Noah (2014): Science Fiction Not Biblical

Still from Noah
In 2014, Darren Aronofsky finished Noah, his version of the biblical tale of a flooded world where only a chosen few survive by building an ark and filling it with pairs of animals, but his story is much more science fiction than bible fact. The film is enjoyable precisely because of this merging and changing of what is normally a pretty large morality tale, bigger than the one about Sodom and Gomorrah by quite a bit, into an epic more magical telling of the first time the “creator” destroyed his creation.

According to the film, which does quote the bible just enough at the beginning, Adam and Eve have Cain, Abel and Seth. They’ve been kicked out of Eden and Cain kills Abel. He is then banished and it is his offspring who destroy the earth by means of a gross of industrial cities (Aronofsky’s phrasing not this reviewers) and Seth assumes the mantle of vegetarian earth father who bats for the “other side.”

Noah (Russell Crowe), who is the last of Seth’s clan, raises his own family and has a vision of water, he is floating in the stuff. Men are encroaching on Noah’s home and he takes the family and flees. On the way they find an old mine as well as a young girl Ila (who will grow up to be played by Emma Watson) who is badly wounded. They take the youngster and flee into a black area marked with piles of human skulls at its perimeter.

They have entered the land of the giants, aka The Watchers and the men follow. One Watcher rises up and scares the pursuers off and knocks Noah out cold. The family awaken in a canyon surrounded by the rock creatures whose leader orders that the humans be left to rot. One of the Watchers ignores the order and saves Noah and his small family.

The patriarch goes into the mountain to speak to his grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins). He takes Shem, who he treats with deference and leaves Ham at home with his mother and little brother. Once there, he drinks some “medicinal” tea and has another vision, he now knows what to do about the flooding. He must build an ark. The Watchers, after a sign from the Creator (a spring appears in the middle of all the desolation, Noah plants the seed that his grandfather gave him and it generates a huge forest of trees) help Noah build his large wooden craft.

The task takes long enough that Ila now is a young lady, Shem has a beard, mustache and pretty randy attitude, and Noah has had a haircut and trimmed his beard. Ham, after being pretty much made to feel like a second class citizen his whole life, becomes socially inept and likes to spy on Ila and Shem. The baby is now a pre teen and amazingly Jennifer Connelly, as Naameh, has not aged a day.

As the ark is being built and the animals are arriving in dribs and drabs of birds and snakes so too arrive Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone) and a number of men. After a short exchange with Noah, Cain is surprised to see that the rock giants have joined the other side. Making threats, Tubal-Cain withdraws to build an army to take Noah’s ark.

The surrounding camp is turned into hell on earth as starving people turn on one another and become animals. There is discord in family Noah as Ham cannot find a wife and Ila wants to leave as she cannot have children. The rush is on to finish loading the ark in preparation for the upcoming storm. Noah has doubts.

At the time of its release, there were many religious organizations that were upset at the film’s depiction of perhaps the least known figure in the bible. However Aronofsky chose to take the threads of the tale and to use the names and lineage as well as its outcome but dressed the whole tale with a sort of parallel world coating.

Perhaps the feeling that The Watchers are a version of Transformers, with the one who helps Noah filling in for Optimus Prime, helps bring about that science fiction air to the proceedings. Certainly the message of the movie, that back in “biblical times” man destroyed the planet through his industrial cities and bad practices fits more of a science fiction reality than what really caused the “big guy” to flood the world.

There is also a sort of juxtaposition of morality. In Noah’s world, it is a sin to kill animals to eat, vegan is the order of the day for Seth’s offspring, yet it is perfectly all right to kill men who intrude into his territory. The Creator is presumably meant to be God but Methuselah fulfills that role almost as well, with his little touches of miracles here and there.

Surprisingly, for a film that does not tackle the bible at all apart from the most loose retelling of Noah’s story and choses, instead dances around the whole sin issue, Noah is entertaining, if not a little over long. At 138 minutes there are stretches that are slow and a bit boring. Even with the added touch of having Tubal-Cain as a stowaway on board for a climatic fight and the subplot about Ila’s daughters, the film drags under the weight of all that water.

Still, Aronofsky delivers and despite having made the colossally bad decision to cast Russell Crowe as the “Grizzly Adam’s” version of Noah, the movie entertains. This is one that should be watched via the auspices of DVD or On-Demand. One can take breaks when the film bogs down or fast forward to the action. A 3.5 out of 5 stars, the biggest drop has to do with miscasting rather than all the CG and the attempt to make this into a sort of re-imagining of a bible story. It works better as science fiction with a hint of misplaced finger wagging.

