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In Biblical Blockbuster, Aronofsky Rocks Noah's Boat

Thousands of computer-generated animals flock to the ark. The digital rendering was "really complex and intense," director Darren Aronofsky says.
ILM, Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
Thousands of computer-generated animals flock to the ark. The digital rendering was "really complex and intense," director Darren Aronofsky says.

The Biblical tale of Noah's Ark isn't the likeliest of big screen blockbusters. But that didn't stop Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain, Black Swan) from pitching it to a Hollywood studio.

"When I first went to the studio, I said, 'Hey, what's the only boat more famous than the Titanic?' " he tells NPR's Kelly McEvers.

Noah, directed and co-written by Aronofsky and starring Russell Crowe, hit theaters this month. To tell the story, Aronofsky says he went back to the texts, and interpreted from there. Still, he says, "First and foremost, it's about entertainment.

"You know, that's my job is to make something entertaining and thrilling and exciting," he says. "What I always try to do is do something different, and I think this is very different from the normal blockbuster."

Interview Highlights

On his interpretation of the story

I think most people think of the story as the guy with the long white beard and the animals two by two, and it's a jolly story, a nursery story for kids. But for me, I kind of sympathize with the people who didn't get on the boat, thinking maybe there's wickedness in me and I wasn't good enough. So I always found it as a very scary, a first apocalypse story.

On animals in the film

We really didn't want to work with live animals for a couple reasons. First, I don't believe in it. The other issue is, you know, exotic animals that are in captivity resemble more of a zoo than the actual animal kingdom.

I knew the only way we could do it was by working in the digital medium, and it's pretty hard. There's one shot in the film of the mammals, and because of all the hair and all the detail, it was the longest rendering shot that ILM — Industrial Light & Magic in San Francisco — ever did. It took a million processing hours, and they said if it was one computer, it would've taken 38 years to create. So it was really complex and intense.

On adding drama to Noah's story

What we really wanted to do was to add dramatics to a story that ... doesn't have that much drama. But there is a really interesting character arc ... which is God's arc. He goes from a place of wanting justice — it's an angry God who is willing to destroy his creation even though it grieves him in his heart. And he gets of course to a place of mercy, to the first rainbow ... and forgiveness and grace.

And since Noah is very, very much along for the ride for the telling of the story, we decided to sort of assign that character arc to Noah.

On controversy surrounding the film

We knew that it would be an issue. In Islam there's a tradition of not portraying — really you're not supposed to portray any living form in art, but I imagine doing one of the prophets was potentially a bigger problem ... In the United States it seems like everyone who had issues with it, as soon as they see the film, are now embracing it, so that's a good thing.

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