By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood March 24, 2014 at 3:41PM
Sure, Aronofsky brilliantly deployed visual effects in the service of his indie-financed drama "Black Swan," released by Searchlight in 2010, which won Natalie Portman the Best Actress Oscar and grossed $330 million worldwide. But he placed that movie in a reality-based believable New York ballet world--even as his intense ballerina (Portman) crossed over to the mentally disturbed side and experienced things that were not real.
But it's a far cry from "Black Swan"'s CGI tweaks to bringing a primeval Old Testament myth to life with a $130-million budget including ILM VFX that dwarf the entire cost of the ballet thriller. In "Noah" guardian-angels-turned-six-armed-rock-giants called "The Watchers" are so fictional that Paramount did not include them in marketing materials. The 300-cubit long, three-story ark is packed with 1200 pairs of CG animals who are conveniently put to sleep via magical incense. The murky brown movie gets off to a lunky start with an animated preamble that tries to explain the rules of this mystical place in the space-time continuum that has a recurring animated apple, creeping serpent and Adam & Eve, magic explosives, glowing snake skins, bad sons of Cain and good sons of Seth, etc. Was Noah a cave man? An early Israelite? It's gibberish.
What Aronofsky does know how to do is to wrangle high-octane movie actors into submission--in this case, Russell Crowe, who is in his element as a grizzled and tortured hero. "He's going to destroy the world," he after receiving a portentous vision from The Creator. "It cannot be averted... Death by water. A great flood is coming. We will build a vessel to survive the storm. We will build an ark." And when the flood comes: "It begins."
Crowe earns his salary and holds the screen as a powerful man on a mission--at least Noah interprets what he thinks The Creator is trying to tell him, right or wrong. He decides that he's supposed to save the animals and allow humankind to die out--even if it means killing his first grandchild. This adds considerable domestic tension to the ark family dynamic.
Anthony Hopkins as Noah's grandfather Methuselah brings welcome humor--which is hard to come by in an Aronofsky picture. Brawny Brit Ray Winstone also does yeoman service as a son of Cain trying to influence Noah's son Ham --"if you are a man, you can kill." He literally hacks his way into the ark--which isn't in the Old Testament either.
Luckily, in the end Paramount and financing partner Regency allowed Aronofsky to hang onto his cut of this whacked-out Biblical epic, complete with environmental message, which is a helluva lot more entertaining than their vanilla-Christian version would have been. And tested better. In our last "Black Swan" interview, Aronofsky told me: "you gotta give people something they're not going to forget." Even with this misguided quest to prove himself as a would-be Spielberg, Aronofsky can't help but remain true to himself, and upholds his creative mantra: "never bore an audience."