Darren Aronofsky’s ‘Noah’ Attracts Controversy During Test Screenings

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noah darren aronofsky controversy Darren Aronofskys Noah Attracts Controversy During Test Screenings

When you adapt a Bible story for the big screen, you’re just asking for trouble, and Darren Aronofsky has already courted his fair share with his graphic novel-turned movie project, Noah. The Black Swan director’s vision of the Noah’s Ark story features Russell Crowe as the eponymous prophet, who believes that his visions of an impending apocalyptic flood are a message from God – and thus, begins to construct an enormous ship, in order to protect his family and as many living creatures as possible.

Paramount has started test screening Noah, by showing different cuts of the film to audiences so as to determine which one is best received (read: most commercially viable). The religious tentpole is reported to have climbed past its original $125 million budget, so Aronofsky is having to deal with more studio feedback than he’s accustomed to, seeing how his previous features have all been pretty low on the professional film budget scale (with the exception of The Fountain, which still cost “just” $35 million to make).

The current problems facing Noah are described by THR as follows:

In recent weeks, the studio has held test screenings for key groups that might take a strong interest in the subject matter: in New York (for a largely Jewish audience), in Arizona (Christians) and in Orange County, Calif. (general public). All are said to have generated troubling reactions. But sources say Aronofsky has been resistant to Paramount’s suggested changes. “Darren is not made for studio films,” says a talent rep with ties to the project. “He’s very dismissive. He doesn’t care about [Paramount's] opinion.”

Aronofsky is definitely aiming to put his own creative stamp on the material, having described Noah as “the first environmentalist” (as in, the first person to recognize the importance of caring for the world created for humanity by God) and planned a vision of the story that includes beings like giant six-armed angels and fantastical animals unlike any in existence today. The setting of Aronofsky and Ari Handel’s Noah graphic novel (the basis for the film) can be described as savage and Mad Max-ish, with years of human barbarism and warfare having ravaged the landscape, even before the the time of a terrible drought.

darren aronofsky noah Darren Aronofskys Noah Attracts Controversy During Test Screenings

Artwork from the ‘Noah’ graphic novel

The artistic challenges that come with realizing such a world have already been documented, most recently in an interview where Aronofsky revealed that the CGI animals designed for Noah are the most complex digital shots rendered by ILM to date. However, as passionate as the filmmaker’s vision for the project appears to be, that doesn’t guarantee that others will be so taken with his re-interpretation of the Noah’s Ark story, as THR notes in its write-up:

Beyond the visuals, a major challenge has been coming up with an exciting third act that doesn’t alienate the potentially huge Christian audience (in the Bible, Noah and the ark’s inhabitants survive the flood that destroys the Earth). Some in the faith community already have expressed skepticism about the result, especially after writer Brian Godawa in October 2012 obtained a version of the Noah script and posted his summary online under the heading, “Darren Aronofsky’s Noah: Environmentalist Wacko.”…

Admittedly, there’s something deliciously meta about all this, with Aronofsky’s plans having been heavily scrutinized by the doubtful religious community looking onwards as the project develops. It parallels how Noah, in the movie, faces much in the way of skepticism from his peers (including, Ray Winstone’s character), who question whether the protagonist’s visions and behavior are those of a faithful servant of God… or a disillusioned madman, who’s been given too much leeway.

russell crowe noah1 Darren Aronofskys Noah Attracts Controversy During Test Screenings

Russell Crowe as Noah

There’s certainly an audience that will be interested to see how Aronofsky breathes new life into the Noah’s Ark story, more so because it’s clear that he is strongly committed to making the film a success; as a result, ensuring that the Biblical epic should feel like the handiwork of an auteur, not a soulless Hollywood effects-heavy tentpole. Whether or not it’s respectful of the Bible source material, is a discussion better saved for later (i.e. when the film is no longer a work-in-progress and ready for critiquing).

On the other hand, you can see where Paramount is coming from, since the studio has already invested heavily in letting Aronofsky maintain his artistic integrity with Noah, despite the chance that it could push away the sizable Christian audience (see: the box office returns for The Passion of the Christ and huge ratings success of The History Channel’s The Bible mini-series-turned upcoming theatrical release Son of God, for the proof of that).

