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Noah Blu-ray ReviewBlu-ray Paramount
Jul 31 2014 07:14 PM | Neil Middlemiss in DVD & Blu-ray Reviews
- Studio: Paramount
- Distributed By: N/A
- Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
- Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
- Audio: English 7.1 DTS-HDMA, French 5.1 DD, Other
- Subtitles: English, English SDH, Spanish, French, Portuguese
- Rating: PG-13
- Run Time: 2 Hr. 18 Min.
- Package Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy, UltraViolet
- Case Type: Standard case with slipsleeve
- Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
- Region: A
- Release Date: 07/29/2014
- MSRP: $39.99
The Production Rating: 3.5/5
“A great flood is coming. The waters of the heavens will meet the waters of earth. We build a vessel to survive the storm. We build an ark.”
Noah (Russell Crowe), a direct descendent of Adam and Eve’s son, Seth, receives a message from God; that the earth and all upon it will be washed away when the heavens open up and the waters spring from the ground, causing a great flood, ending the reign of man. Noah, startled by the images he sees (the message from God is in vision, rather than direct word,) travels with his devoted wife, Naameh (Jennifer Connelly,) and his three sons, Shem (Douglas Booth,) Hem (Logan Lerman,) and Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll) to seek the council of his grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins), to better understand the message. Along the way, they find an ambushed and murdered group, and among the dead they discover a survivor whom they rescue and take in. The survivor is a young girl, Ila (Emma Watson,) who was injured in the attack and as a result will never bear children
Noah’s vision comes into focus with Methuselah’s help, and Noah understands what he has been asked to do. He must labor and build an Ark that will hold two of each animal on the earth, a male and a female of the species, so that they can survive the great flood which God intends to unleash. Noah, chosen for his faithfulness and purity of heart, bears the burden of his mission, and sets forth to do as God wishes. He convinces the Watchers, the fallen angels struck from Heaven for helping those banished from the Garden of Eden (who now appear as creatures of rock) to help build the Ark and to ward off those who will come to find solace and safety from the impending flood. And they do come, led by their King, Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone,) who intends to take the Ark and save himself…and his people, from the watery wrath of God.
Director Darren Aronofsky was taken with the story of Noah as a child, contemplating at times the larger emotional tale of Noah and his burden to bear witness to the end of all mankind, perspectives not explicitly covered in the core texts. He considered questions of what it must be like to know that, by following word of God, he will survive, but see such destruction and death. This is a fascinating subject for drama and a prism through which he paints the larger, more familiar (and able to be referenced) elements of the story of Noah and his Ark.
For devout Christians, or those with an intimate knowledge of Noah’s story in Genesis (and other references to him throughout the Bible,) Aronofsky’s adaptation will be seen to deviate from both the commonly accepted timetable of events and the limited information offered about the others chosen to survive the flood on the Ark. But, quite strikingly, this adaptation (or interpretation) of Noah seeks to extrapolate from the text, leaning on some scholarly findings here and there, to tell a more detailed story for the big screen. In doing so, Noah might easily turn off some viewers, but given the many different versions of the Bible (the King James being perhaps the most prevalent) and even voluminous variations of texts from non-Christian religions, such as the Qur’an, where Noah’s story is told, it is harder to fault the film outright.
Noah, as a biblical epic, seeks a balance; to tell a familiar story from religious text but also to, through the interpretation of a man who does not share the faith of the text (Aronofsky is an atheist,) introduce the foundational tenets of the tale to believers and non-believers alike. If Noah is to be judged, it must be judged on the success of that endeavor, and not written off outright because the visuals and handling don’t conform to the core text word for word. That may sound like a defense of the film and the filmmaker, and perhaps it is, but as a man of faith, I found the film to be a rewarding affirmation of the key message from the Noah tale, and the pragmatism and in some way, realism of the interpretation, a fascinating, if not entirely successful, effort.
