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Darren Aronofsky Grappling with Studio Is a Familiar Pattern

Thompson on Hollywood By Anne Thompson and Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood October 16, 2013 at 2:42PM

Darren Aronofsky and Paramount are reportedly fighting over biblical epic "Noah," set to hit theaters March 28, after numerous test screenings have produced "worrisome" results. These screenings have been aimed at specific audiences: one in New York was shown to a largely Jewish audience, one in Arizona to a Christian audience, and one in Orange County to the general public. Let's remember that indie-minded Aronofsky is adopting his own graphic novel--albeit at a $125 million studio level--and has never been one to toe the line on anything he's made.
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Russell Crowe as 'Noah'
Russell Crowe as 'Noah'

Darren Aronofsky and Paramount are reportedly fighting over biblical epic "Noah," set to hit theaters March 28, 2014, after numerous test screenings have produced "worrisome" results. These screenings have been aimed at specific audiences: one in New York was shown to a largely Jewish crowd, one in Arizona to a Christian group, and one in Orange County to the general public. Let's remember that indie-minded Aronofsky is adopting his own graphic novel--albeit at a $125 million studio level--and has never been one to toe the line on anything he's made.

Darren Aronofsky
Darren Aronofsky

Back in July, Paramount screened footage to the church-based Echo conference in Texas. While tweets from that screening indicated the footage had been well received, the studio concern seems to lie in how much or little the film strays from the original biblical text. Clearly they're looking to attract a religious audience for this to be a mega hit. Think "Passion of the Christ." (And remember "Evan Almighty"?)

Despite the mixed reactions that have come from the screenings, Aronofsky is holding his ground on keeping the film to his vision. The director, whose "Black Swan" nabbed several Oscar nominations in 2011 and won Natalie Portman her Best Actress statuette, isn't usually tangled up in studio projects or films with tall VFX orders, with the one exception being his trouble-plagued noble failure at Warner Bros., $35-million "The Fountain," starring Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz, which jumped ambitiously among several time zones and stories.

Aronofsky is an independent-minded filmmaker whose best efforts are personal and indie-financed, from 1998's "Pi" to "Requiem for a Dream," "The Wrestler" and "Black Swan," which Fox Searchlight helped to get made when there was a financing gap. After that struggle (TOH's interview with him about the "nightmare" of getting the film made is here), Aronofsky went for a studio payday, clearly, with a major movie star (Russell Crowe) in the title role of a big-budget tentpole with a recognizable title. (Crowe's "A Beautiful Mind" co-star Jennifer Connelly also stars along with Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, Emma Watson and Logan Lerman.) 

For a taste of what Aronofsky has in mind, look at the trailer below for the original graphic novel (written with Ari Handel) that Aronofsky is adapting here. It's Old Testament violent. Aronofsky has been tweeting during production, starting with this one before the film started shooting in Iceland: "I dreamt about this since I was 13. And now it's a reality. Genesis 6:14 #noah."

Here's the official synopsis:

NOAH is a close adaptation of the Biblical story of Noah’s Ark. In a world ravaged by human sin, Noah is given a divine mission: to build an Ark to save creation from the coming flood. The screenplay was written by Aronofsky and Ari Handel and revised by Academy Award-nominated screenwriter John Logan (GLADIATOR, HUGO).

The filmmaker's filmmaking ethic is well-stated below:

It's not about taking chances, it's about making memorable films. You're in the world with so much media, so many distractions, that you gotta give people something that they're not going to forget. That's what we all want, and we go on the roller coaster just to be brought to the brink of insanity and terror. I like to be pushed and I like to push; it's fun.

That's not the sort of movie Paramount has in mind if they are chasing Christian marketing. The cost of "Noah" has now exceeded the $125 million mark, with the studio splitting costs with New Regency. Aronofsky told DGA Quarterly last week that certain VFX required for the film had been the most difficult ever rendered by Industrial Light & Magic.

This is a case where the studio backed a script and a filmmaker and should let the rest of us see his version of the movie. I feel the same way about Bong Joon-ho's "Snowpiercer," which the rest of the world will get to see as the filmmaker intended. (Karina Longworth's must-read Harvey Scissorhands profile here.

This article is related to: News, Paramount, Darren Aronofsky, Darren Aronofsky, Noah, IN THE WORKS


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.