Today, the official trailer for Darren Aronofsky's latest, Noah, has been released to the public, and has already garnered more than 400,000 hits on YouTube. It'll most likely see several million by the end of the week.
My first impression barely feels like an impression, because frankly, this trailer couldn't have been more predictable if it tried. Russell Crowe is apparently reviving his role as Russell Crowe, this time charged with a divine task that is as familiar to anyone as you could ask for from an original source. Expository bits of dialogue give us what we're waiting to hear; "He's going to destroy the world," "we build an ark," "I'm not alone," and so on, highlighted by an 'epic' orchestral score that's only to be expected for a movie of such Biblical proportions. We see a giant ark, we see a bunch of animals, we see a flood, and we see evil people getting killed by the flood. At the end, we even get a God's eye aerial shot of the flood waters reminiscent of the impossible tidal waves from every apocalyptic film ever released in the past five years.
What we are seeing here is nothing we haven't seen before, and that's exactly the point.
Trailers are designed by studios to give audiences what they want to see. And this big-budget adaptation of Noah's Flood has a very specific audience demographic in mind. Since the unprecedented success of Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ in 2004 and Walden Media's adaptation of Narnia in 2005, Hollywood's studios have woken up to the fact that Church-goers make up a large sum of ticket sales, and have scrambled to make adjustments to their marketing paradigm. Movements such as Grace Hill Media have taken it upon themselves to bridge the differences between corporate "secular" Hollywood and the Evangelical Church, understanding the insurmountable value of having pastors plug "faith-based" movies at at the pulpit and lobbying for flawless recommendations from websites like Movieguide. The formula generally works as follows: a large majority of Church-goers will go above and beyond to advocate "Christian movies", despite the actual quality of said movies, because they tend to view such efforts as important monuments in their objective to evangelize a secular, God-forsaken world. Churches will buy block tickets for Amazing Grace and Christian organizations will start their own marketing campaigns for Facing the Giants and Fireproof. It's a win-win: the studio makes a profit and Church-goers get to enjoy movies that shamelessly reaffirm their values.
It's no surprise that Paramount targeted large Christian conferences with an edit of the trailer before showing it to anyone else. A shaky-cam version was leaked from a private screening at one such event, and if you compare the two versions you'll notice that the screening version replaced the epic soundtrack with a popular worship song in the second half, as well as including a nondescript Bible verse from Genesis.
(On that note, it's a little unsettling that we can hear the audience cheering after Noah's character reveals that "God will destroy the world." I can only imagine how exciting the prospect of seeing a $120 million 're-discovery' of Hollywood destruction in a 'faith-based context' must seem to these people.)
That trailer was edited by a Grace Hill Media-type marketing campaign to show the demographic they were targeting exactly what they knew they wanted to see. Neither that trailer, or the official trailer released today give us an accurate picture of the film. If they had, there's a good chance that it would have been ferociously boycotted by Christian groups everywhere, reminiscent of the controversy surrounding Martin Scorses's release of The Last Temptation of Christ. Fundamental Christians tend to lose their minds when the Biblical narrative is subjected to artistic liberty.
How do I know Noah will stray from the Biblical narrative in a way that could incite controversy? Partly, I'm quite familiar with Aronofsky's vision for the film, which indeed strays from Biblical conventions in several notable ways. (There's an early release of the screenplay floating around somewhere on the Internet for those that are interested.) I'm equally familiar with his directorial style and go-to themes, counting several of his previous films among my favorites. In fact, anyone who is familiar with Aronofsky even a little bit is likely scratching their heads at why his name would show up in a trailer for a conventional looking Biblical epic.
The secret is that Darren Aronofsky does not direct conventional films. The trailer is misleading us.
Aronofsky is what you could call an auteur; an incredibly personal director with a unique style to call his own. He's used to working independently and with minimal budget, affording him creative risks that Hollywood would never allow. You might say, "but Paramount is producing, doesn't that mean that Aronofsky won't be allowed to color outside of the lines?"
The difference is that Noah is not Paramount's film. It's Aronofsky's. He wasn't hired on by the studio, he had a unique and personal vision for the film long before big money got involved. And it will remain his film.
If you're curious as to what an Aronofsky interpretation of Noah might look like, a good place to start would be his 2006 film The Fountain. In it, a Spanish conquistador is commissioned by a divinely Queen to search for the Tree of Life. He braves the hostile conditions of the New World, battling natives with moral certainty. When he finds the Tree, something unexpected takes place. (Spoiler Alert.) After consuming the Tree's life-giving sap, a sort of environmental recycling claims the conquistador as fertilizer, and he is consumed by the earth as flowers erupt from his body. He has given birth to new life.
Such themes are not far from Aronofsky's heart. He's quoted to have claimed the character of Noah as "the first environmentalist," and appears to use that motivation as a backbone for his story. This comment upset Christian consumers, apparently more fascinated with destruction than taking proper care of the earth?
Regardless, Aronofsky's Noah is not the Sunday School Noah. Reports of giant, six-armed angels invite the probability of a more mythical take on the story, again alienating Church-goers who prefer literalism. Aronofsky has already talked in excitement about his originally bizarre animals he also intends to put on the ark (notice how none of those showed up in the trailer). That, along with Russell Crowe's comments about his character, give us more then enough proof that the film released in March will be very, very different then what we're being led to expect.
And I, for one, am definitely okay with that.