Still, at this stage, Paramount attempting to make the film easier-to-swallow for moviegoers might be too little, too late, lest the studio end up sacrificing the cohesiveness of Aronofsky’s vision and turning the film into a Frankenstein job like the recent expensive summer blockbusters World War Z and The Lone Ranger. Indeed, the vast difference in those films’ box office returns just goes to show: you can never be too sure about how things will work out in the end.

Let us know whether or not you’re interested in seeing Noah in the comments section below (and remember, keep it civil, folks).


Noah is slated to open in theaters on March 28th, 2014.

Source: THR

Follow Sandy Schaefer on Twitter @feynmanguy
TAGS: Noah
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  1. World War Z was a hatchet job?
    Why, because they changed the ending ?
    And The Lone Ranger ? as long as that movie was ,
    It certainly didnt seem like they cut anything out of it .

    • I changed the line to ‘Frankenstein job’, since I think that better reflects my meaning.

      But yeah, the entire third act of WWZ was reshot and feels very different than the rest of the film. Likewise, certain aspects of Lone Ranger (like, the supernatural elements) were carried over from previous script drafts, but arguably feel out of place in the final movie.

    • I think in the lone ranger there was originally some sort of supernatural plot concerning werewolves. I haven’t seen the movie but there were allegedly some scenes that just didn’t “jive” with the rest because they had elements of the werewolf plot in them. Again, I haven’t seen the movie that’s just what I remember the guys saying on the podcast. Maybe.

    • The important thing to remember is, as someone said at the end of ‘World War Z’, that “hell is permanent.”
      Actually, can someone explain why that’s important to a zombie movie? That might be relevant.

    • @Gary S
      The ”ending” is a lot different thing that ”the third act”.
      World War Z had its entire third act changed.
      Although I liked the film (7/10), it really did felt it was a ”Frankenstein Job”.
      In act I, you have a big set piece where Philadephia is becoming zombified, while in act II, you have Jerusalem being overrun by a wave of zombies… however, the act III is smaller in scale, and more like traditional horror films.
      I like it, but it is obvious that it wasn’t their original intent.

    • World War Z…

      Ok lets goto Israel to find out why they’re doing relatively ok.

      In the book their strategy is explained & adopted. In the movie they decide to make the zombies carpenter ants and israel gets wiped out.

      Why is Brad Pitt searching for patient zero… ? Never explained.

      He travels europe to find a W.H.O. complex to discover that zombies don’t like sick people…. lol. The inside of the complex is infested however the outside shots show the place to be largely abondoned.

      They couldn’t open the door and walk around the outside ?

      Even with the reshot ending the entire movie smell of craptitude.

  2. Haha yup, no surprises here. I’m looking forward to this project, should be fun to watch it develop. I wonder how much (if any) of Aronofsky’s vision will be compromised? either way it goes, I think it will be interesting. Also, I wonder if they will use the controversy to their advantage: “Come see the movie banned by the church” “The Amazing Noah: the untold story from Sunday School!” :) I could see that kind of marketing working but don’t know how Aronofsky would feel about it…

    • I think the thing isnt that it will be “shunned” because of inaccuracies or a different take on the characters, but because the moral differences between the text and the film. The film appears to be promoting the idea that human life is less valuable than that of animals or plants or the earth itself. Wildly different than the idea that God destroys the whole earth in order to rescue and eventually redeem humanity. That’s where the church will have the biggest issue. Not sure how the marketing will rectify that if they are trying to entice a Christian audience to show up.

    • The two main test cases for this are “The Last Temptation of Christ” and “The Passion of the Christ.”

      The traditional, Church-friendly adaptation is the biggest R-rated box office hit of all time.

      The non-traditional, provocative and non-Church-friendly adaptation made less than $9 million playing in art theaters.

      For a movie like this, alienating the people who would actually be interested is dumb. At least for Paramount; but they should have thought of that earlier in the process, before giving the Artiste $125 million dollars.

