'Black Swan' and 'Requiem for a Dream' director Darren Aronofsky’s big-ticket retelling of the Old Testament story, with an oh-so-serious Russell Crowe playing Noah, is stupid but train-wreck fascinating. Your jaw will drop early and often – right from the opening dream sequence during which Man’s fall from grace in the Garden of Eden is presented complete with a hilarious digital snake.
‘The Creator’ (this film’s careful tag for God) sends a vision to warn his gruff servant Noah that a flood is coming. With the help of his 1,000-years-young grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) and loyal wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), Noah realises that his calling is to build that fabled ark.
The massive barge of wood is a spectacular piece of design that Aronofsky reckons adheres to biblical specifications. Kudos for realism, as well as for the alternately green and burnt landscapes – shot in Iceland and upstate New York – that give a vividly grimy portrait of Earth before the flood.
Yet the bad decisions far outweigh the good. There are towering stone-covered creatures known as ‘Watchers’ (looking like Transformers made of rock) who speak in the deep tones of Frank Langella, Mark Margolis and Nick Nolte. They’re meant to be a fantastical representation of the fallen-angel race known as Nephilim, but they come off like rejects from a Peter Jackson superproduction. Aronofsky is extremely ill-suited to battle scenes, so Clint Mansell’s histrionic score picks up the slack. There’s also a bunch of melodrama between Noah and his family, as well as a head-slappingly overcooked performance by Ray Winstone as a villainous stowaway.
All this bombast neuters most of the riskier religious elements, apart from a mid-movie sequence that gorgeously imagines the seven days of Creation in sped-up stop motion. It’s here that Aronofsky launches his only stinging salvo, presenting a making-of-the-universe that denies neither evolution nor an intelligent guiding hand. But it’s a lone exception in a movie that otherwise makes an oft-told story pompous instead of poetic.