The biblical story of Noah’s Ark is one that’s had very limited serious overtones in the movies. Perhaps because of the animal involvement, Hollywood has been too tempted to make animated adaptations or versions that have a more unapologetically feel-good quality. Disney managed to make two animated shorts based on Noah’s Ark, one as a 1933 Silly Symphony in black and white, and another as a surreal stop-motion short in 1959. Then there was the world of TV that’s managed to bring some interesting takes in recent years, including the last person you’d expect to play Noah: Jon Voight.
Even Russell Crowe as Noah might not have been your first choice when hearing about Darren Aronofsky’s new dramatic telling. If Crowe likely surprises us as he always does with his performances, this more unconventional interpretation from Aronofsky might bring interest back to two forgotten movie adaptations made on opposite ends of the movie history timeline. One was straight out of the old movie studio system, and the other out of Argentina.
Both managed to bring a fresh metaphorical perspective to the story of the great flood that no one else has dared try until now.
“Noah’s Ark” (1928)
This early partial talkie came out of Warner Brothers right after “The Jazz Singer” demanded movies be changed to all-talking extravaganzas. Originally planned as a complete silent, things were changed at the last minute and partial talking sequences were added around silent scenes during the 1929 re-release.
It didn’t hurt the box office, despite partial talkies already expected by ’29 and full talkies being produced en masse. More than the talkie aspect, this was the first movie ever produced to feature the story of Noah’s Ark. And this one may be a singular example based on how it took a refreshing examination by connecting the modern day with what happened during the flood.
Modern day in this context was the film’s depiction of World War I with the plot of an American playboy hooking up with a German theater actress. The film switches to the Noah’s Ark story during a pivotal scene where the characters are trapped under a demolished building. A minister immediately compares the overall war to Noah’s Ark, with the flow of blood representing the flood.
If that sounds like a stretch, it’s a compelling connection that switches to the same actors playing the characters of biblical times. Primarily, it focuses on King Nephilim, the fate of his minions, plus Noah and his handmaiden Miriam escaping to the safety of the ark.
The film is hard to find on DVD now, though it’s been restored as close as possible in recent years. It’s worth seeking out if only for the interesting point of view, plus a flood sequence that reportedly injured many of the actors on set.
“El Arca” (2007)
We haven’t seen many film depictions of Noah’s Ark from South America. This one is done in Spanish with an interesting twist we hadn’t seen before: The animal perspective. While this may picture another talking animal tale, this one was quite good through the use of animation. South America doesn’t usually sugarcoat things in their movies, and this one assumed kids wouldn’t be perplexed with its sophisticated jokes thrown in.
Yes, this is really a comedy that’s suitable for adults and kids alike. It’s a lesson to learn in other talking animal films here in America, both animated and live action. The film also gives a fresh perspective on the relationship between the animals and Noah’s adherents. There’s even an interesting twist statement at the end from the predators after leaving the ark post-flood.
This has an English-language edition with a different voice cast, including some unknown American voice actors. The English version doesn’t necessarily ruin the clever dialogue. Regardless, watch the trailer on Youtube to decide for yourself.
With Aronofky’s version of “Noah” already ruffling some feathers, it shows that new perspectives on biblical tales are a tough concept to market. You now have proof filmmakers have at least tried before without the world coming to an end.