Noah seems like an unlikely choice for the Aronofsky, a non-Christian. Coming off his critical darling, Black Swan, to explore the biblical story of a man forbidding anyone but the few chosen few to board his Ark, and thereby casting them to the impending death of the great flood, is curious – but the director’s fascination with the man himself, beyond the larger story of the Ark, becomes a driving force of the adaptation. License is clearly taken to form a narrative around that idea – and in some ways it works, in others it feels like overreach. A common complaint heard when the film was released theatrically is the use of the term “Creator” throughout the film in pace of “God.” Another complaint was the ‘reason’ God sought to flood the earth. Dismissed as being a product of a political agenda, some criticized the film for, in their view, offering God’s motivation as being due to man’s treatment the earth (environmentalism.) I don’t agree. Noah is shown as having respect for animals and the plants of the earth, but that reverence to God’s creation is a part of the righteousness that God saw in Noah. In the biblical texts, Cain was cursed to not be able to toil the earth for himself (“And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength.”) His lineage is shown as mining the earth to ruin, building cities and battlements that ravaged the earth, forcing them to wander in search of new land to sustain themselves. This isn’t outside of what the original text offers (Cain cursed to wander.) Some interpretations hold that God’s reason was the sinfulness of man, others that man had been infected by Satan, yet others proclaim it was disobedience. Defilement of God’s creation (the earth) fits reasonably in those interpretations.
Aronofsky and director of photography Matthew Libatique, ASC, create the cursed earth with vivid, desolate beauty. An almost alien world that could as much be from the dawn of time as thousands of years in the future. That timelessness is the most daring exploration of the early time of man – according to the bible – that I have seen. It was a time when the decedents of Adam and Eve’s offspring would live for generations, and where, following Cain’s murder of Able, the decedents of Cain would become increasingly wicked, an embodiment of evil, while those descended from Adam and Eve’s third son, Seth (so little is written about him) would produce a number of ‘chosen’ descendants in his line. The sparse, unforgiving earth, where these descendants lived is a powerful visual presence in the film.
And through the construction of its narrative, Noah succeeds in pulling the underlying bleakness and the horror of the event (the death of all non-animal life, save a few passengers aboard the Ark) to the fore. As a Sunday school tale, the story of Noah’s Ark is rarely bleak, but in essence the story is the culmination of mankind’s fall, there continuation – from the original sin – of a ‘transgression of instruction,’ where man is so mired in impurity, evil, wickedness and disregard for the Creator, that God’s wrath is born upon him. And this side of the story, at times, aches onscreen.
Personally, I find it is the imperfections of biblical ‘heroes’ that speak the loudest. The interpretation of a Noah troubled by the sight of such death, who finds himself tested even in the commission of his most resolute and faithful obedience, is compelling, bringing with it surprising emotional heft and in the final act of the film, ringing with a surprising power despite its new interpretation of events.
Performances are uniformly excellent, with Russell Crowe being reliably good as Noah. Here, Noah is portrayed as a man of absolute faith, who wears the burden of his calling visibly. The tests and trials of faith are witnessed through events, but it is Crowe’s abilities as a performer that give drama to his the inner bracing and determination to abide. We see Noah initially as a man who struggles to interpret the word of God (understand the elusive flash images God gives him as instruction,) then as a man fully committed to his mission, bearing a strain on his relationship with his sons, particularly Hem, the middle child, and with his wife. As Naameh, Jennifer Connelly is largely a supportive presence until the flood comes and the survivors are aboard the Ark. As conflict arises and her husband’s interpretation of what the Creator wants (when something unexpected happens while at sea,) Connelly delivers a wrenching speech, pleading with dexterous vulnerability to her husband. It is a powerful moment in the film exquisitely performed. Emma Watson as Ila is very good. Required to be strong at times and helpless at others, she manages the balance brilliantly – never betraying the time of the story. Douglas Booth’s Shem is fine, if underused, and Logan Lerman’s Ham, a character that struggles with his father’s focus and dispassion for what the future will hold for him, develops well through the story. Ray Winstone’s Tubal-Cain is every bit as wicked, and with strong presence, as you might expect. Here he exudes menace and self-entitlement and though his character’s action later in the film seem engineered for the film (I could find no references to these events in the texts I researched,) it does not diminish the service he provides the film. Lastly is Anthony Hopkins’ Methuselah. An expectedly fine performance is given. Methuselah in the film is a presence of wisdom and experience, but it also provides some welcome light levity, which Hopkins through his long career has refined to an art.
