Waters rising

Darren Aronofsky’s dramatic re-imagining the Old Testament’s flood myth

Rated 3.0

Cinemark 14, Feather River Cinemas and Paradise Cinema 7. Rated PG-13.

Darren Aronofsky’s reframing of the Old Testament tale of Noah and the flood is not quite like any other Biblical epic you’ve seen at the movies. It has the grand scale and sweep that’s always been part of such extravaganzas, from Cecil B. DeMille right on up to the present, but it also has unexpected jolts of dramatic intensity and contemporary urgency to it.

In Aronofsky’s by no means irreverent re-telling, Noah is ferociously intent on completing the fearsome mission that “the Creator” has charged him with. For this Noah, the ark’s purpose is to preserve the animal kingdom for a fresh start from which human beings may be excluded. Thus, Noah (Russell Crowe) faces dramatic crises within his own family and must also face the moral and metaphysical challenges presented by a scruffy but surprisingly humanistic antagonist named Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone).

Crowe and Winstone, skilled character actors with obvious action-movie credibility, are just right for a film that means to mix large-scale action spectacle with a surprisingly intimate blend of moral and metaphysical drama. The character dramas develop into an intriguingly complex kind of parable, with Noah’s wife (Jennifer Connelly) and sons (Logan Lerman and Douglas Booth), his grandfather Methuselah (a gently magisterial Anthony Hopkins), and a soulful orphan lass (Emma Watson) all taking on special significance.

The action spectacle is impressive in scale but otherwise far less interesting. The CGI elements are often dull and perfunctory, especially in moments that might have been awe-inspiring or at least tumultuously poetic. One of the film’s imaginative additions to the story of Noah, fallen angels known as the Watchers who come to Noah’s defense, gets undone by the film’s unimaginative rendering of them as stone-age transformers.

The one great exception to all that is the production’s version of the ark—a vast, boxy structure built of wood, something like a gigantic shipping container set adrift and looking to be both primitive and indestructible.