      • For me, “Last Temptation” was a far better movie than “Passion”. The ONLY thing I found to be truly interesting in “Passion” was the sinister portrayal of Satan in the desert temptation scene.

        I am curious to see Aronofsky’s “Noah”.

        • Quality is one thing (though I disagree; the Passion is a powerful film); but the question was: how would a “stick-it-to-Christianity” religious movie play out financially?

          History suggests not so good.

  3. No thanks.

  4. Did they do test screens with religious groups on the movie…Evan Almighty? :) I don’t know. People always complain anyway. Darren should exercise his right to creatively show what he did—then we judge. After not before. :)

  5. As a Christian I gotta say I’m looking forward to this movie. I mean, I’m already certain it’ll be a wholly inaccurate take on that old, old story but at least it sounds like an interesting movie.

  6. “…It parallels how Noah, in the movie, faces much in the way of skepticism from his peers (including, Ray Winstone’s character), who question whether the protagonist’s visions and behavior are those of a faithful servant of God… or a disillusioned madman…”
    Beautifully Said!!! :)
    I say, Give him a Chance. The uda Has Talent. For some reason, I feel like he can bring something as Epic as “The Ten Commendments” or “Ben-Hur”.

    • I meant “The Dude has Talent” lol

  7. Definitely a bummer if the original script reviewed in Godawa’s article is the one that makes it to the big screen. Sounds like Aronofsky is just using the frame work of the biblical story to tell his own environmental caution tale. I can’t see many Christians getting on board with that idea and thus not turning up to watch in theaters.

  8. Yea this movie is gonna suck .. as for WWZ i wish they would’ve just given it another title instead of trying to make people think that they actually made an honest attempt at WWZ unfortunately the same looks true for this movie ( i got my eco lecture in AVATAR ) .

  9. It is normal for any movie to start with a given budget and later be increased considering the early screenings to studio executives. Something similar happened to Ben Hur.

    The Director ought to listen to the executives opinions with a grain of salt. In the end, if they invested money on his vision, is because they endorse his vision to a certain extent.

  10. Crowe’s Jor-El reminded me of Matt Berry despite an apparent attempt to make him some kind of mind blowingly amazing spirit guide to Lois in one of the action sequences in ‘Man of Steel’. If that movie can feature a super-advanced civilization using liquid metal (colorless, lol) video displays, equating evolution with a lack of morality, and riding around on dragons, then I doubt anything in a take on Noah that follows it will be genuinely outrageous. Of course, MOS was pretty insipid.

      • @Dazz – I didn’t see anything pending for you.

        Btw, if you want to think the Bible is a work of fiction that’s fine, but don’t paint with a broad brush by saying “we all know”. I agree with most of the rest of your comment though.


    • @Dazz
      Although you are a 1000% right, most people take the Bible’s stories as real History… Hence the fact of their negative views on his Visions. I just hope Darren Aronofsky can reach the finish line, in regard to his vision. :)

      • he wont he will fail he has no rights as a director when directing a bible movie

    • You know Batman is a fictious character but you still want a movie based on him to be true to the character, right?

    • By the way, Christianity is not the youngest major religion (though age doesn’t matter to revelation…), Islam is.

    • Cool Dazz. You discovered Wikipedia. Now you know stuff.

    • Lol. I agree. I think it’s funny when “Christians” call buddhists and people that subscribe to the Hindu faith, devil worshipers and atheists. Little do they know the Buddha is a Christian saint who had his name changed when the story reached the west. I can’t remember the name they ended up using for him but it was a play on the Bodhisattva title. I’d link to it, but it’s 5:30 am, and I’m lazy.

      I just wish that people actually took the time to learn about things (especially religious) before they start spouting off things that make absolutely no sense.

      As for the movie, it doesnt interest me too much, but it’s obviously not meant to be a religious movie like The Passion of the Christ. It’s a work of art, which should be driven by the artists vision. Not other peoples expectations of what it should be.

