Darren Aronofsky is pushing himself in more ways than one with “Noah.” It’s his first big budget studio film (“The Fountain” for Fox cost a mere $35 million). And it’s certainly the grandest production he’s ever put together and arguably the most ambitious project of his career. With a $125 million price tag, the film is a fantastical retelling of the Biblical story, one that doesn’t adhere to the story you were told in Sunday School, and has what has recently been described as the most complicated shot in the history of Industry Light & Magic, the company working on the extensive visual effects. And it seems Paramount is now getting nervous.
THR reports that test screenings in New York, Arizona and Orange County—for Jewish, Christian and mixed religious groups—have been “worrisome” and “troubling,” prompting Paramount to suggest changes to the movie. As you might expect, Aronofsky has not been receptive. So what’s at issue? Apparently, it’s the third act, which is being deemed “a major challenge,” particularly as the studio wants to find a way not to “alienate the potentially huge Christian audience.” But the real surprise here is that Paramount suddenly has a problem with the film.
The material has already been published in graphic novel form, and moreover, details about its non-traditional take have been well known even before production began. As far back as 2011, Aronofsky made clear he saw the character of Noah as someone much more than the dude who built the ark. “It’s a great script and it’s huge…It’s a really cool project and I think it’s really timely because it’s about environmental apocalypse which is the biggest theme, for me, right now for what’s going on on this planet. So I think it’s got these big, big themes that connect with us,” he explained. “Noah was the first environmentalist. He’s a really interesting character. Hopefully they’ll let me make it. Noah was the first person to plant vineyards and drink wine and get drunk. It’s there in the Bible—it was one of the first things he did when he reached land. There was some real survivor’s guilt going on there. He’s a dark, complicated character.”
And in 2012, Hitfix published details from the script which described Noah facing “violent, supernatural elements” in addition to the rising waters, in “a violent, freaky, scary world” that featured, among other things, “eleven-foot-tall fallen angels with six arms and no wings.” Drew McWeeney wrote, adding: “He’s written this as a serious look at our place on this planet and our rights as citizens of the world. I think it would be hard to pin this version of the story down to any one faith, and in shaking off the dusty respectability of the accepted version of the story, Aronofsky and [Ari] Handel may have actually found a way to give it a stronger thematic resonance than I would have imagined.”
In short, it’s challenging, and now it seems that exact aspect of what made it special, seems to be at issue. However, not everyone sees it that way. “Darren is not made for studio films,” a source close the movie told THR. “He’s very dismissive. He doesn’t care about [Paramount’s] opinion.”
As for Paramount? They’re working with Aronofsky to find a solution, with vice chairman Rob Moore promising, “one version of the movie that Darren is overseeing” (though whether that means he’s retaining final cut or not isn’t clear). With a March 28, 2014 date set and not a piece of marketing out yet, it’ll be interesting to see if this can get resolved in time to promote the movie or if this is just the beginning of something more difficult.