The ‘least biblical film about Noah ever made’ faces a deluge of criticism from religious groups

Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have already banned the film with Egypt, Jordan and Kuwait expected to follow suit

Noah, the $125m blockbuster starring Russell Crowe described by its director as the “least biblical biblical film ever made”, is having to navigate choppy waters as religious groups raise opposition to the adaptation while some countries have already banned it. 

The epic retelling of the biblical flood story was a gruelling shoot, with filming having to be postponed when the set was threatened by Hurricane Sandy. Director Darren Aronofsky also had to battle with studio heads over the final cut.

Now it faces further issues as Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have banned the film with Egypt, Jordan and Kuwait expected to follow suit. The Muslim countries are furious over the movie’s portrayal of a prophet, saying it “contradicts the teachings of Islam”. The Egyptian Sunni Muslim institute Al-Azhar said it prohibited the screening of movies showing such figures and said the film would antagonise the “feelings of the faithful”.

While studio Paramount Pictures might have hoped for support from Christians in America ahead of the film’s release, it appears to have been mistaken. A series of religious conservative groups criticised the portrayal for not following the Bible story closely enough, with some complaining that the character of Noah was “too dark” after seeing early screenings.

The complaints prompted the studio to put a disclaimer on its marketing materials saying the film was “inspired by the story of Noah. While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values, and integrity of a story that is the cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide”.

Russell Crowe as Noah: the first environmentalist, according to the film’s director (Allstar/Paramount) Russell Crowe as Noah: the first environmentalist, according to the film’s director (Allstar/Paramount)
There have also been reports of clashes between the director and the studio, which feared the film would inflame conservative Christians. Paramount, which had final cut approval, made a series of re-edits of the finished film to make sure it would appeal to religious viewers.

While Aronofsky’s version came in at two hours long, the studio later tested an 86-minute alternative version featuring a montage of religious figures at the beginning and a Christian rock song at the end. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this version did not test well and the studio later returned to Aronofsky’s vision. “They tried what they wanted to try and eventually they came back,” he told the Hollywood Reporter. “I was upset of course.”

The director added: “ Noah is the least biblical biblical film ever made. I don’t give a f*** about the test scores.”

Aronofsky, whose films include Black Swan and The Wrestler, has wanted to make the film for 15 years, and said he would use it to address environmentalist themes, claiming that Noah was “the first environmentalist”.

The director said the film was made for “believers and non-believers”, telling Variety: “I’m more concerned about getting non-believers into the theatre or people who are less religious.” The film co-stars Jennifer Connelly and some British talent, including Sir Anthony Hopkins, Ray Winstone and Emma Watson.

It opens in the UK on 4 April but had its world premiere in Mexico City this week. Aronofsky told the audience: “Anything you’r e expecting, you’re f***ing wrong.” The studio has placed a strict embargo on the reviews until the US release later this month.

It is hardly the first religious film to incite criticism. The Last Temptation of Christ, directed by Martin Scorsese, faced a wave of protests and boycotts in the US and was banned in countries including Mexico and Turkey when it was released in 1988. Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004) was also controversial due to its graphic portrayal of torture and crucifixion, but it went on to become a global box office hit, taking $612m.

This year is to see a slew of religious films open in the US including Son of God, Heaven is for Real, starring Greg Kinnear, and Exodus, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Christian Bale as Moses.  

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