DARREN Aronofsky is no by-the-book filmmaker, and even if that book happens to be the Old Testament, nothing is sacred. And so his retelling of the story of Noah's Ark is far removed from anything you may have learned in Sunday school. It is loosely (very loosely) based on the biblical version but when it comes to apocalyptic visions, fire and brimstone and the mother (or Father, in this case) of all deluges, Aronofsky may have the edge.
Noah, his epic tale of the greatest flood on earth and the man assigned by God to reboot the human race, is big, bold and way over-the-top, going well beyond the boundaries of standard revisionist fantasy. As a work of cinematic art however, the film has its kick-ass moments, with impressive spectacles of computer-generated hordes (both animal and human) on the move, an ark of, um, biblical proportions and a larger-than-life portrayal of Noah by Russell Crowe.
To borrow a phrase from an old football coach, the Book of Genesis is not just about matters of life and death - it's far more important than that. Because Noah's story resonates across different major religions, Aronofsky's film was always likely to confuse, alienate and possibly offend both believers and non-believers alike (it's been banned in several countries).
In the same way that The Passion of the Christ (2004) controversially brought imagined scenes and non-biblical elements to the big screen, Noah, with a script by Aronofsky and Ari Handel, will be criticised by purists for taking liberties with the source material but well, that's why creative licence (and a disclaimer at the start) is the prerogative of directors and movie studios.
Way before Moses, Abraham and Jose Mourinho, Noah is The Chosen One and his mission in life is somewhat weightier than say, winning the Champions League. Aronofsky's symbolism-filled film includes stylised scenes of The Creation and picture-perfect landscapes and begins with a snake (effective in 3D) in the Garden of Eden before moving on to Noah - a man with a direct line to heaven.
The end of the world is nigh and the Creator will punish Mankind for its multiple sins, which include rape and pillage and (in a nod to environmentalists) stripping the land of precious minerals. Noah (Crowe) has been tasked with saving innocents (animals only) from the coming apocalypse. It's a massive burden for one man but he's the right guy for the job and he takes to the task with zealous enthusiasm.
"The storm cannot be stopped, but it can be survived," says Noah, knowing that his wife and family are the only others with tickets to a new life. There are to be no exceptions - it will be painful, but it will be just. Noah's lack of compassion bothers wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) and second son Ham (Logan Lerman), who frets that he won't be able to start a family of his own. Oldest boy Shem (Douglas Booth) has already hooked up with Ila (Emily Watson), a girl who has lived with the family from young.
The film's overall mood is sombre but Noah's grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins, made up to look not a day over 900) adds a welcome note of levity to the proceedings, imparting some Yoda-like words of wisdom to the family and an undisguised craving for berries.
There are times when Noah resembles a summer blockbuster more than a serious portrayal of a complex man, especially when the Watchers - fallen angels in the form of unwieldy rock-encrusted monsters (voiced by Frank Langella and Nick Nolte) - play significant roles in the action. There's also a major heavy (a descendant of Cain played by Ray Winstone) who turns Ham against his father and isn't squeamish when it comes to depleting the ark's animal stock.
There will be blood and destruction in Noah, and a fair amount of anguished theological debate (most of it one-directional) as well. This modern-day interpretation of an ancient death-by-water parable will provoke debate of its own but Aronofsky makes no excuses for the path he chooses. Noah doesn't always make sense but it succeeds in engaging the senses in a way few movies do - and that's a good thing.