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CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Friday, March 28, 2014

NO, UH

"I get that a director has to fill a two hour movie based off of a couple of chapters in the Bible, but holy cow!"

Something that has long puzzled me is that Hollywood cannot seem to make a good Bible movie.  The Bible is packed with amazing stories, bizarre imagery, dramatic events, shocking deeds, violence, sex, betrayal, politics, and more.  But every time someone from movie land tries to make a movie these days from the best selling book of all time (by a gigantic margin), they just can't seem to get it right.
The movies they give us from the Bible are either dull and pointless or ridiculous.  They'll make a movie about science fiction and fantasy themes, they'll make comic book movies presuming this stuff is plausible and reasonable.  But when it comes to the Bible, suddenly they start to hedge and get uncomfortable.
Now, I've not seen, and very likely will never see Noah.  I have zero interest in watching it in the theater, and haven't the extra cash to pay to see it in any case.  However, it is a good example of what I'm talking about.  Here are some bits from reviews:
In any event, a good rock monster helps Noah and his family find Methuselah. There is no explanation for why Noah has left the green area of his grandfather for a harsh, volcanic desert. But there you have it. Anthony Hopkins … errrr … Methuselah lives in a cave up a mountain. He invites Noah to tea, giving Noah hallucinogenic tea. Noah learns he must build an ark in the barren wasteland that has no trees anywhere at all.

The next day, the bad rock monsters show up to take the good rock monster away. But the magical seed sprouts a fountain in the middle of the ground. As the water flows from it, trees shoot up. Everywhere the water touches new green life sprouts. Noah realizes God has given him the trees to build the ark.

So the rock monsters build the ark.

-Erick Erickson at Red State

Noah recasts the first doomsday story as the first climate-change tale — a disaster-movie scenario that could soon recur. For the Old Testament God, simply insert nature’s God (the Founding Fathers’ name for the Creator) and see the flood as a predictor for nature’s rebuking modern industry for polluting and overheating the atmosphere. Scientists predict that within decades most of the world’s coastal cities will be underwater if emissions are not drastically curtailed. Aronofsky’s text, disguised as a fable, is a warning of this inconvenient truth. He might be paraphrasing the old spiritual: “No more fire, the flood this time.”

In Aronofsky’s Bible-era setting for this toxic environment, Noah is a survivalist taking revenge on urban iniquity. Seeing the industrialized cities around him as wicked for their destruction of the environment as much as their sensual excesses, Noah assumes power of life and death over all living things. This fable of early man is The Croods with a Mensa IQ — and when the rabble storms the ark, it’s a home-invasion thriller of a family taking refuge in their divine-fallout shelter. As the unsaved hordes climb the hulls of the boat like zombies scaling the Jerusalem walls in World War Z, our hero fights to keep them out.
-Richard Corliss, Time Magazine

Be warned: Anyone familiar with the 500-year-old man and his ark may need to check some of their most cherished visualizations of him at the theater door. No cozy two-by-two images of beatific giraffes grace this “Noah.”

Taking ill-advised pages from both 1950s animator Ray Harry­hausen and the current big-studio predilection for comic-book movies and young-adult teen romances, Aronofsky creates characters and story lines that feel wildly out of place — not because they don’t appear in Scripture but because they’re so at odds with the often brilliant aesthetic language that animates the rest of the film.
-Ann Hornaday, Washington Post

If his son's wife has a baby girl, Noah announces a plan to take that life to prevent the human race from going forward. Later, with Noah's knife raised over twin daughters you sense a composite, Noah mixed with a bit of Abraham and going crazy.

The main nemeses (Tubal-Cain) hacks his way into the ark, eats some lizards as a stow-away, and tries to kill Noah.

There are "magical" objects that do the supernatural: a seed, a potus, a drink, and a birthright snakeskin. Are these occult or just extra-biblical miracles of biblical proportion?
-Dr. Jerry Johnson, Christianity Today

"Noah" is writer-director Darren Aronofksy's interpretation of the story of Noah and the flood. He's made a few changes.

Okay, more than a few. Way more. This is the Book of Genesis after a page one rewrite.

Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden after Eve fell prey to the serpent's charms and ate the forbidden fruit. The descendants of Cain and Abel waged war against each other. The descendants of Cain allied themselves with the The Watchers, a race of fallen angels or seraphim who were encrusted by hardened magma created when they fell from Heaven to earth like shooting stars and smashed craters in the ground; these creatures now lumber across the landscape like Transformers, or like the Ents as visualized in Peter Jackson's "Rings" movies, grumbling and roaring and making pronouncements in the heavily-filtered voices of Nick Nolte and Frank Langella.
-Matt Zoeller Seitz, Roger Ebert.com
The strange thing is that after listing all the wierd, silly, excessive, and failed things in this movie, most of these reviews are generally positive - 3 out of 5 stars.  I can only think that they were so wowed by the visual effects that they came away with a smile even while they knew it was weird and probably a poor movie overall.
Now as I've said, I haven't watched this film, so I can't confirm or deny these reviewers and their perspective.  But what I can do is react to the changes in the story they list.  AMong these changes:
  • Creation is showed as theistic evolution
  • The skin of the serpent is a family heirloom of magical power
  • Tubal-Cain somehow is around almost 1000 years after being born, despite having no mention of this long lifespan.
  • The Nephelim are called "fallen angels" and portrayed as huge rock-men with multiple arms.
  • God never speaks to Noah, he gets hallucinations from drugs and dreams everything up.
  • Methuselah is a wizard with a flaming sword.
  • Noah plants a magic seed to grow a forest in the wilderness far from everyone else to build the ark with.
  • The rock monsters help him build the ark.
  • There's a subplot involving a girl named Illa who is barren, Shem, and Ham.
  • Despite being in a wilderness, somehow Tubal Cain and his people hear about the Ark being built and storm it.
  • Tubal Cain hides away on the ark for an epic final battle with Noah.
  • Two of the brothers have no wives when they board the ark.
  • They put all the animals to sleep with magic incense while on the ark.  
  • Two unicorns are on the ark, but they are killed by Ham and Tubal-Cain.
  • Noah tries to murder Illa's children.
  • Ham tries to build a raft and flee the ark, but Noah destroys it with... magic rocks.
Now, as I've said before, I understand the need to change some things when you make a film from a book.  And as Erick Erickson notes, this is a two-chapter bit in the Bible that Hollywood wanted to make a two hour movie out of, so they had to invent some new stuff.
But the stuff you invent should fit the story, work within the established framework of the book, and be true to the original source material.  Noah basically invented an entirely new story based on some words and a vaguely remembered plot of the story.
Now, if you want to do that, okay, but don't pretend its a Bible movie, and don't go out trying to get pastors to endorse your film.  And when will Hollywood get their act together and actually make a Bible movie that's actually from the Bible?
I get that Hollywood writers and directors think they know better than and are better story tellers than the writers of massive bestsellers.  I understand that having a book be a beloved classic with legendary stories is always going to be viewed as damaged and in need of fixing "for modern audiences" who love the books.
But why is it they can film books like Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings pretty close to the original story and the Bible they always have to go nuts with?  When will someone finally figure out that they can make a great movie from the Bible without adding in all the extra junk?
*UPDATE: Dr Brian Mattson points out that most of the weird new stuff added to the Noah story come from obscure Kaballah stories.  Given Hollywood's odd flirtation with Kabbalah and the need to have more content to flesh out a full movie, that explains a lot.  But not everything.

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