‘Noah’ wanders off path, gets lost

Russell Crowe stars in "Noah."
April 6, 2014

Perhaps a long stretch of time has passed since your last Sunday school visit, but even those with just a marginal knowledge of the Bible recall the tale of Noah and his species-stashing ark.

Well, forget all that.

Because co-writer/director Darren Aronofsky has a bit of a different take in his big-budget, big-screen adaptation of the old tale. I may be a bit rusty on the whole thing myself, but I am pretty sure I’d remember giant, transforming, mystical rock men, and magic crystals, and I would have certainly recalled Noah’s ninja-like battle skills.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. This labor-of-love project (apparently it’s been the director’s dream creation for years) is alternately silly, boring, ambitious and head-scratchingly bad, but it is never without passion.

Early in life (well, maybe not for Noah, since he is supposed to have lived just a hair under a century), Noah was told by “the Creator” that he’s pretty ticked at the way man has abused the land and is getting ready to shake up the earthly Etch-a-Sketch, erase mankind, and start anew.

He tasks Noah (played by the far-too-serious, grimacing Russell Crowe) to save all the animals of the world so that they can be fruitful and multiply once the great flood recedes.

With the help of his 1,000-year-old pops, Methuselah (played with the film’s only blink of sunlight by Anthony Hopkins), his ever-faithful wife Naameh (played by Jennifer Connelly) and a sprinkle of children, including adoptive daughter Ila (played by Emma Watson), Noah gets to work constructing his massive vessel (according to reports, Aronofsky attempted to keep it to biblical scale when he presented it). It’s a wonder to see, for sure. But the minute the first few pixels of all the computer-generated animals begin to shuffle in, we are immediately taken out of the picture.

On second thought, we are taken out of the picture far before that.

Those aforementioned rock-transformers seem to be cast straight out of an unused reel of Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, and while they may have some roots in mythology, they are far too cartoonish and completely out of place here. And that seems to be the overall issue with “Noah.” It’s never clear just to whom it’s supposed to appeal. It seems too far a stretch for the more evangelical audiences (who have already fussed about the word “God” not being mentioned, but that seems nitpicky, really), and it may be a bit too preachy for those who don’t subscribe to the gospel.

It also wavers as to what it really wants to be: is it a battle-heavy, “Gladiator”-style epic where Crowe is able to take down armies of advancing troops (all this despite his yearning for peace and civility)? Perhaps it's a deep meditation on the life and the nature of man? An environmental allegory? Or is it a chance for Crowe to show off some of the worst hairstyles he’s sported since his blonde wig in “Master and Commander”?

It’s not that there’s not a good film lurking around in there somewhere, but, just as mankind has done in “Noah,” it wandered off that path and got lost along the way.

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