NoahcoverGrade: C-
Entire family: No
2014, 138 min., Color
Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and brief suggestive content
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1, “enhanced” for 16×9 monitors
Featured audio: DTS-HD MA 7.1
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, UV
Bonus features: B-

Darren Aronofsky’s Noah has sparked all kinds of criticism for it’s looser-than-loose interpretation of the story of The Flood that’s recounted in The Bible. The film was banned in China on religious grounds, condemned by Muslims for the way it treats prophets, and branded by the official Vatican newspaper as a “strange” and “perplexing” movie that adds up to a “missed opportunity.” Christian audiences have generally decried its inexplicable departure from the traditional Bible story.

But let’s be fair. There are a number of perplexities in The Bible, none of which have anything to do with Darren Aronofsky (The Black Swan). Adam and Eve are supposed to be the mother and father of all humanity, but the Book of Genesis tells us that they begat Cain and Abel—no daughters. And when Cain is confronted by God after murdering his brother he worries that he will become a fugitive and that whoever finds him will slay him—which implies that people exist apart from Adam’s lineage. Later we’re told that Cain “knew” his wife and begat children of his own. Where she came from is not specified.

As for Noah, The Bible says he was 500 years old when he became the father of three sons, and 600 when God commanded him to build an ark and take into it his sons, their wives, and two of all the beasts of the air and ground. There was no mention of fantastic mud-and-rock creatures called “Watchers” helping him to build this massive boat, as we see in Noah.

When it comes to Hollywood, I don’t expect film adaptations to be exact. I didn’t, for example, mind that the land Noah traverses looked more like a desolate apocalyptic wasteland than the arid, olive tree-filled Holy Land we typically see. But I do expect filmmakers to operate in the general vicinity of truthfulness or reality. Infusing Noah’s story, however fictional or true you believe it to be, with the kind of rock creatures we saw in GalaxyQuest is like trying to tell the story of Geronimo with an E.T.-like alien turning up in the Apache desert to offer his assistance. It’s too over-the-top and, because it stands in such sharp contrast to the biblical account and the kind of God-talk that Aronofsky includes, it’s also more than a little hokey.   

NoahscreenRussell Crowe, who plays Noah costumed more like someone from a Peter Jackson trilogy, has defended the film, but even if you take the issue of adaptation out of the equation, you’re left with an uneven story that’s way too talky in spots, with too many scenes that depend on exposition through dialogue. Then there are the cheesy images that flash periodically through Noah’s head, like the serpent from the Garden of Eden and the hand that grabs the forbidden fruit, as well as miniature montages that try to resolve the issue of creationism vs. evolution by showing how these two philosophies can co-exist. Is it fascinating? Yes. But it’s also hokey and it disrupts the trajectory of the main action.

Harry Potter fans will enjoy seeing Emma Watson in a highly dramatic role, while others might get flashbacks seeing Jennifer Connelly playing Crowe’s wife again (as she did in A Beautiful Mind) and watching Anthony Hopkins playing the same kind of long-haired old sage as he did in the last Zorro flick. And though there really wasn’t a villain in this Bible story, Ray Winstone does a good job as Tubal-cain, the battle-scared king who believes that God has abandoned mankind.

Noah is full of special effects and CGI animals, and there are battles with this king and his debauched people. But the slow-downs take too much of a toll. What we’re left with is a film that’s interesting in spots, even provocative at times, but ultimately not nearly as entertaining or successful as it might have been. I watched it with two teenage boys who agreed that it was a C at best. I’m not sure it was even that.