When the Catholic Church has approved of something printed about it or the Faith, the book or document bears a stamp that reads Nihil Obstat, a Latin phrase indicating “nothing stands in the way” of it being published, along with the Imprimatur of the local bishop, which means “let it be printed.”
While the upcoming big-screen version of the Biblical story of Noah doesn’t need any kind of permission or approval from any religious organization to be released, it appears that star Russell Crowe would at least like the Vatican to take a look, if not actually give it a papal thumbs up.
No one’s going to confuse the New Zealand-born and Australian-raised Crowe for a Catholic. He ruffled feathers in 2011 with a series of tweets primarily about decrying male circumcision, but also supporting abortion. He took to his @russellcrowe Twitter account Sunday to send a message to Pope Francis’ @Pontifex account.
First there was …
— Russell Crowe (@russellcrowe) February 24, 2014
And then …
— Russell Crowe (@russellcrowe) February 24, 2014
The Old Testament tale of Noah, the Great Flood and the Ark, is common to all three major Abrahamic faiths–Judaism, Christianity and Islam–but there’s not a great deal besides Crowe’s popularity and the promise of some spectacular special effects to immediately attract non-religious moviegoers.
But, if word starts to get out that the story takes excessive license with the original tale, that could negatively impact box-office receipts among the target audience.
Paramount and director Darren Aronofsky, who has said his interest in the story of Noah dates back to his childhood, have already taken exception to the accuracy of a Variety story titled “Survey: Faith-Driven Consumers Dissatisfied with ‘Noah,’ Hollywood Religious Pics.”
Even Catholic news sources criticized the source of this poll, which appears to be a religious pressure group called “Faith Driven Consumer,” whom National Catholic Register film critic Steven Greydanus wrote had been “feeling insufficiently pandered to by the producers of ‘Noah,’ (so they) ran a thoroughly unscientific Web poll of their fan base who hadn’t even seen the movie, and somehow got ‘Variety’ to go along with it.”
Greydanus also points out that Catholics (and many other Christians) don’t believe that these very ancient parts of the Bible were written in the same literary style, or should be judged by the same literary standards, as later parts, especially the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament.
In the same article, Greydanus writes: “Pope Pius XII in Humani Generis characterizes these chapters as ‘not conforming to the historical method’ as practiced by ancient as well as modern writers, calling them instead a ‘popular description of the origin of the human race and the chosen people’ in ‘simple and metaphorical language.'”
In short, these early documents describe actual events, but in a style closer to an epic poem than an account culled from eyewitness testimony or personal memory.
Those, however, who take a more literal approach to the entire Bible may have issues if the movie deviates from the written account in any significant way. There could also be moviegoers that dispute Aronofsky’s interpretation of the story or the characters if it differs wildly from their own.
Last fall, Paramount screened an early cut of the film for a largely Jewish audience in New York City, a Christian audience in Arizona, and an audience just drawn from the general public in Orange County, Calif. According to a story in The Hollywood Reporter, said reactions from the groups were “troubling” and “worrisome.”
These screenings came about a year after writer Brian Godawa got his hands on an undated copy of the script for “Noah” and wrote a detailed account of it on his blog, at one point describing the story as Aronofsky’s “political propaganda piece for environmentalism.”
In part, Godawa also said, “‘Noah’ paints the primeval world of Genesis 6 as scorched, arid desert, dry cracked earth, and a gray, gloomy sky that gives no rain”–sounding disturbingly like Los Angeles during “June gloom” — “and all this caused by man’s ‘disrespect’ for the environment. In short, an anachronistic doomsday scenario of ancient global warming.
“How Neolithic man was able to cause such anthropogenic catastrophic climate change without the ‘evil’ carbon emissions of modern industrial revolution is not explained. Nevertheless, humanity wanders the land in nomadic warrior tribes killing animals for food or wasteful trophies.
“In this oppressive world, Noah and his family seek to avoid the crowds and live off the land” — raising the question of who exactly in his time didn’t live off the land.
Godawa continues, “Noah is a kind of rural shaman and vegan hippy-like gatherer of herbs. Noah explains that his family ‘studies the world,’ ‘healing it as best we can,’ like a kind of environmentalist scientist. But he also has the fighting skills of an ancient Near Eastern Ninja (Hey, it’s a movie, give it a break).”
If all of this remains in the script–and it’s a very long way from a script to the final edit of a film–it not only makes absolutely no sense in historical or anthropological terms, it also has nothing to do with the biblical reason for the Flood, which was man’s sins against God, not man’s sins against Nature (which took kind of a beating in the Flood, if you think about it).
One man who’s cracked the code of making and promoting popular entertainment for the Christian audience is producer Mark Burnett, who’s releasing Son of God on Feb. 28. It’s the theatrical version of the New Testament section of his and wife Roma Downey’s hit History Channel miniseries The Bible. This fall they begin filming on the follow-up, called A.D., to premiere in 2015 on NBC.
Burnett admits not having seen or read much about Noah, but says of biblical projects in general, “You hope that they obviously understand the material and don’t change that. … It wouldn’t be a smart move, considering the cross-denominational Christian audience — it’s massive. Nobody would appreciate any biblical stories being changed.”
A check of Crowe’s account doesn’t reveal him tweeting to any other religious leaders to take a look at Noah, and so far, a perusal of @Pontifex doesn’t show a reply to Crowe.
Perhaps Paramount should book out a theater in Rome and send tickets to the pontiff. Passing out the rest of the tickets to local people who couldn’t ordinarily afford to see a new Hollywood release might also help.
Also a free hot dinner, and maybe some warm rain gear and boots.