Filmmaker Darren Aronofsky has wanted to make a big screen adaptation of the Biblical story of Noah for a long, long time. With a massive hit on his hands with Black Swan, the director finally had the clout necessary to get a big studio to sign off on his ambitious vision, and thus Noah was born with Paramount backing the project. The film went through a relatively smooth shoot, but late last year we learned that Paramount was worried about how Aronofsky’s vision for the film would go over with audiences and had decided to start test screening its own cuts of the film. Unsurprisingly, Aronofsky was none too pleased that unapproved rough cuts of his film were screening for audiences, and we were left to wonder whether the finished product would truly be the filmmaker’s passion project as intended or a compromise of sorts with the studio.
Luckily it looks like it will be the former, as a new profile of the film in THR reveals that Aronofsky’s cut will be the version released. Hit the jump for more, including plenty of comments from Aronofsky himself.
As part of a very revealing and fascinating profile in THR (which confirms the film’s 2 hours and 12 minutes runtime), the post-production battle over Noah has now become a bit more clear. Apparently, Paramount became worried about how audiences would react to a decidedly artistic take on the material during post-production (what else do you expect when you hire Darren Aronofsky?), so they settled on crafting different cuts of the film to screen for test audiences. Speaking with the outlet, Aronofsky admitted that he wasn’t happy about the decision:
“I was upset – of course. No one’s ever done that to me… I imagine if I made comedies and horror films, [test screenings] would be helpful,” he says. “In dramas, it’s very, very hard to do. I’ve never been open to it.” The studio also insisted that test audiences are sophisticated enough to evaluate movies without finished effects in place. “I don’t believe that,” he says.
The results of the test screenings were not exactly enthusiastic, as Paramount began hearing complaints from religious viewers expecting a more literal adaptation of the story. Paramount vice chair Rob Moore discussed some of the studio’s qualms about the film:
One worry, says Moore, was that “significantly conservative folks who have a more literal expectation” from a movie about Noah might turn against it and become hostile. “There are some people where it’s a very emotional experience of, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa — a Hollywood studio is trying to tell a story from my faith, and I am skeptical,’ ” he says. “Not necessarily 50 percent of the people, but maybe 10 or 20 percent. And those people can be very noisy.”
To Aronofsky’s credit, he wanted to make a faithful yet unique adaptation that would appeal to everyone:
“I had no problem completely honoring and respecting everything in the Bible and accepting it as truth…” For nonbelievers, he wanted to create “this fantastical world a la Middle-earth that they wouldn’t expect from their grandmother’s Bible school.” At the same time, he wanted to make a film for those “who take this very, very seriously as gospel.”
“We wanted to smash expectations of who Noah is. The first thing I told Russell is, ‘I will never shoot you on a houseboat with two giraffes behind you.’ … You’re going to see Russell Crowe as a superhero, a guy who has this incredibly difficult challenge put in front of him and has to overcome it.”
Though Paramount did learn a few key things from their test screening process, namely clarifying that the characters played by Emma Watson and Logan Lerman are married, other complaints were difficult or impossible to address. Some simply had incorrect recollections of the flood story, finding the film’s Noah too conflicted and objecting to a scene in which the character gets drunk—which is straight from the Bible.
In the end, though, Paramount’s cuts of the film tested no better than they had hoped, and the finished product will indeed be the filmmaker’s iteration of the project:
“They tried what they wanted to try, and eventually they came back. My version of the film hasn’t been tested … It’s what we wrote and what was greenlighted.”
Aronofsky goes on to say that he hopes all audiences will give the pic a fair shot:
“For people who are very literal-minded, it would be great to communicate that the themes of the film are very much in line with the themes of the Bible — ideas about hope, second chances and family. If they allow that, they’re going to have an incredible experience with the movie. If they don’t allow it, it’s theirs to lose.”
Passion projects are tricky for any filmmaker to pull off, mostly because they’ve been obsessing over the details for years and find it hard to perfectly execute this very specific vision. Hopefully Aronofsky has put together the project that he intended to make at the outset. We’ll all find out together when Noah opens in theaters on March 28th. Head over to THR to read the full profile, which is full of fascinating tidbits.