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Noah is a sweeping, misunderstood epic saga

Russell Crowe as Noah
Russell Crowe as Noah
Grace Hill Media

Now that I have seen "Noah" I can review it. So many are doing so without seeing it.

I have to take issue with the right wing pundits who have been having a fit about this movie, because they believe it supports vegetarianism, environmentalism, and other such "sins," and that the word "God" is not mentioned specifically in the dialog (one Fox News anchorette carefully counted God being mentioned 20 times in the actual Bible story and Lord used 8 times, and I thank her for saving us the research). blogger Erick Erickson actually stated that we "should consider burning at the stake any Christian leader who endorses" the movie, essentially issuing his own fatwa. Glenn Beck has spent so much radio airtime telling people not to attend the film, he is unwittingly giving it more publicity than the producers could ever have imagined. Once we wade through the thick, clueless rhetoric from people who have not seen the movie (except Beck did attend a screening -- I have inside dope on that), we realize the problem of the right is that they believe the film does not follow the Bible story accurately enough. This is quite interesting in that political pundits are the ones condemning this biblical story while many religious leaders have supported it. But then the Holy Bible was not political until the 1980s.

It's been a long time since I have read the story of Noah from the Bible, but I do recall it being quite short, maybe a chapter or a chapter-and-a-half. Thus, before going in, I had some misgivings as to how they could get an epic-length motion picture out of the shortest of short stories. But they did. And while I do not ordinarily care for sweeping special effects extravaganzas, believing they are invariably form-over-substance examples of wretched excess, I do appreciate a director who makes intelligent use of cinema's visuals. Director Darren Arnofsky has a strong track record in doing so.

"Noah" is by no means Aronofsky's best work, but it might be his most ambitious. It investigates one of the most harrowing stories in the Old Testament, and explores the post-apocalyptic setting that would be the result after the world is destroyed. There is an Abraham-Isaac element added with a conflicted Noah believing God may likely also expect the destruction of his family after the animals have all been saved, and I hope I am not being too big a heathen when I state that I liked that element of the character. The visuals are quite impressive, and in films like this when special effects are not used gratuitously (I didn't expect a filmmaker like Aronofsky to be that shallow and he didn't let me down), I am amazed at what cinema can accomplish nowadays. The director's vision in his other films ("Requiem for a Dream," "The Black Swan," "The Wrestler," etc.) is much tighter. With "Noah" Aronofsky realizes he is venturing into epic territory, so he uses a lot of wide shots in which a great deal of action and movement fills the screen. This never becomes relentless and numbing. The pace is effective, as Aronofsky uses effects to enhance the narrative rather than overtake it. The performances, from a powerhouse cast that includes Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins, and Emma Watson are uniformly great, each of them obviously committed to the project and respectful of their director.

The biggest problem that is being voiced about "Noah" is its taking artistic liberties with a story from the Bible. This is hardly the first film to do so. Bible stories have been used for Hollywood movies as far back as the silent era, and I don't recall any right wing political pundits complaining about the Cecil B. DeMille epics of yore. But, again, the Bible didn't become a political tool until the 1980s. I also do not recall anyone complaining that atheist Max Von Sydow played Jesus in director George Stevens' "The Greatest Story Ever Told" (1965). Probably because nobody knew that then. Nobody thought about it. Nobody asked. His religiosity, or lack thereof, was not questioned or investigated. Imagine people once being that open minded and unconcerned.

"Noah" is an enormous film, one that takes quite seriously a biblical story about the destruction of the earth, the strength and courage of the central character, the substance of the supporting characters, and presents all of these elements within the context of a loud, rugged, visually breathtaking epic in the grandest traditions of American cinema. It is also a film about a level of unshakable faith that is impressive, inspiring, and made abundantly clear. Sadly, we can no longer have that same faith about our fellow man's objective reasoning about the release of a motion picture.

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