30 March 2014

NoWahT?

Got back from Noah, starring Russell Crowe and my first kid crush Jennifer Connelly (seriously, I lost count of how many times I saw Labyrinth as a kid), and I can't decide if I like it or not. About the only thing I can say without reservation is that it is one of the absolute weirdest films I've ever seen. Bear in mind, I was a film major, which means I've seen a lot of weird, disturbing, bizarre, and downright goofy stuff on screen that I cannot unsee. I'm not asking for a Purple Heart. I'm simply giving context and background to better hit home the point that this is not merely one of the strangest Biblical films you're likely to see, but one of the strangest films you're likely to see, full stop. The film is a nutty, synergistic mish-mash of post-apocalyptic sci-fi--complete with gas mining, aluminum siding, and even a grenade launcher--and high fantasy--complete with magic stones, flaming swords, and rock monsters--all wrapped up in a plot that's only quasi-Biblical at best. 

I'm not kidding about the rock monsters, by the way. 

While there is some Biblical precedent for these giants, they are one of the more fanciful licenses taken with the lore, even more than the magic rocks that make grenade launchers and pregnancy tests work. The trailer doesn't show so much as a hint of them, but they play a very significant role in the plot, if only up to about the halfway point. For what little they're on screen, though, they're the most fascinating film creatures I've seen in years. They have multiple, spindly arms, and hobble around on stumpy, lopsided legs. They twitch and jitter like doddering old folk, yet give them the task of protecting the ark from the last of humanity, and they will bust some heads. 

It may seem like I'm dwelling on these guys as a stalling measure to keep from giving any sort of final verdict on whether or not I liked the film and if I'd recommend it, and you'd probably be right. They are the highlight in that of all the disparate, even conflicting, elements that make up the film, they work the best. The remainder, especially what we're left with in the second half, is a little more haphazard and slapdash, like the movie forgot that it's supposed to be about Noah's Ark halfway through the story and spent the rest of the time ticking boxes on a checklist to make quota. Some boxes, though, get unchecked, and they're the ones that serve to illustrate how the story of Noah's Ark doesn't work adapt all that well to cinema compared to most other Bible stories like Moses or Samson and Delilah or even the story of Jesus. It works better as a vignette, like the tower of Babel or Abraham and Isaac or the story of Job. 

The main reason why the movie's few attempts to stay true to the original story fall flat is that it tries too hard to address some of the logistical issues of the deluge and the ark, namely matters of reproduction in the aftermath. Noah has three children, all boys, and only one of them has someone to take as a wife. Noah takes it upon himself to fix this problem, which might have worked as a main plot if it wasn't simply a fetch quest for baby-makers. That's not to say it's misogynistic or objectifying or anything like that; it doesn't have time to be. It simply isn't handled well, and the film virtually looks you in the eye and tells you in frankness not to get invested in this subplot, then goes through it anyway to waste time. A lesser film would have handwaved the matter altogether, but a better film would have made it central and offered up some great character development. To its credit, there is this very heart-wrenching scene in which Emma Watson's character is distraught over not being able to bear children, feeling like less of a woman for it. You could argue the gravitas of the situation, or at least the consolation offered up by Noah, gets made academic by way of a certain miracle at the hands of Sir Anthony Hopkins, but given that the damage was already done by the botched matchmaking, it's not worth nitpicking. In the end, it still manages to send a strong message about family not being about bloodlines but about compassion and love. 

Going through what does and doesn't work about Noah makes me think of what Kevin Smith said about his post-Askewniverse movies. To paraphrase, he said he'd rather make a movie he knows is flawed on some fundamental level than play it safe for appeal's sake because of the discussions the former will lead to. That's how Noah is. It's definitely divisive, but it's not polarizing. I don't think it's actually possible to wholly love or wholly hate this film. More likely, you'll pick and choose what works for you and what doesn't, kind of like what people do with the Bible. Let's just hope there's a lot less bloodshed than what that's led to over the centuries. I mean, if an argument about 300: Rise of an Empire can end in vehicular manslaughter... Hmm, we may be in trouble here. 

Stay safe, everybody. 
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