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12 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Biblical Epic for the 21st Century, 30 July 2014
This review is from: Noah [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
This was a decidedly unexpected and unusual film. It takes the biblical story of Noah and then develops it in ways that you don't really expect to create something utterly alien yet strangely relevant. What I really appreciate about this film is how unclear and allegorical it is. Biblical films filled with the self-certainty and unquestioning authority of the '50s tend to be pretty dull. There is never any question of what is right (whatever God says basically) and never any possibility that God will allow the heroes to suffer in following his commands. Many modern day viewers will likely be put off by such fanatic certainty and unquestioned self-righteousness so it's nice to see a film that still keeps the point intact but brings the issues more in line with actual human emotions.

The story is the traditional one taught in Bible school but it follows unusual interpretations. For a start the word God is never once uttered. Instead he is referred to as The Creator. Also present are fallen angels known as The Watchers, giant hunks of beings trapped inside moving rock. The first segment follows Noah's attempt to decipher his visions, and the intense emotional scenes are well designed to be difficult to understand without guidance. The next section follows Noah as he builds the Ark. This section has the interesting addition of an army led by Tubal-Cain, the self-proclaimed king of the world. Not surprisingly he wants on the Ark. This bit is a major addition but I think the story needs him if it's going to work. If you're going to have an apocalypse movie you need to see the people who are going to be dying, and if you're going to be following the 'it was God's will' angle then you need to show how utterly depraved the people about to be smited are. Tubal-Cain allows the film to do both, essentially having its cake and eating it too. Then the flood happens and lots of epic visuals appear. What might not be anticipated is the epic battle scene as Tubal-Cain tries to take the Ark. It's fairly short (some have even said gratuitous) but to me it feels like it relieves much needed tension before the coming catastrophe. Plus it gives Tubal-Cain the chance to utter the best lines in the movie: "I am not afraid of miracles." "I give life and I take life away, as you do. And I am like you, am I not?"

The story so far is very compelling. What follows varies. The initial days or hours after the storm are impressively gloomy and allow for a retelling of the creation of the earth. Then it starts getting into the complicated issue of what to do if God wants you to destroy mankind (and whether that's really what he actually wants). During this Noah turns into a rather harsh and unlikeable character who is in favor of killing babies rather than possibly failing to live up to God's will. It's an interesting idea but it drags on for over half an hour and begins to feel quite tiresome. I'm all for the questioning of his sanity and exploring his survivor's guilt but there needs to be something else happening to give the story focus or interest.

I think the truly spectacular thing about this film is the visuals. This was evident even in the trailers but watching wondrous events told using nothing but visuals is awe-inspiring. Highlights include the creation of the world (told in seven day format but through an evolutionary lens), God's messages to Noah, the fall of the angels, and the spreading of life-giving water to the far reaches of the world. Noah's prophetic dreams are an especial delight since they tell of a communication through symbols and traumatic images rather than words. Visuals of mass death are intermixed with more symbolic violence such as the black soil bleeding at his touch. Noah has to work his way towards the Creator's goal and his understanding may well be flawed. The cinematography is a delight here. Filming in Iceland was an inspired choice. The earth there looks barren and dead while massive green solitary peaks rise from the ground turning a mundane sight into an extraordinary one.

That's not to say the film is without problems. The environmentalist vegan angle is a rather unwelcome intrusion. It's not that certain elements of it can't be incorporated into the story, it's just that his disgust at the eating of meat overwhelms his otherwise sensible presentation. For example, while overhunting and pointless destruction are good targets for demonstrating cruelty and debasedness, the repeated use of meat as a symbol of perversion and sin is rather preachy and pretentious in a movie that is otherwise admirably above such things. There is not one single positive or even neutral depiction of meat-eating and putting so much focus on their 'crime' of being carnivores detracts from the other horrors they commit. At one point the trading of female slaves for meat to eat is presented as if both 'goods' are equally unjust. It distracts from his point, which is one that needs to remain understated. That's a minor annoyance though. The carnivorous instincts of the villains are generally brief and near the beginning. Once the meaty elements (heh heh) are out of the way the environmentalist angle is fairly unobtrusive.

It's really fascinating to see the difference between the reception here and that from critics. And it all seems to come down to one issue: is the film accurate to the Bible? And for God's sake people why does it matter? No film is going to be 100% accurate, that's why they're called dramatizations. They add or remove material as necessary to make the plot more interesting or exciting. I'm a History PhD student so I'm used to going to movies and seeing them foul things up. All the time. I can't remember the last film I saw where they got the facts so accurate that I felt like I was just nitpicking. Maybe Lincoln? And even there you can argue that they got the motives and urgency wrong. More to the point, why aren't people used to Biblical films being inaccurate? Just like historical films every creator is going to have to make compromises. Even popular films like Son of God and The Ten Commandments aren't always accurate. Heck, the Bible contradicts itself on numerous occasions, but that doesn't matter if you're a believer because it captures the essential truth. Same with films made from the book. If they capture essential issues and truths then does it really matter if they get details wrong? I really do think that most of this hate isn't from the fact that the director changed things, it's that he included a very liberal environmentalist message and it gets people's gall up to see the Bible being used to convey ideals they aren't used to seeing justified Biblically. It's not as if other films don't change the message. There was never a real anti-slavery or capitalist work ethic message in the Bible but you see them all the time in Biblical films because that's how people want to interpret them. Well now somebody's come up with a different take on it and if people don't like it they can bash it all they want, but the idea that it's just them wanting the Bible to be followed exactly is absurd.
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