The Bible in Film: Darren Aronofsky and Russell Crowe bring Noah to the big screen

Official movie poster for Noah.

Official movie poster for Noah.

The Bible has been a great source of subject material for movies ever since Hollywood began making films. In March of 2014, Darren Aronofsky’s epic version of Noah, the Old Testament hero whose ark saves mankind from being wiped out, will hit the theaters. But despite starring Russell Crowe as Noah and featuring a host of other headliners, including Emma Watson, Jennifer Connelly, and Anthony Hopkins, Noah has run into a number of problems during filming. The release of the first two trailers by the film company have brought the production into the spotlight, and if you are looking for a good research paper topic for your religion or film studies classes, take a peek at Noah and other uses of the Bible in film.

Noah vs. Sandy

One of the early hurdles Noah had to jump was facing off against a real natural disaster. Though not of the same proportion as the Great Flood, Hurricane Sandy was no mere rainstorm. The ark set in Oyster Bay, New York, did not withstand the weather like its Biblical counterpart. The 75-foot tall, 450-foot long, 45-foot wide structure was the exterior set, and the actors had been set to film their remaining three weeks of footage when Hurricane Sandy struck. The storm brought down trees and flooded parts of Oyster Bay, making it impossible for the film crew to reach the set.

“I take it that the irony of a massive storm holding up the production of Noah is not lost @DarrenAronofsky @russellcrowe @MattyLibatique,” Emma Watson posted on twitter, according to Jennifer Abbey of ABC News in “Hurricane Sandy leaves ‘Noah’s Ark’ out of reach.”

Test audience responses “troubling”

Noah’s next big challenge came in Fall 2013, after post production had added in the CGI effects by Industrial Lights & Magic – which includes all the animals Noah brings along on the ark. The animals are “slightly tweaked,” Aronofsky told The Hollywood Reporter contributor Kim Masters for “Darren Aronofsky, Paramount spar over ‘Noah’ final cut.” The animals also include fantastical creatures, and the film will feature 11-foot-tall fallen angels called Watchers. These elements may be hard for audiences to swallow, and the initial test run by Paramount intended to test the film against three core types of audiences: a largely Jewish audience in New York, a dominantly Christian audience in Arizona, and a general audience in California. The reactions were “troubling,” according to the studio, which approached Aronofsky about potential changes. But Aronofsky was not immediately interested in adjusting his work. Paramount vice chairman Rob Moore told Masters, however, that while Aronofsky “definitely wants some level of independence, he also wants a hit movie. We’re getting to a very good place, and we’re getting there with Darren.”

Some critics are already skeptical, however; Brian Godawa said of an early draft of the script that Aronofsky was making the film too much about environmentalism and not enough about the Biblical source material. Consultant Mark Joseph also worried that Aronofsky might be straying too far from the text. But Ted Baehr, whose reviews with a Christian perspective appear in, held out hope that the film would be a success.

The Bible goes to the movies

Noah is only the most recent in a long line of movies based on the Bible, among the first made in 1903 and 1912 respectively: Samson and Delilah and Manger to the Cross, a film about the life of Christ. The story of Jesus has been tackled by a number of filmmakers, including Franco Zeffirelli in Jesus of Nazareth (1977), Martin Scorsese in The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), and Mel Gibson’s controversial Passion of the Christ (2004). The Old Testament has had its share of films, as well, particularly during the 1940s to the 1960s. During that era, Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (1956) was nominated for seven Academy Awards.

But what’s interesting about the films is often not what they say about the Bible, but what they say about the audiences for which they’re made. According to Birmingham University theologian Robert Beckford, “these films tell us more about the times in which we live than they do about Jesus and the Bible Stories,” he explained in Rhona Ganguly’s Birmingham Post article, “City lecturer to discuss movies’ take on the Bible.” He continued, “All of the films are influenced by the political world in which they were made.”

In an era where fantasy is a highly successful element for box office hits, perhaps the inclusion of fantastical creatures is merely a reflection of what a modern audience craves.

What do you think of Bible movie adaptations? Will you see Darren Aronofsky’s Noah? 

For more on film adaptation or the Bible, visit Questia.

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