Noah (2014) - quick review

Discussion in 'Movies' started by Josh Steinberg, Mar 29, 2014.

  1. Josh Steinberg

    Josh Steinberg Producer
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    I saw Noah on Thursday night, via digital IMAX at the NYC Lincoln Square theater. I had no idea what to expect going in; I hadn't even seen a trailer. I wasn't looking forward (or not looking forward) to the movie, so I'd like to think I went in with an open mind. A lot of times, when I work a later shift and there's a movie opening at one of my favorite nearby screens, I'll see it on my way home. In particular, I see a lot of IMAX releases, as I find myself more willing to see something without any advance knowledge of it if it's playing in that format. (It's a holdover from when IMAX was 15/70 projection for all of their features - I'm losing some of that enthusiasm for their digital releases.) On the way to theater, I walked past two elderly ladies leaving the earlier screening, and I overheard one say to the other, "It wasn't bad, but it was no Charlton Heston parting the red sea." That's probably the quickest way to sum it up. The movie was never boring. All of the Darren Aronofsky films that I've seen strike me as being about people who are at the edge of their sanity, and "Noah" is no different. It's sort of a weird hybrid of internal chaos (as shown in several quick montages of visions Noah is receiving) and Peter Jackson-style destruction (when the floods come and humanity tries to attack/board the ark). For the first hour of the film, my description of the film was going to be "Batman Begins meets Lord Of The Rings". The tone changes somewhat in the second half, once Noah is onboard the ark - it goes from epic battles to epic claustrophobia, as Noah is torn between his interpretation of his visions, and his duties to his family. I found that most of the goodwill I had for the film in its first half was spent on making it through the second half. I wouldn't be surprised if others have the same reaction.

    Early in the film, as they begin construction of the ark, one of Noah's sons asks about humanity, and Noah says that the Creator will provide for them - that is, that his sons will find wives somehow and humanity will endure. (In the film, people use the phrase "The Creator" rather than the word "God".) However, the night before they leave on the ark, Noah attempts to fetch some wives from the town for his sons, and is instead repulsed at the way humanity is living, and returns empty-handed. Though at no point are we shown Noah receiving a message that it is divine will for humanity to become extinct, Noah interprets his disgust of humanity as a message from the Creator that Noah's job is to save all animal life but let humans perish. On the way to boarding the ark the following day, Noah refuses to help one of his son's save a woman from a crowd of fleeing humanity, much to his son's anger and resentment. Once onboard the ship, Noah discovers that his other son's wife is pregnant. This infuriates Noah, as Noah believes that the Creator wants humankind to die out. The second half of the movie is therefore about Noah's attempts to kill his unborn grandchild. I had issues with this for the simple reason that while we're shown Noah's various visions during the film, at no point are we shown anything to suggest that the Creator wants all of mankind to die. If anything, one could argue that Noah's barren daughter-in-law getting pregnant is proof that the Creator does want mankind to live. Noah is absolutely convinced he must kill his grandchild when it is born, and the movie presents us, the audience, with no reason to go along with this belief. It really just seems like in the cosmic game of telephone, Noah got that message wrong. It was hard to understand why he was so obsessed on this one point, particularly when everything he interpreted as a reason to kill the baby could be interpreted with far less a stretch as being reason to let the child live.

    In terms of the technical presentation of the film, I found that to be a mixed bag. The CGI work wasn't terrible, but not groundbreaking either. The sequence of an acorn sprouting a forrest was probably most enjoyable. Sequences of the ark on the water, or the flooding of the earth, have a very generic, "you know you're watching CGI" look to them. For the IMAX version, IMAX did not make 15/70 prints; if you see it at a 15/70 location (as I did), you will see the digital projectors projecting an image to the center of the IMAX screen, with bars on all four sides of the picture. In my opinion, whether due to the projectors or the source file, there was not enough resolution to sustain a blow-up to that size - there was some pixelation and digital noise that I've never observed in any blowups that were printed out to 15/70 film. With all of the destruction and chaos in the film, I thought this would be a natural fit for the IMAX screen, but I was slightly disappointed in the presentation. (Special thanks to the theater for turning up the house lights a minute before the end of the film - nothing like spending $20 on a film and then having the theater start herding you towards the door before the thing even ends.)

