final climatic battle for Noah and his sons), yet the heart of the Biblical narrative is properly captured: sin separates creation from the Creator; grace, mercy, and forgiveness is offered and possible; while God is a patient God, He is a God of justice and will one day offer judgment upon creation and that judgment is inescapable; those who through faith find salvation in God’s grace will experience new life. That is what is at the heart of the Biblical narrative, and the same motif is at the heart of the film Noah.
Many Christians are wondering whether or not to see the film. After all, it’s not 100% accurate to the text, the director is not a Christian, and therefore why waste one’s time when we have the Bible itself. Some will especially find the rock-encrusted fallen angels an awkward addition to the story, including their redemption and reception back into heaven. When I watched the film, two people got up, walked out not to return during the first major scene involving the rock creatures talking to Noah.
Here is my personal opinion: see the movie, but go into it expecting exactly that: a movie (not the Bible on screen). Noah is a film named after the lead character in this story, and there are many parts of the film that are borrowed from (and some parts directly from) the Bible. But this is not the Bible on screen.
Let me be again honest: this film does not need to be the Bible on screen. After all, we have the Bible to read, and in all honesty many parts of the Bible just would not translate well to the screen 100% (as it would be very boring…anyone for 3 hours of Laws?).
Noah is a film people can watch and enjoy…and maybe they would like to know the real story that inspired this fictional one, and therefore turn to Scripture. I know my curiosity and love for history has been elevated countless times because of a movie (accurate or not).