Wednesday, June 25, 2014

MOVIE REVIEW: "Noah," or You're Gonna Need a Bigger Boat

That's what Roy Scheider said to Robert Shaw when he stumbled back into the cabin, frightened by his first look at the gigantic Great White.  It came instantly to mind in the scene where Noah (Russell Crowe) looks out from the ark, before the rains came, and sees a tsunami of a different sort, all the creatures of the world approaching two by two.

[No significant spoilers.]

"Noah" is big, dumb, fun.  I enjoyed it.

It is visually arresting.  The world of Noah and his family is a barren, forbidding place even before God destroys it.  It is mostly desert.  One wonders where all these animals lived, as there is almost no vegetation to eat or hide in.  I thought it was beautiful.

Where are all these animal couples going to come from?  Doesn't look like God needs a flood to wipe wickedness from the face of the earth.

Of course, it bears only the most distant relationship to the Bible story.  Since I did not come to it with an understanding that I was going to see that story, and since that story is not foundational to what I believe, whatever that is, I didn't mind it a bit.  It was still a yarn that kept me watching for its running length of two hours and eighteen minutes.

The movie is, in fact, too long.  Things move along nicely until the rain comes and the ark is underway, at which point the narrative comes to a standstill while an subplot or two are played out.  I suppose those subplots were necessary to flesh out a movie, the basic plot of which will already be known to viewers.  But they were kind of dumb, with some obvious holes I won't disclose.  (The Biblical story itself has at least one of the same holes.)

Which leads to my biggest problem with the movie, which is that it was dumb.  Its "green" message is repeatedly delivered with sonorous speechifying by Noah.  (Does the director, Darren Aronofsky, intend to convey that the relative handful of humans on earth in those days – the exact era in which the film is to have taken place is unclear, despite the presence of Biblical characters – completely denuded the landscape?  And it didn't seem to hurt biodiversity any, as that ark was pretty full.)  It doesn't matter whether you agree with the message or not; its repeated and clumsy expression insults the moviegoer's ability to figure out for himself that the presence of humans will result in a world that is very different than a world lacking men and women.

It's odd in other ways.  The return of the ark to dry land – the entire reason for its existence – was completely omitted.  The people in the ark, who are having a spat at the time, feel a clunk.  The next thing you see is a few animals walking around on some barren ground, and Noah is having a conniption for some reason some distance off.  (Again, what on earth are these animals supposed to eat?)  No dramatic landing, no disembarkation of the animals. 

The acting?  Russell Crowe suffered appropriately, although, as noted, he was given some pretty preposterous things to say.  Anthony Hopkins had himself a ball playing Methuselah.  Jennifer Connelly had almost no lines at all, it seemed, until about two-thirds of the way through the film, but if you have to look at someone not talking, I'll take Jennifer Connelly.  Emma Watson gets knocked up, much to Noah's discomfiture, maybe thought God would change His mind that he was a suitable specimen to escort the two-by-two animals through the flood and himself be the sole patriarch to survive.  And keep an eye out for Nick Nolte. 

Look, when some geological formations exhibit a more impressive emotive range than do the cast, you know you're not dealing with Oscar material here.

As I said, lots of holes.  But it was an outsized cartoon, and I like cartoons.  Some cool effects, I wasn't bored, my faith wasn't shaken or even offended.  Couldn't hurt to stream it if you've got a couple of movie hours banked up.

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