    Though the movie was uneven, it was always interesting - it didn't feel as long as its 138 minute runtime. The performances were good, and the first half in particular was solid. I don't know if I'd recommend it, but I wouldn't urge anyone to avoid it either - I'd put this clsoer to being a rental than a blind buy.
     
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  2. Cameron Yee

    Cameron Yee Executive Producer
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    Based on the reviews I've read, I'm more interested in the first third to half of the movie as it depicts civilization, such as it is, not too far removed from Adam and Eve. I don't know that I've ever seen a movie with that as the setting.
     
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  3. Josh Steinberg

    Josh Steinberg Producer
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    I think the first half of the film is definitely the better part - that movie I would have kept watching. However, for what it's worth, there's not a lot of depictions of civilization as Noah is introduced to us as a loner - he lives with his family, away from the rest of mankind. So what we see of civilization in total is very limited, pretty much limited to the couple scenes where Noah or his sons venture into "town".
     
  4. Mark Booth

    Mark Booth Screenwriter
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    Thanks for the review, Josh! I didn't open your spoiler because I'm hoping to see the film. However, I'm wondering if you felt the movie was "preachy". In other words, are there scenes or moments where the filmmakers seem to be at the pulpit rather than behind a camera?

    I can thoroughly enjoy a bible story movie like Charlton Heston's 'The Ten Commandments' because it's not preachy. I hope the same is true for 'Noah'.

    Mark
     
  5. Josh Steinberg

    Josh Steinberg Producer
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    Hi Mark! I wasn't sure if what I put on the spoiler tag was truly a spoiler, but with the movie being out only a day, it seemed better safe than sorry. It's more of a description of the second half's plot; the first half's plot is obviously building the ark and getting everyone onboard. I don't reveal the ultimate ending to the film. (That said -- if you're going to see it, it's probably more enjoyable to keep that spoiler hidden.)

    I didn't find Noah to be preachy at all. I'm also a fan of Heston's Ten Commandments - even though I wouldn't consider myself religious, it's a well-made film with exciting effects, great performances and more than a little of that old school Hollywood magic. If anything, Ten Commandments is more religious than Noah. In the movie Noah, the word "God" is not used at all - instead, they use the term "The Creator". If the film is preachy about anything (and I think "preachy" is too strong a word to describe it), it's of the idea that mankind is indeed capable of ruining the planet, and that if mankind can't take care of the earth, maybe they don't deserve to be allowed to live on it. Mankind is depicted not unlike the Orcs in Lord of the Rings, so I don't think it's overly preachy or controversial to say "Orcs suck! Let's try this whole thing over!" There is some discussion and debate at various points between characters over what The Creator wants from man or what man's place in the world should be, but I didn't find any of it to be heavy handed. There's some scenes and talk about sin, particularly in the beginning of the film, about how man has sinned against the Creator and Creation, but it didn't feel preachy. It didn't feel to me that any particular agenda was being pushed, other than perhaps suggesting that we could probably all be a little nicer to each other and maybe do a better job of taking care of our world - not exactly earthshattering ideas.

    If anything, I think there will be more religious people who are upset that the movie isn't preachy or doesn't tell the story of Noah as it is traditionally told in the bible, than there will be non-religious filmgoers who are upset about being preached to.
     
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  6. Edwin-S

    Edwin-S Producer

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    Anybody who goes to a film called "NOAH" should already be aware of what they are getting in to; therefore, someone complaining about a biblical story being "preachy" would be exceedingly humorous to me. I think I would actually find it more annoying that they use the obviously PC buzz phrase of "The Creator", rather than just using the word "God".
     
  7. schan1269

    schan1269 HTF Expert
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    From early previews I thought this was going to be an apocalyptic religion denouncement ark story...
     
  8. Mark Booth

    Mark Booth Screenwriter
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    Thanks again, Josh! You answered my question perfectly! I'll definitely plan to see 'Noah' sometime next week.