      Kind of like how the director and studio ruined Joss Whedon’s Buffy the VampireSlayer. Thankfully he made the TV show. Lol. Ok enough ranting. I know I’m off topic. ;)

  11. I am intrigued by this film. Not sure what it’s divergence from the source material might mean to me, honestly.

    But in any event, a studio should not hire Darren Aronofsky if they are not willing to go with his vision. It seems that simple to me. This guy is not some random blockbuster helmsman; his unique approach is the commodity.

  12. Whoah, Noah totally looks like Thor in the artwork from the graphic novel.

  13. Well this is a bummer but not really all that surprising.
    I can understand why Paramount would be concerned but at the same time didn’t they know that there would be some controversy?
    Any time you adapt a story from the bible that deviates from the source you’re going to anger a large group of people so IMO if Paramount didn’t have the common sense to realize this it’s more of a shame on them.
    More than anything though I’m bummed that this is turning into a bad experience for Aronofsky. After years and years of making films independently and having to deal with budget concerns on almost every movie he’s made, the first time he’s finally been able to make a movie free of all that drama now seems to be just as problematic.

    • Also…

      I know this is off topic so I apologize but does anyone know when the Mobile Site will be up an d running again?
      I usually do 95% of my commenting through it because I’m always running around and have missed the the past few days. :(

    • PS – If you don’t mind potential spoilers, read paragraphs 12, 13 and 14 in that article and you’ll see where a lot of people will take issue.

      • I take more of an issue with much of Godawa’s ramblings than I do with many of his critiques of the script he supposedly read.

        • Pardon…the MATERIALS he’s critiquing…

  14. I recently saw a clip/trailer for this movie and it was stunning in scope, visuals and emotional tension. I am SO going to see this. Studios, leave this alone and let it be!

  15. Why is WWZ even mentioned in this article? They brought in big time profit, and making it Brad Pitt’s highest grossing film.

    • @Ant-Mad .. quantity doesn’t equal quality !

  16. I probably won’t be seeing it because I find the idea of Noah’s Ark being an environmental story ridiculous. Noah with a Fern Gully twist? No thanks.

  17. Really hope his version makes it to the screen.

  18. Firstly, in regards to any movie or television series; it is only fair to judge the work of art after having at least seen a trailer, clip or the entire film itself. It’s bad to judge any sort of work of art without having actually had some experience between it and yourself.

    As a Christian, I’m very excited about Hollywood’s many upcoming Religious and Biblical movies. It’s normal for a Religious movie to slightly deviate from the words of the Sacred Texts; however, the important thing is that the filmmakers treat the source material with reverence and respect as has been seen in movies such as The Prince of Egypt, The Book of Eli, The Passion and History Channel’s The Bible. Of course, I’m not excusing any filmmaker for deviating from the source material be it the Bible or the Quran or any other Spiritual text. I really admire History Channel, Roma Downey and Mark Burnett for adhering to the Biblical account as closely as they did.

    It is also highly disrespectful for someone like “Dazz” who claims the Bible or other Religious Tomes are “works of fiction” and then speaks in a demeaning and hateful manner toward Christians and their personal beliefs. People like he or she need to learn to be respectful toward people of Spiritual Faith.

    More to the point, I have no real complaint or negative opinion towards Darren Aronofsky’s Noah movie. I’m extremely excited about it and I look forward to seeing this movie. It is my belief that Aronofsky will be very respectful and reverent toward the Biblical account of Noah and the Cataclysm. History Channel’s The Bible had it’s critics but the majority of Christians and Jews enjoyed and praised it. Many of the Religious people which I know who have screened this film have said that it was really good.

  19. I am looking forward to this movie. Did they not see his previous movies? He is a good director. Let him make the movie he wants. If it sucks it sucks. Having 20 studio people trying to edit the film to fit what they think will make money wont do anything but make is a mess. Let the proven director make the movie he wants.

  20. Did they really say this “Whether or not it’s respectful of the Bible source material, is a discussion better saved for later” come on, source material? It was made up and passed from generation to generation to write that book, let alone remember events that happened. why cant we just make a bad ass movie about a story in the Bible. We always make other movies about mythological tales.

