The new "Noah" adaptation has drawn a lot of criticism from religious quarters, criticism that prompted the producers to attach a disclaimer to the movie that admits "artistic license has been taken." While the filmmakers believe the movie is consistent with the principles of the biblical story, they remind viewers that the "story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis."
Well, yes. And the original story is only five chapters and about 2,500 words long in the King James Version. That's not enough material to fill a two-hour movie, unless, of course, you're like Peter Jackson adapting "The Hobbit," in which case you've probably got another trilogy on your hands.
But this artistic license is what has people worried. Publicity surrounding the movie in the weeks leading up to its release has been dominated by headlines about how various faith groups perceive the adaptation of "Noah."
According to USA Today, organizations such as the National Religious Broadcasters and the American Bible Society have engaged in dialogue about the film with Paramount Pictures. Jerry Johnson, president and CEO of National Religious Broadcasters, wrote several guest posts published on Christianity Today about "Noah," including five positives and five negatives. Although he said it's "not a 'buy up a block of tickets' moment for churches," he recommended engaging rather than boycotting.
Elsewhere, talk show host Glenn Beck expressed his concern that "Noah" might pose a problem for children who see the film.
“This movie, if it becomes successful ... our children will look at that as being the Noah story," Beck told the Hollywood Reporter prior to seeing the film, "and no matter what you say, they will believe this version over the version that mommy and daddy are telling them or that old, dusty Bible is telling them, because this one will come alive in their imaginations.”
Beck later saw the film.
“If you are looking for a biblical movie, this is definitely not it," Beck's website The Blaze reported him as saying. "It’s not the story of Noah that I was hoping for. If you are going for that, you will be horribly disappointed.”
So should any book be adapted into a movie, then, at the risk of inaccurately portraying the text? Kids are still reading the Harry Potter books even though they have the Daniel Radcliffe movie versions. We underestimate our children if we think they are not capable of discerning the difference between what they read and what they see. And most of them will always tell you that the book was better.
Perhaps, then, the problem is that this is an adaptation of scripture, not fiction. And certainly cinematic adaptations can influence perceptions of biblical events in significant ways. For instance, if I get to the other side and discover that Moses does not, in fact, look anything like Charlton Heston, I’m going to be really bent out of shape.
But how many depictions of Jesus have there been on film? Some have been remarkable, but none have been so definitive that they compromise my own reading of the New Testament. On the contrary, many of them enhance my appreciation of the scriptures because they often provide insights I may have missed.
I recognize, however, that not everyone shares this point of view. Some maintain that certain stories are so sacred they should never be told outside the confines of the scriptures because the adaptations will fall short of the true story.
Well, of course they will.
That’s why I take the opposite view. I think these stories should be told as often as possible in every medium imaginable. That way, every interpretation is open for study and debate, and the weaknesses of one adaptation can be superseded by the strengths of another. Even a bad version of the Noah story will send people back to Genesis to see where the filmmakers got it wrong.
Isn’t that a good thing?
I’m not willing to write the film off without seeing it myself. All of those who watch it will probably see some things they like and some things they don’t, and a large chunk of the audience will likely spend some time rereading the scriptural source material to sort it all out.
That means more people will, because of this movie, read that “old, dusty Bible” Beck was talking about than would have otherwise. So, in that sense, even before this movie comes out, it’s already been a success.
Jim Bennett is a recovering actor, theater producer and politico, and he writes about pop culture and politics at his blog, stallioncornell.com.