    Mark
     
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  9. Mark Collins

    Mark Collins Cinematographer

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    Josh thank you!!! This is what I love about HTF.
     
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  10. TravisR

    TravisR Studio Mogul

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    As a guy who suffers from motion sickness, is there a lot of shaky camera to simulate the rocking back and forth on the sea in this movie? I'm guessing that Darren Aronofsky isn't as bad as Paul Greengrass but if he is, I'll wait to watch this at home where I can puke without making a public spectacle of myself. :)
     
  11. Josh Steinberg

    Josh Steinberg Producer
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    Hi Travis, I didn't think it was anywhere as extreme as a Greengrass movie - you're not going to mistake the cinematography for Captain Phillips! There is some shaky cam stuff, but I remember it being more towards the beginning of the film, before they board the ark. The ark itself is designed to be so huge that there really isn't a lot of claustrophobia once onboard. Aronofsky does like a little shaky cam now and then, but he uses it more to put you inside a character's head, going from memory I feel like there was more shakycam when Noah was having doubts to give you a sense of his inner turmoil, as opposed to shakycam for being on the sea.
     
  12. Josh Steinberg

    Josh Steinberg Producer
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    There is a fair bit of apocalypse coming at the beginning..

    As for religious denouncement, I didn't really see it that way, but...
    when Noah becomes convinced that he's being asked by the creator to kill his unborn grandchild, he's completely convinced that it's what he must do and what the creator is demanding of him, yet we the audience are not given anything to suggest to us that the creator feels that way. When Noah has visions that the world will end and the flood is coming, for example, we see those visions too so we have the same knowledge. Since Noah becomes convinced he must kill his grandchild, even though we never see a vision or anything to suggest that that was the case, an argument could be made that the film is warning against blind faith or unquestioned allegience. However, I think that's maybe a little bit of a leap, since the film does show Noah receiving other visions, so we know that he is getting marching orders from above. It's just that he's never given that order, but comes to believe he has. I think that's more of a weakness of the filmmaking - the filmmakers don't make clear the source of Noah's absolute conviction, so it's hard to say if the filmmakers are making an anti-religious statement, or just didn't write or edit that portion of the story as clearly as they could have. It could just as easily be interpreted as the filmmakers saying, "don't presume to know the will of the creator" which doesn't strike me as being anti-religion. I felt like that plotline was by far the weakest part of the film.
     
  13. Bryan Tuck

    Bryan Tuck Screenwriter

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    Josh...

    I understand your feelings about the second half, and there not being much motivation for Noah to feel like he has to kill his grandchild, but I think that may have been the point. To me, it was conveying the idea that we sometimes become dead-set on what we think we're supposed to do, despite ample evidence that it's probably not the right thing. And that can apply on either a religious or secular level. At the end, when he chooses not to do it, his wife suggests that perhaps he was supposed to make that moral choice himself.

    I thought the film was a touch overlong, but I really enjoyed most of it. It's basically set up as a mythological epic, which might not sit well with more religious viewers, but I think the themes it presents can be relevant to almost anyone.

    If nothing else, it's clear Aronofsky is a filmmaker who tries not to repeat himself (though there are some definite echoes of The Fountain here).
     
  14. TravisR

    TravisR Studio Mogul

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    Thanks for the info! I'll probably check this out next weekend.
     
  15. Josh Steinberg

    Josh Steinberg Producer
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    Bryan, re: your spoiler point -- I think you're right. I was just so annoyed at the character of Noah at that point in the movie, it's just difficult to go on that part of the journey with him. As a viewer it was a difficult transition for me to have a character I liked at the beginning morph into one that I didn't, but like you were saying, that can't have been an accident.
     
  16. Chris Will

    Chris Will Supporting Actor

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    Why did this not get a 3D release here?
     
  17. Josh Steinberg

    Josh Steinberg Producer
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    I haven't read anything offical on why it's not in the US, but if I had to guess...