  21. The Ten Commandments was scripturally inaccurate but the main theme was kept so most Jews and Christians accepted it but and it was a massive success. If Aronofsky turns Noah into an environmentalist this movie will flop the moment the reviews come out. Showbiz is all about the biz first and if you bite the hand that feeds you, your done. The Last Temptation of Christ was a huge financial failure because they messed around with the theme so if they are smart they wont follow in those foot steps. The Passion of Christ on the other hand was a massive success because Mel “Nutty” Gibson knew better and used his movie making genius to make one of the most profitable movies of all time. Be wise and choose wisdom over creativity Darren!

  22. These “water world” fliks never fare well at the box office. “Noah” will sink under its own over-produced weight. How can you realistically portray such an absurd story anyway? Except in animation, maybe. Making the animals unreal is the tip-off, obviously to sidestep the incredible notion of loading every animal on earth onto a boat. The whole idea is laughable and stretches the willing suspension of disbelief past its tensile strength. Leave Noah to the children’s bible storybooks where it belongs. This movie will be a very wet dog.

    • Ummm…yeah.


    • Except for the fact that the world hasn’t been peaceful at any point since man began recording history. So I’m not quite sure where the whole “Bible as Scientific Fact” opinion comes from, other than your own belief system. Homer’s Odyssey was quite specific but I’m sure you see it as fiction. Or an even better comparison, Bardo Thodol (The Tibetan Book of the Dead).

      In the Bardo Thodol, Padmasambhava is VERY detailed about what happens after death, but I’m sure you don’t think that book is fact, because it doesn’t line up with your beliefs. Or the Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads, both pretty detailed.

      You’re free to believe what you want, and faith is a wonderful thing, but the only details that should matter when it comes to religion are does it teach you to be a self-controlled,, egoless, compassionate, kind, sane, wise, patient, generous, good person.

      All the “details” only cause war and strife. The things the flood supposedly saved humanity from.

  23. The same people who are up in arms about this movie are the same ones who protested Dogma without even seeing it. This is a reinterpretation of the the story of Noah and his ark based on a graphic novel. Historical accuracy isn’t exactly important. It’s a damn movie, calm own.

  24. First off, I’m a Christian pastor. I wanted to let you know where I’m coming from. When you get into this type of discussion, the devoutly religious people (Jewish and Christian) often say that people should respect our books of faith. I agree but I don’t expect that. People are free to believe that I’m crazy just like I’m free to believe in the Bible. On the other side, people who aren’t religious or even anti-religious will tell us to back off and let the director make a great movie even if it doesn’t stay with the story in the Bible. I agree but I won’t support that with my money. People are free to produce any movie they want just like I’m free to choose not to watch it. This isn’t a matter about what they “should” do because they can do anything they want. It is about the studio wanting to make a profit. And devoutly religious people won’t spend money on something that is about their faith but disagrees with their scripture. When the art of a movie isn’t in line with what will attract large audiences, a director and studio have to decide which is more important. And it’s easy to say “art” if you’re not on the hook for $125 million. My guess is that it’s too late to make devoutly religious people overlook the likely broad deviations from scripture. The buzz is out there. However if they make changes and respect people of faith, it can be a marketable hit. But it usually has to start out with that intent.

    • Well said sir.

  25. If the director of any movie is known for favoring art over studio advice, that should be negotiated in the contract of the film. It’s not like they just give out money for kicks and wait to see what happens.

    I am looking forward to this because I like the actors and the director. Paramount makes awesome epic movies too, Braveheart Gladiator. So this should be a well made movie.

    Subject wise I’m curious. If it’s based on a graphic novel and not the Biblical account I can’t object to its adaptation. Just like 300 is based on a historical event, but highly stylized an based in a graphic novel. The result was a movie that was a fantastic adaptation of the comic but a fantastical adaptation of history.

    I am a Christian, and I’ll see this in theaters in March.

  26. This is going to be more LOTR than Ben Hur. People need to embrace that and enjoy it. Just accept that it’s going to be a fantasy epic and have a good time.

    • no i wont it will fail and i will laugh in your face f@cker

      • Oh, you are a clever one, aren’t you? I weep for those who must deal with steely mind on a daily basis…

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