Noah, the new telling of the Biblical story, uses every possible approach to make its traditional tale appeal to today’s audience. While director Darren Aronofsky creates a unique visual approach, he fails to invest enough time in the characters. Instead of a satisfying time at the movies, we’re left wishing for more.

Since Moses first parted the Red Sea in the silent version of The Ten Commandments in 1923, the Biblical epic has been a staple in the cinema kitchen. From Ben Hur to Passion of the Christ, tales from religious chronicles have filled movie screens with vivid costumes, dynamic heroes and big special effects. Of the movie genres we savor, these films tend to follow predictable movie recipes.

Darren Aronofsky has another idea in mind with this contemporary interpretation of the story of Noah and the ark. In Cecil B. DeMille’s hands, this story might have featured a larger-than-life hero who defeats the odds to save the animals, two by two, before the floods begin. The star, likely portrayed by Charlton Heston, would look beyond his priorities to consider the necessary steps to save a larger world. And, no matter the challenges, he would persevere before the final credits.

Clearly, Aronofsky doesn’t share DeMille’s obligation to tradition. Similar to the director’s treatment of ballet in The Black Swan or aging in Requiem for a Dream, the daring Darren uses creative visuals to frame traditional stories. While DeMille would rely on people to advance his narratives, Aronofsky relies on the camera and the computer to create a language of rhythm and emphasis. With Noah, this digital approach fills the screen in a different way than other films of the genre. Never has a Biblical epic looked like this, with costumes that defy a particular time period, hairstyles that appear to require appliances to maintain and monsters that seem to come from nowhere. The director uses every available tool to challenge traditional views of how a Biblical epic should sound or look.

None of these visuals, however, help Aronofsky develop the characters that a good story needs. Because he relies so much on the computer to create his visual context, the director fails to establish the emotional basis for the characters’ actions. Rather than fully explore what goes on in Noah’s mind or heart — as he lets his doubts disrupt his efforts to save the world — Aronofsky lets the computer create spectacular battles. We never get to fully learn who Noah is, what matters to him, or how he relates to a higher power. Instead we see a lot of images created by computers instead of absorbing the thoughts and feelings that people reveal. Because the visual experience appears without emotional context, we never understand why Noah does what he does as we experience his computer-enhanced world.

This lack of balance delivers inconsistent performances. Crowe broods his way through the film in a one-note performance. Jennifer Connelly, sporting a most unusual and inconsistent accent, replays her supportive but confused spouse from A Beautiful Mind while Emma Watson emotes on cue as a young woman who becomes a plot device. Only Ray Winstone gets to develop his villain, although he, too, becomes a convenient target for the computer when it’s time to tie up his narrative.

In his best films, Aronofsky trusts his instincts to use a unique visual sense to substantiate an emotional journey. With Noah, just when the film suggests a narrative rhythm, the director reaches for the keyboard. We learn less about Noah and his world than the director and his reliance on the computer. Hopefully, next time, he will leave the keyboard at home.

 

Film Nutritional Value

Noah

* Content: Medium. While the basic story of Noah always fascinates, Darren Aronofsky’s choices of visual over substance weaken the film’s content.

* Entertainment: Medium. While the visual sequences remind us what computers can do, they fail to engage because the characters don’t drive the action.

* Message: Medium. Aronofsky makes valiant attempts to make the story relevant from messages about avoiding animal fat to respecting the environment.

* Relevance: Medium. Any opportunity to revisit a Biblical story can lead to meaningful family discussion.

* Opportunity for Dialogue: Medium. Other, more traditional Biblical epics may yield more productive discussions than any resulting from sharing this film.

 

(Noah is rated PG-13 for “violence, disturbing images and brief suggestive content.” The film runs 138 minutes.)

 

2-1/2 Popcorn Buckets