Turning the biblical tale of Noah and the ark into a big budget blockbuster reportedly cost $160 million, exclusive of marketing and distribution.
Director and sceenwriter Darren Aronofsky raises ecological and sociological issues he deems applicable to our times, couching them within the story of Noah (Russell Crowe), the last remaining good man on Earth.
While Noah is the descendent of Adam and Eve’s peaceable third son Seth, Cain’s murderous decedents ruin the Earth through strip mining, carnivorous practices and otherwise foolish uses of its resources.
Noah’s vegetarian family lives apart from humanity. He and wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) care for all life forms, using only what they and sons Shem, Ham (Douglas Booth and Logan Lerman) and a newborn need to survive.
The patriarch’s visions arrive in an ambiguous muddle. Nevertheless, he discerns he has been chosen by “the creator” to build a great ark that will allow himself, his family and animals of virtually every species to ride out a great flood. Once the waters recede Noah believes the creator wishes humankind to die out.
Noah is only able to complete his gargantuan ark with help from an army of hulking, four-armed rock giants, fallen angels known as Nephilim. The angels explain they have been punished and abandoned for becoming overly interested in the fate of man. Now encased in rock boulders, Nephilim hide in the bad lands where they take the shape of rock formations. When Noah and his family seek sanctuary there, the Nephilim spring to life, becoming Noah’s protectors.
The vision Noah has is called into question when the family adopts orphaned Ila. During the 10 years required to construct the ark, Ila grows into a beautiful young woman (Emma Watson) and falls in love with Noah’s eldest son, who returns her affections. Since a childhood injury has left Ila barren, no conflict with Noah’s vision arises until, at Naameh’s urging, Noah’s grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) uses powerful magic to restore Ila’s reproductive capacity.
In contrast to Crowe’s somewhat morose Noah, Anthony Hopkins does an amusing turn as grandfather Methuselah. With the aid of herbs and seeds long safeguarded by Methuselah, Noah is able to instantly grow a forest that supplies wood for his massive ark. Special effects that transform a wasteland into a forest seem remarkable, but they do remind us of a Dow Chemical Company commercial.
Scene-filling drama is dredged from a depressing battle between Noah and his second son Ham — the latter determined to find himself a woman in order that he may know the meaning of becoming a man. Ham’s actions set the scene for a father-son battle that wends through much of the film.
Having discovered a formula for creating smoke that puts all the animals (but not people) to sleep aboard the ark, the film is free to focus on the human drama revolving around Ila’s pregnancy and Ham’s betrayal of his father when the youth shelters self-appointed king Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone).
Whatever lessons Aronofsky wishes to deliver, his sandal and toga melodrama is part supernatural but no part spiritual. Some of the camera work is stunning, but the confrontations are routine and the climactic battles contrived. It is by turns an epic tale, a soap opera and a love letter to ecology. Aronofsky simply can’t choose just one.