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.
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.
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.