Despite rumors that Christian test audiences left a preview of Oscar-winning director Darren Aronofsky’s biblical epic Noah unhappy, I must admit the first trailer looks stunning (see video clip below). From Russell Crowe as a rugged, man’s man of a prophet, to dramatic Icelandic sets, to the special effects of the flood itself, it appears—at least on a purely visual level—that Paramount’s $150 million investment was money well spent.
Yet months before Noah’s March 2014 release, reports that it veers too far from the text to please Bible-believing audiences continue to plague the film.
The first sign of trouble came in 2008 when Aronofsky, best known for 2010 Best Picture nominee, The Black Swan, told Slashfilm, “I think [the story is] really timely because it’s about environmental apocalypse, which is the biggest theme.” Then Christian screenwriter Brian Godowa (To End All Wars) revealed on his blog that he’d managed to get an early peek at the screenplay and said, “If you were expecting a biblically faithful retelling of the story of the greatest mariner in history and a tale of redemption and obedience to God, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Noah paints the primeval world of Genesis 6 as scorched arid desert, dry cracked earth, and a gray gloomy sky that gives no rain—and all this, caused by man’s ‘disrespect’ for the environment.”
But worst of all for the studio footing such a hefty bill was an October Hollywood Reporter story that claimed Aronofsky and Paramount execs were warring over the final cut. It quoted a talent rep close to the project saying, “[Aronfsky] doesn’t care about Paramount’s opinion” and described the reactions of a preview audience made up of Arizona churchgoers as “troubling.” On the other hand, several attendees of the Echo conference, a Dallas-based Christian film festival, seemed pleased with the early footage they were treated to, tweeting that it was “amazing.”
During a visit to the set in 2012, I couldn’t help but note that Paramount vice president Rob Moore and executive producer Mary Parent seemed eager to assure me that any rumors of an environmental-activist Noah were premature. The script that sparked the allegations, they said, was only an early draft, and they were reworking it to make sure the final product honored the Old Testament account as written.
Given Hollywood’s newfound interest in capitalizing on the box-office potential of church-going audiences, it seems far too soon to judge whether the big-screen Noah will be a transportive, imaginative experience or a politically correct thorn in the side. At least if it turns out to be the latter, we’ll always have that fantastic-looking trailer.