The Devil’s Tomb (2009): Event Horizon Wanna Be

The Devil's Tomb
The Devil’s Tomb (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Okay. So on Netflix it seems to be Cuba Gooding Jr month or year, maybe. I have seen Gooding’s name on the movie lists of Netflix in about five different lists. It’s not the same film listed several different times either. It’s at least five different films.

Or six.

Someone on Netflix must have gotten a great distribution deal on Cuba’s films. Either that or no-one else wants them. Because if the rest of these films are like The Devil’s Tomb? It is probably the latter conclusion that fits best.

Directed by Jason Connery (better known for working on the other side of the camera) The Devil’s Tomb looks like Jason’s first directorial foray into feature film. Not so says IMDb (which interestingly lists The Devil’s Tomb as Connery’s first directed film chronologically)  Jason’s ‘maiden’ feature film is Pandemic even though it is after The Devil’s Tomb on Connery’s filmography.

I could have forgiven the film some of it’s most obvious flaws if it was Connery’s maiden voyage. Okay maybe not, because let’s face it, the flaws are many and they range across the spectrum of ownership. The script, the acting, the location…You see where I’m going with this?

I have had a moan before about characters that I am supposed to care about not making the grade. What The Devil’s Tomb has is characters that lack dimension entirely. They have been created so haphazardly and sloppily that they aren’t even two-dimensional cardboard cut-outs of characters.

The plot is basic. A group of mercenary (add a question mark here, because in the Cuba Gooding Jr voice-over at the start of the film he refers to his little band of soldiers as mercenaries, but it appears that they aren’t…really) soldiers are told that they have to rescue Hellboy…Sorry, Ron Perlman from hole in the ground in the middle of the desert.

English: Ron Perlman at the 2011 San Diego Com...
English: Ron Perlman at the 2011 San Diego Comic-Con. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Gooding’s gang of merry men and women are joined by Valerie Cruz who, it turns out, is Hellboy’s daughter and she has to save only him from the hole. Nothing else is allowed to be taken from this secret location.

So a helicopter takes the group and deposits them outside a secret manhole cover with a combination coded lock and before leaving tells them they have six hours.

It is at this point that the film tries it’s hardest to be Event Horizon but in a hole in the ground. To be fair though the film has tried from almost the first frame to emulate the far superior Horizon by having Gooding’s character have flashbacks (brilliantly filmed in sepia tones so that there can be no mistake that these are indeed flashbacks) to an event prior to this latest mission.

Unfortunately these flashbacks include an almost unrecognizable Ray Winstone (it must have been the uniform, I honestly did not recognise the man until the end of the film) and they are so short, frequent and unedifying that only at the very end of the film do we learn the supposed purpose of them being here.

Once inside the tomb the small band of saviors encounter a priest with a really bad skin condition and Bill Moseley. I’m a huge fan of Moseley and was disappointed to see his cameo wasted as badly as Winstone’s. Quite frankly the producers could have used any unknown in either role, but they obviously thought the names would put a few extra bums in seats.

I don’t want to head into spoiler territory here (Are you kidding me? I hear you cry. What spoilers??) but after they all get ‘trapped’ in the lower floors of the underground facility everything goes ‘Pete Tong‘ (wrong) and they start seeing things and it all goes Event Horizon like but in a bargain basement, ‘we really don’t know how to do this,’ way.

If you look at the shooting budget of 10 million dollars, it is mystifying and downright difficult to figure out where the money went. It most certainly didn’t go into getting a decent script. Or even in getting a decent location. *In the Goofs section of IMDb they point out the very American graffiti that is present in an Iraqi underground bunker that is 900 floors beneath the desert floor.*

Now don’t get me wrong, I like Cuba Gooding Jr. Up until now he’s never failed to move me when I’ve seen him in other films. But in The Devil’s Tomb he just does not deliver. Jason Connery I’ve seen act and I like his work. He has a little bit to go on the directing front, but hey, he has to be given some decent material to work with.

My final verdict on The Devil’s Tomb? Put it back under the sand where it came from. For me a film has to be bad if all I can say during the end credits is, “Huh. So that’s it then.”

They didn’t like the movie either…