Noah (2014) Review
Reviewed by Caleb Howells.
NOTE: This review contains full spoilers.
Wow. I knew this was going to be inaccurate, but I didn’t expect to start laughing within a minute of the film starting. This film should have been called Noah and the Rock Monsters from Space vs. Tubal-cain the Mighty.
The film starts with some text, giving a recap of the story of mankind so far. It’s fine, until the line which talks about Cain going off to live among the Watchers. My family and I couldn’t help but laugh at that. He then develops an industrial civilisation which rapidly spreads over the Earth and, well, ruins it.
The scene with young Noah is interesting in many respects. Firstly, it introduces us to some strange, magical stones which feature throughout the film but aren’t elaborated on in any way. They aren’t in the Bible, and it turns out that they are just the beginning of a whole series of fanciful plot devices that are arbitrarily invented for the film.
Next, after also being introduced to some magical snake skin that Lamech is going to bless Noah with (or something like that), the main bad guy shows up. Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone). He viciously kills Noah’s father in front of his eyes, thus showing that he’s a really nasty villain.
Tubal-cain is actually a character from the Bible, albeit a minor one. He’s one of Cain’s descendants, as he is in the film, and it says that he was a forger of tools of copper and iron (implying that he originated the practice). That’s literally all it says about him. He’s got nothing to do with the Flood, but presumably the filmmakers felt that they couldn’t have a film without an individual bad guy in it.
Next, we’re introduced to Noah as an adult (Russell Crowe) with his two sons, Shem and Ham. Ham (Logan Lerman) is immediately portrayed as flawed, picking a flower from the ground when he shouldn’t. This film has Ham as a semi-bad guy, which is an interpretation based on something that happens in the Bible after the Flood.
Throughout this film, ‘the Creator’ never speaks. In the Bible, God directly talks to Noah and tells him exactly what he wants him to do. However, in this film, the Creator is being very elusive and coy, for some reason. Noah is given a disturbing vision in which he sees the destruction of the world by water, and concludes he must go to his grandfather. His grandfather turns out to be a hermit living in a cave near the top of a mountain, to give this film even more of a Lord of the Rings feel.
Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) uses his fantasy powers to make Shem fall asleep, before giving Noah some magic tea so that he’ll have another vision about what to do. Despite the preceding silliness, I thought this vision was done very well. Prophetic trances do happen in the Bible (just not to Noah), and I thought this was very well portrayed, particularly when Noah suddenly wakes up.
In this vision, Noah sees the Ark and realises what he has to do. Here’s something that I’m extremely pleased about. They got the shape of the Ark right! Most films show it as being a massive wooden boat. That’s not how the Bible describes it, though. As Director Darren Aronofsky mentioned in an interview, the Bible basically describes a massive box. The Hebrew word translated ‘Ark’ literally means ‘chest’. And purely from a logical point of view, it would be nonsensical for it to be shaped like a boat. It didn’t have to sail anywhere. All it had to do was contain the animals and float. The shape shown in this film has about a third more space than that of a standard boat design, and is much more stable.
It’s not completely accurate, though, since the Bible says that it had a single door in its side, whereas in this film there are three doors on the end. But as this film goes, that’s barely a difference at all.
Now, I must discuss one aspect of the film that I couldn’t stop laughing about. The Rock Monsters – sorry, the ‘Watchers’. These were wisely kept out of all marketing material for this film, so for people who didn’t know about them beforehand, they came as quite a shock. When they first appeared, I think quite a few people in the cinema I was in burst out laughing. They look very silly regardless of the fact that they’re completely and utterly out of place in a Biblical film.
The Watchers are based on a combination of two things from the Bible. In Genesis, angels come down to Earth because they desire the beautiful women (it’s got nothing to do with wanting to help humans). These angels have intercourse with the human women, and their offspring are giants, known as the Nephilim. When the angels do this, God decrees that he shall wipe out mankind in 120 years. However, this movie decides to make their composite demon-Nephilim inventions sympathetic characters. If you didn’t know what they were based on, it almost works. But seriously, they are so incredibly absurd and ridiculous. There’s something jerky about their movement that makes them look like stop-motion animations. Also the character design is so silly that even if this film wasn’t a Biblical film, I don’t think I would have been able to take them seriously.
Another cause for laughter was the fact that the Rock Monsters help Noah build the Ark (using wood from the trees produced by Methuselah’s magic seed – a plot device seemingly stolen from Jack and the Beanstalk). I don’t understand why the film did this.
It’s also worth pointing out that in the Bible, all three sons are married adults by the time Noah is told to build the Ark. But I suppose this film needed a way of creating some personal drama between the characters. And I must admit, it does that very well. But it’s not remotely related to the Biblical story.
The first confrontation scene between Noah and Tubal-cain was very good, but it was quite funny how in the trailer, when Noah says “I’m not alone,” it makes it sound as if he’s talking about having the backing of God. But it turns out, no. He was referring to the Rock Monsters, who then stand up and intimidate Tubal-cain and his army.
I cannot emphasise enough how utterly out of place the Watchers felt in a ‘Biblical’ film. Anyway, now I shall move on to the Flood itself. This was literally the only reason I wanted to see this film. Did it live up to my expectations? No. Not at all.
