“The end of the world… is just the beginning”
(Spoiler alert – it’s actually more like the third quarter)
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Starring Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone and Emma Watson
After the Creation and the Fall of man, the line of Seth keeps the way of the Creator while that of Cain rules a vast, industrial empire powered by ‘zohar’, a stone containing the energy of creation. When God decides to cleanse the Earth with a flood, Seth’s descendant Noah is tasked with creating an Ark to save the innocent creatures of the Earth. He is aided by the Watchers, earth-bound angels punished for aiding man and later betrayed and enslaved, and opposed by Tubal-Cain, last king of men, gratuitously nasty slaver and cannibal, and would be rival of the Creator.
What’s wrong with it?
The film is part apocalyptic science-fantasy and part Biblical epic, and while the mix is interesting it suffers from refusing to pick a side. The global Empire of Cain lacks the fundamental infrastructure to have ever supported it. Tubal-Cain is a truly menacing tribal king, but fails to convince as the leader of even a fallen empire.
The unrelenting gray-brown palette of much of the film is somewhat wearying in places, and the speechifying can get leaden in places.
Given the absolute desolation of the landscape, it’s hard to see where so many large ungulates were surviving all this time.
Logan Lerman, playing Ham, looks distractingly like a Name of the Rose era Christian Slater, and ironically is pretty much the only Semite in the cast.
The film ends with the slightly creepy implication that Noah’s infant granddaughters are going to be married off to his single sons (a deviation from the Bible, in which his sons were all married at the time of the flood, as well as being about a hundred years old already).
The opening crawl describes the fall of man, but kind of shoots its credibility in the foot by deciding that it needed to punctuate its account with a comedy apple-crunch sound effect.
What’s right with it?
The film is beautiful in a rather grim way, and the apocalyptic landscape of the Cainite empire is an especially potent image. The cast is strong, and wrestles manfully (and womanfully) when the dialogue gets too heavy. Crowe and Winston clash like the titans of unsubtle manliness that they are.
Elements of the filmmaking are heavily stylised, and these are quite remarkable, with sections shot almost as shadowplay against a vivid red and yellow sunset especially beautiful.
How bad is it really?
Noah is far from terrible, and in fact is probably one of the best film on this blog in many ways. There were just a few too many questions for me not to include it.
Best bit (if such there is)?
The epic battle for the Ark, in which the Watchers sacrifice themselves, and thus forgiven explode back into their angelic forms, while rain pelts down, is impressively grim.
What’s up with…?
- The forced character conflict? Ham is put at odds with his father through an episode not only added for the film, but predicated on the fact that Ham has no wife, where in the Bible all three sons are explicitly married.
- Tubal-Cain? Disaster movies don’t really need a villain.
- The global empire without an infrastructure? The ruins of a zohar mine resemble the remains of a twentieth century facility, but there is no sign of rapid transit or communications ever having existed.
- Zohar? Random magic rocks, yo!
- The pangolin dog? I guess it and a couple of other non-species symbolise what was lost to man’s greed.
Production values – Despite the limited pallete, this film is gorgeously made, with incredible production design. The three-armed Watchers with their clubbed, vestigial stone wings and twisted stone forms are especially good. 2
Dialogue and performances – The dialogue is sometimes heavy-handed, but delivered well. Emma Watson may not quite be enough of a heavyweight for Epic, but she acquits herself well in the smaller emotional moments. 5
Plot and execution – The film on occasion loses its sense of self between the extremes of its fantasy aspirations and Biblical inspiration, and of course we pretty much know how it ends from the word go. It is, nonetheless, a solid story with relatively little deviation. 8
Randomness – Many of the shifts from the source material makes sense in terms of expanding the world and characters, but a few are more bizarre, not least the magic rocks. 9
Waste of potential – It’s not perfect, but you could do a lot worse, and be a lot more heavy-handed with the material. 7