File this one under “movie is better than the book”

Posted: May 7, 2014 in movies
Tags: , , , ,

So those possible movie reviews I mentioned? Yeah…

Movie poster of Noah from IMDB.com

Movie poster of Noah from IMDB.com

I saw Noah. I originally wasn’t planning to since my “smug, pseudo-intellectual” reaction was to ignore it as just another in a long line of epic wastes of money trying to chase Mel Gibson’s bloodfest, The Passion. It wasn’t. Yay!

The origins of the base story aside, this one started out very much like the other grand visual epics based on ancient legend. We get introduced to some text on the screen exposition wherein the set-up of the world is presented nicely and neatly. Garden of Eden. Tempting. Downfall. Humans cast out. Cain kills Able… and there is where the familiar old saw ends.

Cain—juxtaposed to his younger brother Seth—flees his family and begins creating cities and industry, while the decedents of Seth are some form of hunter/gatherer nomads who live in hippyish commune with nature. Ask no questions about how they did so (what with no sisters being mentioned for incestuous begetting) because you will get none, but instead move on to the outset of the actual story with Noah and family.

Noah and Co. are seemingly the last remaining decedents  of Seth. Noah proceeds to get confusing visions of scary shit (mostly death) and goes looking for his wizard/hermit/wiseman grandfather to help him sort out what it all means. Along the way they encounter Hermione and titans. OK, in the movie they are called “Watchers,” but for all intents and purposes, they are titans. Giant ancient creatures who were there before time (sort of) and have a mixed relationship with the humans.

The call to create the ark comes, some cool (and rather sensible) retcons of the “physics” of the classic Noah story are employed with the animals, and then all hell breaks loose. The hordes of Cain’s decedents aren’t keen on getting drowned, so their leader leads them on an attack on Noah’s construction site. Following that first-act action, what follows is a slow—by standard action/fantasy movie standards—second and third act that hinge entirely on emotional turmoil in the characters over the morality of what occurred (i.e. mass genocide) and some anti-hero-spawned character drama with Noah and his family. I think it could have been better (and, seriously, what can’t?) but it worked and I liked it.


PROS:

Not churchy — As I said, this was far more like just about any half-decent Greek mythology-based movie from the past 10 years than it was like Passion or any of those things that make the bible belt wet their collective pants because it’s little more than religi-porn. The “Creator” was only called that, and was a largely absent, taciturn entity with obvious power for both extreme good and extreme evil did more to confuse and abandon its creations than it did anything else. I liked that the movie and the characters did not shy away from the fact their creator abandoned them and wrought horrible destruction on them.

The Watchers — (Spoiler) These guys are fallen angels and they are awesome. One of the Watchers who helps Noah out early in the movie explains that they were created before all the other life and were made of light. Never directly said it, but the imagery implies angels. But then, after the humans were cast out of the garden, some of them took pity on the humans, whereupon they too were cast out, or in this case cast down. Like meteorites, they hit the earth and got encased in stone, thereby becoming visually impressive yet fearsomely awkward asymmetrical monsters. But still they cared for the humans and taught them things, a la Prometheus. They were later betrayed by the humans who used the knowledge they shared for evil and turned on them which of course built some conflict for the first act. But, like the humans, some of them do not hide their bitterness at being cast down for their nature (in this case, compassion) by the creator. They also get a cool ending, though I was sad to see them go since they were neat.

Actual human emotions — Despite the fact Noah believes he is acting on the will of the creator to press the divine restart button, he—and especially his supporting cast—express remorse, sympathy, and being morally torn about the fact they were letting literally everyone die horrible deaths. It might have been just lip service, but damn, at least it was there. I even got the impression the canon scene of Noah getting drunk after the flood was as some sort of PTSD-style attempt at drowning his guilt.

CONS:

All of my complaints with the movie can all be summed up as “heavy-handed” or “not subtle.” That said…

Black hat/white hat — The characterization of the good guys and the bad guys might as well have been for a Saturday morning cartoon show intended for the 5-7 year-old range they were so obvious. Down to even the black/white hat metaphor. While the costuming of the factions couldn’t be said to be colorful, Noah and Co. were in some relatively light browns and tans, whereas bad guys were a sea of black and metal. And that brings me to…

Heavy-handed environmentalism — I get that environmentalism is a big deal today and that the director is motivated by the threat of climate change, but by the Force! They might as well have run a ticker bar under the movie’s first 15 minutes that read “Industrialism bad. Subsistence living good. Meat eating evil. Vegetarianism holy.” over and over again. In many ways the intro exposition and the initial characterization was the grown-up version of The Lorax for its horribly non-subtle, bash-you-over-the-head-with-“subtext”-until-you-pass-out tactic. For crying out loud, the fall of Ham is “foreshadowed” within about 2 minutes of meeting child-Ham because he asks about why the descendants of Cain eat meat and if their belief that it gives men strength is accurate.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Genesis revamp — When Noah tells the story of creation via voice-over while he and the family is on the ark, the image-reel might as well be Carl Sagan’s 40-second evolution animation. It was the Big Bang, planet formation, abiogenesis, evolution and so on. Nice one.

Ham’s fall revamp — In the original story of Ham’s fall, Ham had the audacity to catch a glimpse of his father’s drunk-ass naked form lying around in his tent after a hard night of drinking. And for that inescapably evil act, Noah condemns Ham’s son Canaan and his descendants to be the slaves of all of his kin forever. WTF? Because that’s totally sensible and fits the “crime.” Anyway, in the movie, they make a far better fall of Ham. Starting with his curiosity of the evil hordes to his desire for a wife (so that he can become a man) to his short-lived thoughts of colluding with the leader of the evil types to kill his father, they actually make a reasonable fall from grace story for him. I think they could have done more with that side story, but it was FAR better than the original.

TAKE-AWAY:

I would recommend seeing it. Good, not great, had some really good points but had some pacing issues in the second and third act too. Not nearly the suck I was expecting at first. I would see it again. Also, it bears mentioning that MovieBob’s review convinced me to see it.

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