Action Adaptation

Surviving the Storm with a Blu-ray Review: Noah

August 4, 2014Ben Mk


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Come Hell or high water...

Biblical epics are nothing new in Hollywood — if anything, they're practically a tradition, dating back over a hundred years and spanning well over a hundred movies. But a biblical epic that departs from tradition — well, those are few and far between. And that's exactly how some may categorize director Darren Aronofsky's take on the biblical story of Noah, which courted controversy earlier this year for its interpretation of the well-known parable. Noah doesn't mark the first time the story has been brought to the big screen, but Aronofsky's vision will certainly go down as being the most memorable.

   

The Film For those who may not be very familiar with the original tale, the film begins with a brief prologue that places the story of Noah squarely in context with other stories from the Bible: namely the story of Adam and Eve and their three sons, Cain, Abel and Seth. As the eighth generation descended from Seth, Noah has inherited the weighty responsibility of protecting what remains of Creation. That places him firmly at odds with the descendants of Cain, who have been pillaging the planet for eight generations in their efforts to mine the lands for a precious mineral called tzohar and expand the borders of their great industrial civilization.

It’s a path ultimately destined for ruin, one that the Creator (which is how God is referred to in the film) obviously cannot allow to continue. And indeed, after experiencing a disturbing vision, Noah (Russell Crowe) becomes convinced of the Creator’s intent to unleash rains of apocalyptic proportions upon the world as a means of cleansing it of the destructive force of man, and that it falls on him to help carry out the Creator’s will on Earth.

This sets Noah on a journey that will forever define him in the eyes of himself, his family and the Creator. With the help of his wife, Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), his three sons, Shem (Douglas Booth), Ham (Logan Lerman) and Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll), his grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins), and Ila (Emma Watson), an orphaned girl whom they’ve taken into their family, Noah constructs a mighty ark that will not only shelter him and his family from the impending storm but will also serve as a sanctuary for a pair of every bird, animal and reptile on the planet, so that the world can start anew once the waters have receded.

So far, it sounds as though Aronofsky’s interpretation hews fairly closely to the recollection that many may have of the Biblical tale. However, this is where the similarities end — and where the controversy begins. It’s worth noting that Aronofsky and co-writer Ari Handel don’t do anything as drastic as alter the direction of the story, nor do they dilute its moral; what they do is flesh it out and inject it with additional themes and subplots that are sure to make the overall effort more relatable and entertaining for contemporary audiences.

That includes Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone) as a formidable adversary for Noah, family strife between Noah and his son, Ham, and a storm brewing within Noah himself, concerning what he feels dutifully obligated to do versus what he feels to be the merciful thing to do. But perhaps the most noticeable change that Aronofsky and Handel make to the story involves interpreting its fallen angels as giant, rock-like creatures (voiced by the likes of Frank Langella, Nick Nolte and Mark Margolis) who do battle with the descendants of Cain as if straight out of an installment of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy or HBO’s Game of Thrones.

Whether all these revisions amount to sacrilege or just plain old Hollywood movie-making magic at its finest will no doubt continue to be a topic for debate, but one never gets the sense that Aronofsky and Handel ever have anything but the utmost reverence for the source material.

Audio/Visual Fidelity Noah storms onto Blu-ray with a superb A/V presentation, bringing Aronofsky’s vision of the timeless story to life, often with jaw-dropping results. Aside from the epic size of the ark itself, which is shown in all its breathtaking glory, cinematographer Matthew Libatique fills the frame with vistas of lands left barren by the greed of men, making full use of the stark, volcanic beauty of Iceland, where the film was partially shot.

The thoroughly filmic hi-def image reveals a veritable flood of fine detail, from the faces of the cast and every last thread in the fabric of their costumes to the individual nooks and crannies in the Watchers’ craggy exteriors. Although the film’s color palette is generally restricted to shades of greys and earth tones, there are moments of vibrant color — and orange and blue sky at dawn, the lush, green foliage of a forest and the bursts of brilliant hues accompanying the formation of the universe — that appear especially impressive, thanks to strong contrast and saturation. And scenes set within the dimly lit interior of the ark — where a flickering flame is sometimes the sole light source — are never muddy, thanks to robust black levels and shadow detail.

The strength of the Blu-ray transfer is matched only by the quality of the disc’s DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack, which does ample justice to the film’s powerhouse sound design — from the battle cries of the Watchers and the sound of gushing water to the creaking of the ark and the sound of waves lapping at its hull — and the crescendoes of composer Clint Mansell’s epic score.

Special Features In addition to DVD and iTunes/UltraViolet digital copies of the film, Paramount’s Blu-ray release includes an exclusive, hour-long documentary chronicling the making of the film. Directed, shot, produced and edited by Niko Tavernise (who also created the making-of documentaries for Aronofsky’s other films, Black Swan, The Wrestler and The Fountain), this doc is divided into three 20-minute segments, each focusing on a different aspect of filming and featuring behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the filmmakers.

Iceland: Extreme Beauty is a look at the 5 weeks in the Summer of 2012 that Aronofsky and his cast and crew spent filming in Iceland, with special attention paid to the extreme remoteness of the locales and the harsh environmental challenges faced along the way. The Ark Exterior: A Battle for 300 Cubits shifts the focus stateside, to an arboretum in Oyster Bay, Long Island, where a full-scale ark was constructed for exterior shots (in particular, the rainy battle sequence involving the Watchers and the descendants of Cain). Lastly, The Ark Interior: Animals Two by Two takes things indoors, to Brooklyn’s Marcy Avenue Armory, for a tour of the massive sets built for shooting the interior of the ark, as well as for some insight into the story and the character of Noah.


The Bottom Line Although purists may feel the temptation to avoid Noah on account of the blockbuster embellishments that have been added to its narrative, there’s really nothing that should be considered overtly controversial about this new take on the age-old tale. In fact, one might even argue that Aronofsky's epic is better for them, as it upholds the spirit of the source material while retelling it in a manner that’s sure to enthrall modern audiences. Likewise, Paramount’s Blu-ray release is nothing short of enthralling. And with a flawless A/V presentation and a high-quality assortment of bonus features, that makes Noah a new high-water mark for Biblical epics on Blu-ray.  Ben Mk

Disc Breakdown
The Film  —  
Audio/Visual Fidelity  —  
Special Features  —  








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