'Noah' epic criticised for green agenda and taking liberties with Bible
Hollywood studio adds "artistic licence" warning for "the least biblical biblical film ever made" starring Russell Crowe as Noah.
It is truly a Hollywood epic of biblical proportions, the original disaster story of the man chosen by God to undertake the greatest rescue in history before an apocalyptic flood engulfs the world.
But even before it opens in America this week and Britain on April 4, Noah, a $130 million blockbuster with Russell Crowe in the lead role, is already awash in a turbulent sea of controversy.
The film, packed with special effects based around a massive replica arc built in Long Island near New York, also stars Sir Anthony Hopkins as Methuselah and Emily Watson, the Harry Potter actress, as Noah's adopted daughter.
Noah's director Darren Aronofsky, a self-described atheist who made the Oscar-nominated hit 'The Black Swan', has described the movie as is "the least biblical biblical film ever made" and called 'Noah' "the first environmentalist".
According to one early review, the name "God" is not actually spoken at any stage.
Now, amid a wave of criticism from some Christian groups about its loose interpretation of a sacred script, the Paramount studio has taken the unusual step of issuing an "explanatory message" to accompany marketing material.
It notes that while the film is "inspired by the story of 'Noah'... artistic licence has been taken".
And it adds, for anyone unclear about the source material: "The biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis."
It has also highlighted praise for the film by some Christian leaders.
After advance test screenings, there were complaints that the film did not adhere strictly enough to the Old Testament verses and portrays Noah as an environmental crusader to deliver a secular ecological doomsday message.
"The insertion of the extremist environmental agenda is a problem," said Jerry Johnson, president of the National Religious Broadcasters group.
The Pope was dragged into the debate when Crowe tried but failed to secure a private audience during a recent visit to Rome to promote the film there.
The famously rabble-rousing star even sent a series of pleading messages to the pontiff's Twitter account urging him to watch the "fascinating" film.
The Vatican quashed both proposals. Rev Federico Lombardi, the spokesman, said that the Pope would not watch the film and nor would the Noah team Crowe be granted an audience.
Aronofsky's version of Noah is described as a "dark parable about sin, justice and mercy" in which Noah must decide who is good enough to make it on the boat that will save humanity.
But Paramount has now issued its note of "explanation" for viewers.
"While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values, and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide," it states.
Crowe has also addressed the criticisms, saying that the film was not intended to be a "Sunday school story" and would challenge viewers' understanding of the Bible.
Brian Godawa, a Hollywood screenwriter and commentator on Christian issues, was one of the first to raise religious alarms after seeing an early version of the script.
In an article titled Darren Aronofsky's Noah: Environmentalist Wacko, he said the director transformed a scriptural story into "environmental paganism" by blaming the Great Flood on man's "disrespect" for the environment.
It is not of course the first time that Hollywood epics have come under fire from some biblical scholars for their interpretation of the scriptures.
'Ben Hur' and 'The Ten Commandments' both faced similar criticism. And even strict adherents to the Bible note a problem in trying to make a film out of the story of Noah - it is just 40 verses in length, which would make for about 10 minutes on screen.
"Noah is a very short section of the Bible with a lot of gaps, so we definitely had to take some creative expression in it," producer Scott Franklin told Entertainment Weekly. "But I think we stayed very true to the story and didn't really deviate from the Bible, despite the six-armed angels."
In a effort to stymie the criticism, Paramount has just released a new eight-minute promotional video called Noah Featurette running praise from Christian leaders for the film.
"Movies aren't meant to preach. Movie's aren't sermons, and so if they can bring up the topic and start conversations, that's a good movie," said Karen Covell, founder of the Hollywood Prayer Network. "And this one made me ask questions."
Phil Cooke, a Christian media producer and consultant, who has advised the studio on the film, said: "Christians have to stop looking at Hollywood as the enemy, and start reaching out. Missionaries have discovered that you don't change minds by criticism, boycotts or threats. You change minds by developing a relationship and a sense of trust."
Christians in America and Britain will at least have the chance to reach their own conclusions about whether the film takes too many liberties with the account of Noah's ark and the great flood, a story that features in varying forms in many major world religions.
For cinema-goers in many Muslim countries, there will be no such opportunity. Noah has already been banned there because it depicts a Koranic prophet, a taboo in the Islamic world.