A flawed, valiant, earnest attempt to tell the story of Noah in a relatively untraditional way. Despites its faults, Noah should be applauded for holding a faith-based through line that echoes the commonly understood religious text (and considers a number of scholarly interpretations to help it flesh out more detail, such as the identity of Noah’s wife,) while examining the personal impacts of the event through extrapolation and compression of the timeline (depending upon which biblical text with which you are familiar). As interpretation, perhaps the most curious element in the film is that of the fallen angels, the Watchers, who were struck down by God, chained and abandoned by Him. The fallen angels are depicted as beings drowned in the rock and earth into which they crashed after being cast out for helping man following the exile from the Garden of Eden. The rock forming around these fallen angels, weighing them down (like taut chains) so that all that remained of their body was the rock encasement. So, in essence, they appear as rock “monsters.” It’s a curious choice offset by the visual effects that bring them to life, rendered with a jagged movement, almost stop-motion that sets them apart from the expected visual effect renderings.
The Creator formed us on the second day. They day He made the heavens. We watched over Adam and Eve. Saw their frailty and their love. And then we saw their fall. And we pitied them. We were not stone then, but light. It was not our place to interfere. Yet we chose to try and help mankind. and when we disobeyed The Creator, He punished us. We were encrusted by your world. Rock and mud shackled our fiery glow. Still, we taught mankind all we knew of Creation. With our help they rose from the dust, became great and mighty. But then they turned our gifts to violence. Only one man protected us. Your grandfather Methuselah. We were hunted, Most of us killed. Those who lived were left prisoners in these stony shells, marooned upon this barren land. We begged The Creator to take us home. But He was always silent. And now you claim that you have heard His call. Samyaza cannot accept this. A man? When it is men who broke the world. But I look at you and I see a glimmer of Adam again. The man I knew. The man I came to help.- Samyaza, Fallen Angel
Video Rating: 5/5 3D Rating: NA
Visually, Noah is beautiful. Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the Blu-ray offers exquisite detail. And the lighting, framing, and movement of the camera provide many opportunities for that detail to be front and center. A gritty production (that isn’t grey or muted until late in the construction of the Ark and the subsequent flood,) the black soil and sand, the bright green covering the mountain, and the lushness of the trees that Noah and the Watchers use to construct the Ark are wonderful. Cloth isn’t bright – being expectedly drab – though the impressive costuming (designed by Michael Wilkinson) manages to be standout at times.
Early in the film, the setting has an almost storybook like, despite the bleakness of the Icelandic locations. There is a brightness about the sky as the stars that shine through even in daylight that place the film almost out of time.
Industrial Light & Magic produces legions of excellent visual effects, fully rendering a swath of animals that are variations on the animals we see today, and there detail is another strong element of the presentation. Flawless.
Audio Rating: 5/5Paramount provides a crisp and booming DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack, and it is impressive. Dialogue, even when voices are hushed or quieted, is superbly clear and balanced. Action sequences (the attack on the Ark, protected by the Watchers, and the arrival of the floods) take full advantage of the channels, and the clang of metal, the rustles, snorts, and stampedes of the arriving animals has depth.
Clint Mansell, Aronofsky’s longtime composer collaborator, delivers an impressive score that echoes his masterful score for Aronofsky’s The Fountain. For Noah, Mansell creates an aching, urgent rhythm of strings, punctuating the sorrow in scenes with weeping melodies, and filling the tender moments with a minimalist approach worthy of the inward drama. The score is angry at times, tense with pressure, but always a marvelous fit for what we see onscreen.
Special Features: 3/5Paramount Pictures has supplied a brief collection of extras that add up to just shy of an hour. The on-location footage of the Ark’s construction is very interesting, and the Iceland location special feature informative, but with so much to know and see about the production of this epic, the opportunity has been missed (unless of course a special edition is in the works that does a better job of giving us a deeper look behind the scenes).
Iceland: Extreme Beauty
The Ark Exterior: A Battle for 300 Cubits
The Ark Interior: Animals Two by Two
DVD Version of the Film
Digital Copy (Ultraviolet or iTunes)
Note: Paramount has also created several intriguing features (not related to the Blu-ray release) for people to explore information about the Ark, including a free App and a fascinating infographic. Follow the links below to access.
Noah: Ark Builder App(iOS and Android)