With a week to go before its general opening on March 26, early reviews are coming for Noah – the biblical blockbuster by director Darren Aronofsky – and so far the reviews are mixed. Many of the early reviews give praise to Aronofsky for attempting to make a movie that is, as one reviewer described it, a love story, a family drama, a disaster film, and war movie. And if that was all, it would be almost impossible to please everyone. But add to that the fact that the main character, played by Russell Crowe, is one of the towering figures in the holy books of three major religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism) and the situation become even trickier.
The fact that the concerns of religious viewers played a role in the film’s making can be seen on the movie website. At the top is a disclaimer which says that the movie, while inspired by the story of Noah, has taken “artistic license”, but is still true to the essence of the story.
This disclaimer is not enough for everyone. Recently, during his regular radio broadcast, Glen Beck called the movie “dangerous disinformation” and “a slap in the face” and recommended that his listeners not see the film. He is afraid that the visually compelling film will replace, in the minds of young people, the scriptural account.
The film producers are pushing back by explaining how they reached out and worked with faith groups throughout the filming of the movie. Paramount Pictures insisted that screen tests with faith-based audiences be conducted throughout the shooting of the film. One of the things that production companies have learned is that while there is a large viewing audience for religiously-based films, those audiences will just as easily not come if they feel that the film has strayed too far from what they consider to be the original, scriptural, story.
In some cases, the studio actually knew more about the biblical story than the early viewers did. After the flood subsides, the Bible describes a time when Noah plants a vineyard and gets drunk. Many viewers thought that this was something the film added, not realizing the passage is found in Genesis 9:20-21.
Viewers will also be surprised that the ark looks differently than the way they remember it from Sunday school. The studio created a scaled down model of the ark, designed as specified in the Old Testament. The studio even went so far as to only use materials and techniques that were available at the time.
But for all the technical accuracy, there will still be things about Noah that might leave viewers scratching their heads. Early reviews, which were mixed, have talked about how Aronofsky has played up environmental themes and how Noah has moments of doubt and confusion not explicitly mentioned in the Biblical account.
But even with these potential pitfalls, the upside to creating a movie that religious audiences will come and see is too great to ignore. In recent history, the first movie to crack that code and bring religious movie-goers out in large numbers was Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.
Gibson’s success has opened the door to other films targeted toward the religiously inclined, including Exodus, by Ridley Scott, Son of God, God’s Not Dead, Heaven Is for Real, a Will Smith film based on the Cain and Able story, and a film about Mary Magdalene, described as a prequel to The Passion of the Christ.
While the early reviews of Noah have been mixed, we will not know until after March 26 whether audiences will help float Noah’s boat to box office success.
By Dan Reyes