Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Life imitates art as 2014's Noah sounds like a real-life version of 1994 spoof ...And God Spoke

In the same vein in which the "mockumentary" movie This is Spinal Tap (1984) made fun of rock music documentary films, ...And God Spoke, which opened at the Festival of Festivals in Toronto in 1993 and went into general release in 1994, pokes fun at fictitious movie producers who who decided to make a movie based on the Bible (see trailer). The producers know next to nothing about the Bible and are too lazy to read it (the director asks a Catholic worker on the set how many disciples Jesus had), but they think they'll be able to get by. The production falls behind schedule after the first day, and before long, saving money takes precedence over faithfulness to the source material.

Gaffes abound, forcing the production further behind schedule, e.g., the actress who plays Eve has a prominent tattoo, and the replica of the ark is built inside a factory and then proves to be too big to get through the factory door and onto the outdoor set. In order to raise more money for the production, the producers decide that some product placement is necessary, so Moses (played by Soupy Sales) is shown coming down a small hill (they couldn't afford a mountan) carrying the tablets of the Ten Commandments in one hand and a six-pack of Coca-Cola cans in the other--not exactly accurate period detail. The movie finally gets finished and released, and is a total disaster, but eventually becomes a cult hit through midnight screenings (a la The Rocky Horror Picture Show), with fans showing up at the theatres in costumes resembling those of the movie's characters.

Flash forward 20 years, and we have Noah (2014). I have no intention of seeing it, but numerous Christian commentators and bloggers have seen it, and there are too many well-informed critiques available from them to mention here. It seems as though producer/director/writer Darren Aronofsky has spent about as much time in the Bible as his fictional counterparts in ...And God Spoke. Even secular reviewers have noticed that Noah isn't exactly faithful to the source material.

Katherine Monk of Canada's Postmedia News states, in her March 28, 2014 review:

...Given all we've heard about the cost of production and big-budget effects, Noah had to deliver two spectacles in grand fashion.

We needed to see an ancient flood that made our feet feel wet, and we needed to see realistic animals loaded onto a gigantic ark that looked plausible from a mariner's perspective.

Aronofsky only half-delivers the goods because it seems a lot of money went toward creating Watchers - characters made of stone and stardust that protect Noah from the marauding hordes.

Here Aronofsky brings a little Judaic Shul to the mix by interpreting the Nephilim, or angels, in the form of Golem - mud monsters. These cartoonish creatures are by far the most insane part of this crazy ride - and not just because the central rock man is voiced by Nick Nolte - but they fit the Dungeons and Dragons landscape, which in turn peels the Noah story away from sacred scripture and reinvents it as a grim fairy tale.

If only he'd been able to pull it all together as something other than an awkward, rectangular box, Noah might have had some real style and gone somewhere interesting...
As an amusing sidelight, Ms. Monk tweets that she got a little taste of the real thing as she left the theatre:

God must love Noah.... just got out of Aronofsky screening and walked into a downpour, then a hail storm.

And according to Adam Nayman in the Toronto newspaper The Globe and Mail, March 28, 2014:

...In Noah, the director takes perhaps the most spectacular chapter of the Greatest Story Ever Told and renders it utterly underwhelming. The drab, under-lit look of Noah, which was shot by Aronofsky’s talented long-time cinematographer Matthew Libatique, represents an attempt to ground myth in reality – to quite literally ground it in acres and acres of mud...

...The gravitas of Noah’s knowledge that the majority of life on Earth is about to be wiped out clashes with the oversized absurdity of much of what’s going on around him, including the clan’s collaboration with a group of giant rock monsters (actually fallen angels), who, whatever their actual scriptural origins, look and sound like creatures from other high-end blockbusters – gigantic refugees from The Lord of the Rings.

These and other gimmicky touches suggest that Aronofsky is trying to justify his project’s massive cost, and yet it’s obvious that what he’s really after is a sense of intimacy. The film’s second half, set inside the Ark as the storm rages outside, is basically a sea-bound psychodrama that finds Noah wrestling with a form of survivor’s guilt and channelling it against the other passengers...

...Aronofsky and his co-writer Ari Handel struggle to create authentic drama and so fall back on action-movie clich├ęs. The point at which Noah stops dead so that two burly movie stars can roll around on the ground pummelling one another is when some viewers may start to suspect that the director is piloting his own gigantic vessel on cruise control.

The film is not without its moments: One shot of a rocky outcropping teeming with people trying to escape the rising tide is borderline-Boschian, and an intelligently designed recap of the Creation myth provocatively overlays Old Testament language on images of evolution. But most of what’s on offer here feels depressingly familiar, especially Crowe’s performance, which doesn’t deviate from the actor’s track record of hard, manful glowering; frankly, he was much better playing a man caught between his loved ones and a larger sense of duty in The Insider (which also featured some more authentically visionary hallucinations to boot).

As for the other actors, they’re badly wasted, especially Connelly, whose screen time mostly consists of grinding herbs to put the Ark’s non-human passengers to sleep (which also cuts down on the special-effects budget, since that means we never really have to see the critters in action)...

...Noah never quite achieves the grandeur it’s reaching for, maybe because in the end the director isn’t really stretching all that far. He has upped the weight, but he hasn’t raised the bar.
There are of course, two major differences between Noah and the fictitious epic in ...And God Spoke: Noah had a much bigger budget, and is a big box office hit. I have no intention of seeing Noah, so I'll have to go by the reviews that give the impression that it's a miserable piece of work. I'm one of the few people who's seen ...And God Spoke, and it was a lot of fun--especially for those who know the Bible--and probably at least as Biblically accurate as Noah.

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