What with our politicians recently posing for photos in wellies and pointing at rising water levels, it seems now is a good time for a screen adaptation of the Bible’s most eco-conscious tale.
Russell Crowe fulfils his usual duty of squinting and grunting as the titular Noah, a man in a time before BBC Weather who has visions of a cataclysm and goes about building a big boat with which to save his family and any animal he can drug-induce into sleep.
While the story has inspired many a pop-up picture-book for kids to pull at, it’s never really screamed “HOLLYWOOD BLOCKBUSTER” – until Darren Aronofsky came along.
Yes, the Darren Aronofsky who gave us Black Swan and The Wrestler, films which managed to be both cinematic and intimate – the former even somehow treading the line between highbrow filmmaking and outrageous camp.
It’s because of these preceding films that for the first half of Noah the audience will stare dumbfounded at the screen, thinking, “What went wrong?” and hoping that what they’re witnessing is satire. Dodgy CGI? Beings called The Watchers, who are angels via rock formations and the Iron Giant? Everybody talking in that quasi-British accent used only by characters in action epics to sound wise?
When Noah and his wife (the lovely Jennifer Connelly) drug their first animal to transport safely on the ark, Russell Crowe grunts, “It sleeps.” Not “It’s sleeping,” which is how a human being would talk, but “It sleeps.”
Thankfully, by the time the flood hits, something has clicked into place, and a more engaging human drama comes to the fore. Noah’s apparent heartlessness as he stops desperate fellow humans from boarding his vessel (particularly in a horrific scene involving his son Ham, ably played by Logan Lerman) is chilling.
And the tension that develops between Russell Crowe and Emma Watson, both of whom can only really portray two emotions, is enough even to dispel the presence of Douglas Booth, who doesn’t so much play Shem as pose like he’s in a Next catalogue.
There is also something to be said for the world Aronofsky and his production designer Mark Friedberg have created; a sky full of big young stars, and animals that are the predecessors of elephants and zebras, rather than the friendly critters of picture books.
There is also a stunning time-lapse evolution sequence that sadly only serves to remind us of a more artful Aronofsky, missing from this colossal mess.
Ultimately, Noah is a film in which Anthony Hopkins is Methuselah and yet there’s nothing more to be said about it. It stands out as Aronofsky’s big mistake in an otherwise impressive CV (yes, including The Fountain); a curious film whose few glowing moments get lost in a deluge of “What was he thinking?”
Released in UK cinemas on Friday 4 April 2014.