Controversy has been swirling, like so many storm clouds, around "Noah," the new biblical epic by "Black Swan" filmmaker Darren Aronofsky. Any time Hollywood tackles the bible, feathers are going to be ruffled (get it?), and that was certainly the case this time around. Things were certainly strained throughout production, with Aronofsky and the studio going back and forth between which version would be released in theaters (the director now claims the movie is "98%" his).
Well, despite some objections, "Noah" is now upon us, in all of its glory. Russell Crowe plays the titular ark builder, with Jennifer Connelly playing his wife, Anthony Hopkins playing his grandfather, and Emma Watson playing his adopted daughter (also there are people like Frank Langella and Nick Nolte who contribute vocal performances). Even if you think you know the story, Aronofsky manages to spice things up, for sure.
But will this biblical epic sink or float to the surface? And how many people will it enrage in the process?
1. It's Unlike Any Biblical Epic You've Ever Seen
If you've seen one biblical epic, you've seen them all: stuffy accents, phony-looking beards, and a running time that eclipses most television miniseries'. When would you ever watch, say, "The Ten Commandments" or "The Greatest Story Ever Told"? (And no, "with your parents at Easter" doesn't count.) "Noah" is only similar to those other movies in that there are some beards (but they look pretty real) and that it's slightly too long. Otherwise, this is a different beast altogether -- it's literally unlike any biblical epic you've ever seen. And that's a good thing.
2. There Are Giant Rock Monsters
One of the cooler aspects of "Noah" is that several of the main characters are fallen angels that have been caked in the mud and rock of Earth, turning them into giant, towering rock monsters who move like old Ray Harryhausen characters and look like something out of "The Neverending Story." This is also a good thing. They have glowy eyes and gravelly voices and help Noah and his family construct the ark (what, you think it was all Noah? Guess again!) This should tell you how weird the movie is. Because it is...
3. Seriously -- It's Really, Really Weird
Aronofsky is an idiosyncratic (to put it mildly) filmmaker with a singular worldview and a distinct style. He did not change his patterns or approach because he was dealing with a $100 million+ budget instead of the hundreds of thousands that it took to make "Black Swan" or "The Wrestler" or "Requiem for a Dream." Noah's visions are aided by what amounts to a drug trip, the movie indulges in wonderfully whimsical embellishments like a creation story interspersed with big-bang imagery straight out of "The Tree of Life," and Noah is constantly awakened by bloody dirt visions. It's pretty amazing that this movie was made at all, much less by a major studio, much less at the discretion of Aronofsky. Some might call it... miraculous.
4. There Are No Laughs
If there's one downside to Aronofsky tackling a project of such weighty import, it's that he's never able to figure out a way to inject any humor into the material. Some would label Aronofsky a humorless filmmaker, but that's not true. Even when he's at his most dour (like, say, "Requiem for a Dream"), he's still able to find moments of levity and humor. Just think about how funny "The Wrestler" is, while also being deeply tragic. There's a lightness in Aronofsky's filmmaking style, too, that usually lifts things up. But with "Noah," things are very, very serious. All the time. Although I think one of the rock monsters cracks a joke at one point. Love those guys.
5. Russell Crowe Is Really Great
It's been a while since Russell Crowe has been categorically great. For a while, he's just been an oddball supporting actor, filling the roles that a drunk, fat Oliver Reed would have essayed in a previous life. And this has been, by and large, pretty great. Just watch him in "Man With the Iron Fists" and witness how compelling he can be just goofing around. But it's been a while since a meaty Russell Crowe performance has come along that you could really sink your teeth into; "Noah" is one of those roles. As envisioned by Aronofsky and his co-writer Ari Handel, Noah is a complicated, corrosive character and Crowe handles it beautifully. It's really wonderful to watch. Crowe initially felt like a "safe" choice; this performance is anything but safe.
6. The Animals Are Dull
One of the things I was most excited about when entering "Noah" is the fact that there would be a whole lot of animals, especially when I heard that they weren't really animals in the traditional sense but "designed" creatures (by the wizards at Industrial Light & Magic). Sadly, the animals are all monochromatic -- there isn't a brightly colored animal in the entire ark. And even more disappointingly, Noah's wife concocts some kind of voodoo smoke to put them all to sleep (seemingly forever). Disappointing!
7. Ray Winstone Is as Scary as a Wrathful God
Ray Winstone, from "Sexy Beast," plays Tubal-Cain, a descendent of the murderous Cain and a leader of the problematic "men" who are intent on building cities and weapons has doomed him to celestial punishment. After he unsuccessfully leads an army to try and take the ark, he acts as the boat's lone stowaway. It's a pretty neat storyline and he chews scenery (even computer-assisted scenery) wonderfully. Like Russell, he understands that when you're in a movie this big, you can let your performance swell similarly.
8. The Storm Is Pretty Spectacular
Industrial Light & Magic, the effects house founded by George Lucas, also handled the storm effects, which are probably the most gripping example of "atmospheric" computer generated effects since "Twister." Not only does rain fall from the heavens but it also erupts from the earth, and in one of the movie's most striking moments, Aronofsky pulls back and back and back until we're looking at the earth from space, and it's covered in thunderstorms. It's pretty stunning.
9. Al Gore Will Love This Movie
Noah is not only a staunch environmentalist, warning of apocalyptic doom, but he's also a vegan. He's an environmentalist icon, which is sort of telling that the religious right is condemning it because he actually cares about the salvation of the earth. It's really refreshing and another reason why this is a movie that borders on being truly essentially.
10. It's Almost Enough to Forgive Russell Crowe for 'Winter's Tale'
I said almost.
"Noah" is in theaters now.