‘Noah’ Film Attempts To Woo Christians…and Everybody Else

Hollywood has recently learned that Christians go to movies. Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion of the Christ, was wildly successful at the box office and on DVD. Filmmakers, nowadays working more outside of Hollywood than within, walked away seeing dollar signs. They had learned the valuable lesson that they had been ignoring and even offending an extremely large audience base.

On top of that, they had overlooked a famous book of non-copyrighted, interesting stories that appealed to people on a deeper level than entertainment alone.

Where The Passion of the Christ was at first considered controversial and risky, it paved the way for the filmscape of today where a production of the Old Testament story of Noah’s Ark commanded a budget of more than $125 million dollars and an “A List” cast consisting of Russell Crowe, Emma Watson, Anthony Hopkins, Jennifer Connelly, and others of similar notoriety.

The film industry is doing more than just testing the waters, they’re banking on a flood of Christians, Jewish people and others who respect the Old Testament to buy tickets to see Noah. And they’re expecting those who don’t consider themselves to be religious to buy tickets to watch what can only be called an epic adventure. See the trailer below:

According to the Hollywood Reporter, director Darren Aronofsky first contemplated doing the Noah film back in 1998 after his indie film, Pi. Perhaps the demonstration of religious film goers, combined with recent findings of ancient, lost cities under the oceans, brought eventual support for Aronofsky’s vision. It certainly wasn’t met with enthusiasm immediately. When he shared his vision with producer Lynda Obst, her reaction seemed to border on shock when she replied by asking Aronofsky, “Do you realize what you’re getting into?”

What exactly has he gotten into? Consider a discussion this author had with someone well connected to the Twilight saga production.  When film production first started on the best-selling teen vampire series, the story on the big screen was going to be quite different than the book.  Bela, for example, was going to be a track star at a certain college in Utah. Far from the small town of Forks, Washington and much different than the accident-prone Bela of the book. Characters who were important in the book were going to be left out because they were considered to be distracting. But, according to my sources, a new producer entered the scene and reminded them of the film The Golden Compass. It, too, had been based on a successful novel series. Movies are often made about successful novels because the story has already proven itself to be successful and because it brings with it its own fan base. But, in the case of The Golden Compass, the film was so significantly different from the book that fans felt they were seeing a different story. It angered them. They felt cheated. They were fans of the actual story, not the film adaptation that, essentially, was something different.

So a world-wide sensation like Twilight would bring with it an audience. A very passionate audience. And should the story be changed that audience would likely revolt by refusing to see the film and telling other fans to stay home. Production, I’m told, moved forward with the goal of being true to the story. At least far more true than originally considered. And it paid off.

Now enter the year 2014. The Bible based films Son of God and Noah come with high-profile actors and real blockbuster budgets.  And, at least if we follow the money trail, it appears the industry has learned a lesson from Golden Compass. One that applies doubly as strong for a film based on the best-selling book in history. Filmmakers appear to have learned that Christians and Jewish people are more than just fans of the Bible. Faith trumps fandom. If Noah and Son of God are going to make back their budget and turn a profit, faith groups will need to feel that the film was loyal to the text. The Noah film might have learned that lesson. 

According to Hollywood Reporter, Paramount, the film’s production company, insisted on conducting test screenings while the film was still a work in progress. But the final product, though apparently more accepted by Christian viewers than some of the original scenes, still comes in part from Aronofsky’s imagination.

Paramount’s Rob Moore says, “[We’ve] been very effective in terms of communicating to and being embraced by a Christian audience. This movie has a lot more creativity to it. And therefore, if you want to put it on the spectrum, it probably is more accurate to say this movie is inspired by the story of Noah.”

At the same time, he says the film reflects “the key themes of the Noah story in Genesis — of faith and hope and God’s promise to mankind.” The studio is aware that a vocal segment of Christian viewers might reject the film’s over accuracy. Still, Moore says, “Our anticipation is that the vast majority of the Christian community will embrace it.” (Source)

As also pointed out by Moore in the Hollywood Reporter interview, they learned in testing the films in front of Christians that people didn’t know a lot of key details from the biblical account. One example Moore mentioned was that after the flood the Bible says that Noah went away by himself and got drunk (read it here). When the film was screened by Christians, many of them  seemed to assume that part was something the film added. That might suggest some viewers may take offense even to parts where the film is literal to the Bible.

So it’s difficult, at this point, to say if Paramount learned a lesson from The Golden Compass or not and if Christians will embrace Noah. After all, the biblical story of Noah isn’t heavy on details. A man builds an ark as commanded by God, gathers animals and his family and survives a catastrophic flood. We’re provided minimal dialogue. Little is said about the reactions of the surrounding people in their last moments as they realized the end of the world was coming. Almost nothing is said of the family discussions and the desperation, even darkness, that might have come over Noah as he realized the people of the world would die and that he and his family were the only ones who would be spared.

Will Christians accept that other parts of the story are open to imagination in order to “work” on the big screen? We will find out.