The world is about to drown. It is the middle of the night on October 3, 2012 and I’m on the set of Darren Aronofsky‘s biblical epic, Noah. No one is a stranger to the name of the man who built an ark to save the creatures of the world after God decided to cleanse the Earth of sin by having it rain forty days and forty nights. There is no story of Noah without his ark, and I along with a group of other movie journalists have come to see the ark and watch the 400 extras who are clamoring to come on board. Unfortunately for those poor souls, they’ll never be able to get past the giants.
Giants, an ark, a deluge, and a human tale at the center—there’s a lot going on with Noah, and none of it has to do with a guy at the bow of the ship flanked by zoo animals. Hit the jump for my full report from the set, click here for my interview with star Russell Crowe, and click here for a behind-the-scenes featurette about the ark.
You can’t really miss a six-story ark. It’s the first thing we see as we arrive at the set at Planting Fields Arboretum in Oyster Bay, New York. The ark, in terms of height, is built to biblical specifications. It is 30 cubits high and 50 cubits wide, although this is based on what is generally agreed to be a cubit. The bible also specifies that the ark is 300 cubits long, and the ark will be lengthened digitally to meet that specification. At its current length, the ark is about 100 cubits long. The ark is also made to resemble gopher wood and pitch smeared inside and out. The production has also augmented the ark with wooden scaffolding created by the Starn Brothers, who have created bamboo projects in various art installations, which caught Aronofsky’s eye.
The ark drips with the real rain that has covered New York earlier in the day. Further away the fake rain is about to drench stars Russell Crowe (who plays Noah), Logan Lerman (who plays Noah’s son, Ham), and 400 extras plus stand-ins for the giants. The scene they’re filming, which takes place during the day even though they’re shooting at night, has Ham charging through the rain and a crowd of people who have just realized, “Gosh. Maybe we should have taken more heed of the guy building the giant life-raft.” Ham rushes towards the ark, Noah runs after him, and the crowd is restrained by the giants.
On a set, rain is created by “rain bars”, which resemble the sprinklers you might see in the produce section of your local grocery. The only difference is the sprinklers on the set of Noah are enough to simulate a deluge that will wipe out almost all life on the planet. The unit publicist tells us that the rain bars are the largest ever created for a production, and I would hope so since rain is kind of an important part of the Noah story.
This will be one of the most epic scenes in the picture, not only because of the 400 extras, the massive rain bars, or the biblically correct ark. It’s also because of the giants. Giants are briefly mentioned in the story of Noah. From the King James Version:
“There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.”
In the New International Version, the giants are referred to as the “Nephilim”. In Noah, they’ll be called the “Watchers”. In Aronofsky’s film, Noah doesn’t build the ark on his own. He does it with the help of the Watchers, who reluctantly come to aid his cause, and later, protect the ark when the screaming masses want to come on board. The giants will be CG, but we didn’t find out what they would look like.
During a break in filming, we get a chance to speak with Crowe. During our conversation, we talk about how Aronofsky convinced him to star, the research he did on the project, the biggest challenges on this picture, shooting in Iceland, and more. Click here to read the full interview.
In between set-ups, we get a chance to speak with producer Scott Franklin, who has worked on all of Aronofksy’s films except The Fountain. Franklin tells us that the scene we’re watching takes place halfway through the film. Noah begins before the ark is built, we see the build up to building the ark, then we skip forward ten years, and the ark is finished. The movie will then follow through the rest of the Noah narrative: surviving the flood, finding land, and life’s new beginning. The antediluvian scenes were already shot in Iceland, and the set in Oyster Bay has been made to resemble the black pebble landscape where they filmed. We also learned that the sets will be practical, and the animals will be digital (they’re still counting the number of animals, notes Franklin).
We don’t get to see the interior of the ark, but we’re told that a large section of the film will take place inside of it. Audiences will get to see its intricacies like a catacombs, workshops, etc. The ark has also been structured into three stories (it’s six stories in terms of a normal building): bottom floor for mammals, middle floor for reptiles, and top floor for the birds. Next week they’ll begin shooting the interior. Scott also points out that their ark would float because of the ballast underneath.
Scott then has to take off to tend to some other matters, but shortly after Aronofsky stops by to briefly talk about the movie. He notes that the ark looks like a coffin, and that depicting it as a boat would be a mistake. It’s not meant to sail anywhere. It’s meant to survive a flood. “It’s carrying the living through the death of the world,” explains Aronofsky.
He tells us that he pitched Noah immediately after his debut feature, Pi. Unfortunately, the project was killed after the 1999 TV movie, Noah’s Ark starring Jon Voight, tanked. Then Aronofsky and co-writer John Logan finished the script for Noah the same weekend Evan Almighty came out. So once again, something out of their control sent Noah back into hibernation.
After our all-too-brief conversation, Aronofsky then returns to the set, and we watch some more of the filming. The highlight is how they get the extras riled up to charge the ark by playing Guns N’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle” over the loudspeakers. While nothing would amuse me more than having that song be in the actual film, I’m sure what Aronofsky will come up with will be entertaining in its own right.
Before we leave, the other reporters and I take a photo in front of the ark, and I hope the image gives you a good sense of the scale Aronofsky is going for on a practical level. Noah will be by far Aronofsky’s biggest film, and after what I saw tonight, I have full confidence that his vision not only follows the details of the ark or subverts the familiar biblical tale. This is epic, yes, but I believe it will be epic in a way that only Darren Aronofsky could do. Let the rains come.
Noah opens March 28th.