There was an interesting juxtaposition of imagery in the trailers preceding the matinée showing of “Noah” that my wife and I attended last weekend. And it couldn’t help but affect the experience.
It’s always a kick to see what movies are deemed appropriate to be hawked before the film you’ve come to see. Before “Non-Stop” we saw trailers for a string of upcoming action films, which is logical. But before “Veronica Mars” we saw trailers for a string of upcoming horror movies, which seemed not just random but, well, odd.
This time, we expected a couple of big-budget action-film trailers, since “Noah” is filled with mayhem. But we thought we might also see previews for “Mary” or “Exodus,” since those are also Bible-based movies headed for theaters before the end of the year.
Instead, there were nothing but spring- and summer-blockbuster superhero/fantasy flicks — “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “Hercules,” “The Maze Runner,” “Transcendence” and “Transformers: Age of Extinction.”
Well, OK, whatever. The studios are just trying to ring the bell for their biggest upcoming films, which, to them, are all PG-13 “event” movies just like “Noah.”
Also shown was a trailer for the next Cinemark classic-movies cycle, which includes Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 “The Ten Commandments” and the 1959 multiple-Oscars-winner “Ben-Hur.”
So once “Noah” got going, it was difficult not to think of it in comparison to any other Hollywood action flick, as well as older movies that were more respectful of their biblical reference points.
“Noah,” it is safe to say, is not your mama’s Bible epic. Actually, it’s truly weird. In fact, it wanders so far afield from scripture that it seems to have sprung from some other book. Perhaps one by J.R.R. Tolkien.
Let’s start with the film’s opening line, “In the beginning, there was nothing,” which is later articulated by Noah himself. That should give you some idea of where we’re going.
The word “Creator” replaces “God,” and the Creator doesn’t speak to Noah, instead giving him visions or hallucinations, which Noah must interpret. And far from understanding he’s been chosen by God because of his righteousness, Noah has no idea what he’s supposed to do, so he seeks out his grandfather Methuselah, who is portrayed as some kind of magical shaman.
And why is the Creator going to destroy the earth? Not for sins of idolatry or murder or adultery, although they seem to be in evidence, but rather because of an abundance of meat-eating frackers.
Self-appointed king Tubal-Cain is apparently strip-mining the land. What equipment is he using in this primitive age? Who knows, but they must be somewhat advanced since he also employs a primitive rocket-launcher. (Later, Tubal-Cain will stow away on the ark and lead one of Noah’s sons to mutiny.)
Noah, his wife and their three bachelor sons, along with an adopted daughter, are vegans who have so much respect for the earth that when one of the boys picks a flower, he’s chided by his father. The villains are the only meat-eaters here, and animal sacrifice is never mentioned.
Noah is such a rabid environmentalist that when he builds the ark and gathers the creatures of the earth onboard before the great flood, he believes survival applies only to the animals, assuming that the Creator wants Noah’s family to die along with the rest of humanity once their task is complete. Yikes!
In the end, it is Noah’s wife who must explain to him what the Creator really intended.
Since Hollywood is so enamored with bleak, dystopian, apocalyptic movies these days, it was probably only a matter of time before someone would suggest, “Hey, what about Noah and the flood? Now there’s an Armageddon.” But even dystopian zombie movies are all about human survival.
There’s oh so much more — but at the top of the weirdness scale are the strange craggy creatures that appear to be primitive Transformers, all the more evident to us since we had just seen that trailer for the new Transformers movie. They are explained as “Watchers,” fallen angels, but they come off more like stop-motion rock monsters of the Ray Harryhausen variety, as if Noah is building the ark on Jules Verne’s “Mysterious Island” (or Tolkien’s Middle-earth).
At one point in the film, while his family and the rock monsters are working on the ark, Noah is confronted by Tubal-Cain, who says, “ you stand alone and defy me?” To which Noah replies, “I’m not alone.”
When I saw this in the “Noah” trailer a few months ago, it seemed that he was referring to having God on his side. Uh, no. He’s talking about the rock monsters.
As a result of all this, my wife and I decided to re-watch the 1966 John Huston film “The Bible,” of which the Noah segment remains the best aspect. Huston himself plays Noah, and the 40-minute tale is much more faithful to the text.
But the most striking aspect is seeing Huston and friends wrangling real live animals. In “Noah,” there’s no intimate interaction with the animals (save one unfortunate rat). The creatures are simply put to sleep for the voyage by some magic potion Noah disperses.
And between the animals and the rock monsters and various other CGI moments, you have to wonder if this would qualify for the Oscars under any category besides best animated feature.
Is there a worst animated feature category?
Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent’s Guide to Movie Ratings." Website: www.hicksflicks.com