    The 3D conversion was done late in the game, at the request of the studio (as opposed to the filmmakers planning on making a 3D film, or being involved in the conversion). Even though the U.S. 3D grosses have been down (with most 3D releases taking in less than half their box office on 3D screenings vs 2D screenings), internationally it's still big. And in China, for example, they have a quota for how many U.S. made films can be imported every year, but the quota is higher for 3D and IMAX titles than it is for 2D features.

    So I would guess that it was a quickly done conversion done mostly to help get onto Chinese screens and to pad the international profits. Since there's less 3D demand in the states right now, and since audiences here are somewhat suspect that 3D doesn't give them any extra value, I'd guess that it just wasn't a priority.

    Would be fascinating to hear something official or semi-official one day. For the record, I'm a 3D fan, and if this had gotten a 3D release here, that's the version I would have seen.

    Robocop (the 2014 remake) was released 2D everywhere except in China; the Chinese distributor of the film paid for a last minute 3D conversion for that market. I don't know if Noah had different distributors in different territories that had input on the decision to convert.
     
  18. Mark Booth

    Mark Booth Screenwriter
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    As Josh explained above, the simple answer: Interest in 3D among U.S. theater-goers is at an all-time low. The studio has to balance the increased costs of distribution vs. the expected return on investment. Bottom line: 3D doesn't seem to be profitable enough to warrant the up-front risks.

    Mark
     
  19. Brian McP

    Brian McP Second Unit

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    "Noah" wasn't released in 3D in Australia at all, but on bluray it would look terrific.

    The movie -- pretty good. The last half hour or so was pretty ho-hum compared to what came before, but the movie was much better than I thought it would be.

    Thought Anthony Hopkins was pretty good as grandfather Methuselah -- now I know how old he was!
     
  20. Bobby Henderson

    Bobby Henderson Stunt Coordinator

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    Last minute 3D conversions just for the sake of having "3D" on the marquee is nothing more than a shameless cash grab. I'm only interested in 3D done right. Honestly, that happens only on rare occasions. If the live action elements are shot with dual camera systems and a lot of work goes into marrying the live action 3D elements with the CGI and motion graphics elements then that extra price for a 3D ticket might be worth it. Other than that it is only a waste of money. In that sense, I'm glad they released Noah in 2D only here in the United States.

    My girlfriend and I watched Noah this past Saturday evening at Harkins Bricktown 16 theater in downtown Oklahoma City on their Cine Capri screen. That big screen house doesn't show movies in 3D (it was originally built years before the conversion to d-cinema). However, it is equipped with a Dolby Atmos capable sound system. They did play Noah in Dolby Atmos.

    Overall, I thought the movie was good in the conventional Hollywood entertainment sense. However, it is not a movie I would use as reference for Sunday School material. The movie-makers took a number of dramatic liberties with the story line. I don't remember "the watchers" being mentioned in the Bible at all. And there sure wasn't any man vs. man action battle on the ark either. But Hollywood spectacles take a lot of money to produce and you have to do anything you can to put butts in the seats -including doing things with the story that don't make any sense or are just plain B.S. Most Hollywood movies made for the big screen tweak things for entertainment value. I've heard some people scream this is an "atheist version" of Noah. That doesn't make any sense since "the creator" still translates as God and other story elements like Adam & Eve or the Garden of Eden are clearly biblical and not secular.

    Regarding some of the CG, yes it looked kind of fake. But then again, we as movie viewers are accustomed to looking at some scenes (like hundreds of species of animals walking toward a strange, square shaped looking boat) and just knowing it is CG since there is no practical way such an image could be shot on film or video.

    Regarding "IMAX" (since the brand is promoted heavily for this release), there really is zero point in paying extra to see this movie in an IMAX-branded theater. There are no 15-perf 70mm prints. The movie was shot with video cameras (Arri Alexa). There is no 3D release (at least not any good 3D anyway). But the movie does have a Dolby Atmos mix and I thought the Atmos mix was pretty good. It wasn't quite as aggressive as the mix for Gravity. But there was definitely a good bit of ear-candy that could not have been heard the same in any ordinary 5.1 surround theater.
     

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