Words: Christopher Forsley / Illustration: Cameron Forsley
From what I remember learning in catechism class, the entire story of Noah’s Ark is chronicled in only four chapters of the Bible’s Book of Genesis, and its plot-line is simple: Noah, after receiving detailed instructions from Mister Almighty, builds an ark to act as a safe-house against the Great Flood for his family and all the world’s animals. Although I’m sure there is more to the story than that, I’m not sure how Darren Aronofsky, with Noah (2014), successfully adapted four brief chapters of ancient text into a 136min Hollywood epic. Maybe Aronofsky was raised as an inquiring Jewish boy and knows a more detailed version of the Noah’s Ark story than the one I, who was raised as an unquestioning Catholic boy, know.
But it’s more likely that, in the telling of his Noah tale, Aronofsky made a series of fabrications and additions to the film’s biblical source material to fully express his vision. . . and to meet the demands of Hollywood producers and the special-effect addicted modern movie-goer. Directors of big-budget epics — whether it was Michael Bay with Pearl Harbor (2001) or Zach Snyder with 300 (2007) — are practically required to adapt their particular historic tales in a way that either perverts or ignores the source material in which their stories are based. And when such movies are attacked critically, it is the historically inaccurate alterations that are targeted and the director who made them that bleeds.
Blaming the failure of these films on any given director’s adaptation choices, however, is not only lazy but also irrational. Bay’s Pearl Harbor and Snyder’s 300 are critical failures not because of their historical inaccuracy, but rather because they do little more than highlight an array of one-dimensional characters speaking lines better suited for energy drink commercials. All the greatest book to film adaptations — such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), Fight Club (1999), The Graduate (1967), Blade Runner (1982), The Long Goodbye (1973), and 2001: Space Odyssey (1968) — are, like Noah, far removed from the source material that inspired them. While Noah doesn’t deserve to be compared to those great films, it does, like them, prove that a good adaptation is rarely an accurate adaptation.
I believe, since I was raised as a Catholic cinephile, that it is a cinematic sin to critically attack a book to film adaptation because its director took creative liberties. Just as a Double O agent has a license to kill, a director has a license to reinterpret. Different mediums require different approaches. When you go to the South of France, you don’t expect every starry night to look like a Van Gogh painting. . . so when you go to a Daniel Craig Bond movie, you shouldn’t expect the color of his hair to match the description in Ian Fleming’s novels. It is, in fact, Aronofsky’s unique interpretation of the Noah’s Ark story that makes his film one of the better biblical epics to ever come out of Hollywood. Continue reading