When the rain begins, Tubal-cain makes a rousing speech to his army and they charge towards the Ark. The Rock Monsters swat them away, slaughtering hundreds of people (as my dad pointed out, the flood itself hardly seems necessary after this). They manage to hold off the army charging towards them, until Tubal-cain uses some kind of grenade launcher (?!?!) to attack one of them. After it dies, a dramatic sci-fi beam of energy blasts into the air, and the angel returns to Heaven.
This was all highly ridiculous and absurd and frankly quite funny, but there was one bit that I did really like. When the final Watcher is killed and the angel goes back up to Heaven, the camera zooms out into space and shows the Earth covered with storm clouds. There’s suddenly total silence. There was something about that short scene that was really cool (and one of the very few things about the film that I liked).
One annoying thing (the list is a long one) is that, despite all the rain, the water level doesn’t actually start rising until the massive jets of water start shooting out of the ground, and then the deluge occurs pretty much instantly. And after the Ark rises out of the water and Noah clambers inside, there are no more shots of the Earth being flooded. I wanted to see the water level rise higher and higher, over the cities and mountains; something like the scene in 2012 when the tsunami crashes over the Himalayas. But there’s none of that. The only scene that comes close is a brief one showing some people clinging onto the peak of a mountain, quite close to the Ark.
The creation account as told by Noah to his family was done very well. However, it was quite jerky, which presumably was to show the passing of time, but it made it annoying to watch. And also… evolution. It shows ‘the Creator’ making the animals through evolution, which directly contradicts the Bible’s account of creation. And Adam and Eve look like glowing humanoid aliens, for some inexplicable reason. The six days of creation were also inaccurate on many levels. In fact, the only thing good about this scene was the visuals, and even then only barely.
On the Ark, Noah descends into madness and essentially becomes a villain to the rest of the family. As the famous, righteous prophet of God from the Holy Scriptures, he is completely unrecognisable. Muslim countries have banned this film because they don’t allow the prophets to be portrayed, but even if that wasn’t the case, it may well have been banned anyway. For deeply religious people, this film’s portrayal of Noah could easily be very offensive. Russell Crowe has said in interviews that people think of Noah as this nice man who saved the animals, but he was the man who stood by and let the entire population of the world be killed! Well yeah, if that’s what your script has him doing. But the Bible calls him a preacher of righteousness, and says that people took no note until the flood came (implying that they were given the chance to survive). But in this film, Noah doesn’t do that; he was a horrible person, but only because the filmmakers chose to make him that way.
Forgetting that this film is supposedly based on the Bible, the drama on the Ark was very good. The acting was mostly excellent; especially by Jennifer Connelly (Naameh). Douglas Booth (Shem) was slightly lacking, but he was good enough. Logan Lerman did very well as Ham, and so did Emma Watson as Ila.
After a fight between Noah and Tubal-cain (because you can never have too many fight scenes), in which Ham kills the latter and takes back the magical snake skin, we come to the climax. Noah is about to kill Ila’s twin daughters, but can’t do it. That was a very tense scene, and – again, if you ignore any connection to the Bible – I thought it was done very well.
The film then makes a half-hearted attempt at a scene from the Bible in which Noah gets drunk and Ham finds him. In the Bible, Ham then tells his brothers, who do what they do in the film (which is surprising, given the fact that not much else about this film bears any relation to the Bible). However, due to what “his youngest son had done to him,” (which could mean either Ham or Noah’s grandson, Canaan) Noah curses Ham’s son Canaan (who doesn’t exist in this film, and who’s existence seems forever unlikely considering that Ham went off… on his own… without a wife). The Bible doesn’t give details, so it’s difficult to say what exactly happened. However, this film has the event seem pretty insignificant and random, when in the Bible it resulted in the condemning of a nation (the Canaanites – or Phoenicians, as the Greeks called them).
The very last scene of the film is good in some ways but bad in more. Noah blesses his grandchildren using the magical snake skin, and then says something taken straight from the Bible. In the film, it was something along the lines of: “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the Earth.” In Genesis, it was God speaking, not Noah. But still, points for using a Bible quote.
However, then the film does its own version of the famous rainbow scene in the Bible. But instead of a normal rainbow… there are pulses of rainbow rings spreading across the sky (because apparently this film didn’t have enough fanciful elements in it). I didn’t notice the rest of the audience, but my family certainly had a good chuckle at that bit.
This film is by far the most hilariously inaccurate Biblical film I have ever seen in my life. Exodus: Gods and Kings couldn’t be less accurate if it tried. If they had changed the names, I’m sure this film would be a lot more palatable. It does, after all, bear only subtle similarities to a story from the Bible. Yet as it is, it pretends to be a Bible-based film. But it’s not.
However, if we just look at it as a film in its own right, then it’s quite good. I’m not sure if I’d want to see it again, but it certainly wasn’t terrible. The drama and tension was generally very effective, and the acting was very good. The CGI was a little iffy in places, and I’m extremely disappointed that there was no shot of the whole Earth after it’s been flooded. However, it was generally a decent film. If you’re not religious, (or if you are, but inaccuracies don’t bother you), then you may well enjoy it.