It's always difficult to bring a spring release back around for the Oscar season, no matter the film's size or impact. But in a year like 2014 – which seems rather atypical as subversive comedy, American auteurs and blockbuster craftsmen all duke it out for room alongside the traditional, baitier offerings – anything can slip on through. That's what Paramount is surely hoping for with Darren Aronofsky's “Noah.”
The studio has its hands full at the moment, though. Dealing with an embarrassing release for Jason Reitman's “Men, Women & Children,” working hard to benefit a new relationship with a powerful, talented director in Christopher Nolan (whose “Interstellar” releases right in the middle of the awards circuit), prepping the release of newly acquired “Top Five” from Chris Rock, setting strategy for Rupert Wyatt's “The Gambler” and Ava DuVernay's “Selma” – it's easy to see why working on campaigns for early-year releases might not be a high priority. (Not to mention a crafts push for Michael Bay's “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” which will be warranted after the franchise took in another $1 billion; I wouldn't be surprised if part of the thinking on campaigning “The Gambler” is to keep star Mark Wahlberg happy and on board for another rock 'em sock 'em robots charge.)
42 West, the publicity firm that represents Aronofsky, has stepped in with a pretty significant campaign on behalf of the below-the-line elements of “Noah.” You've already seen interviews at HitFix with Patti Smith and Clint Mansell, on the turf for Best Original Song and Best Original Score respectively; both have been making the rounds, with cinematographer Matthew Libatique in the conversation as well. Sound mixers Craig Henighan and Skip Lievsay, meanwhile, joined Aronofsky at a post-screening Q&A for the film Friday night at the Academy's Linwood Dunn Theater.
“I'm really proud of what my team did,” Aronofsky said to me in an interview over the weekend. “It happened back in March so, how soon we all forget. But Mark Friedberg built an ark and Mike Wilkinson tried to redefine the biblical wardrobe and rethink that. And ILM basically stretched themselves profusely to figure out a way to bring all these different ideas we had to the big screen.”
The sound in particular stood out to me when I first saw “Noah” back in the spring. It was mixed in Dolby Atmos, which makes the deluge rain effects really intriguing. The film was largely shot on an exterior set on Long Island, one of the biggest builds for a film in New York in some time. Hurricane Sandy hit during the production, and Henighan revealed that some of the sound effects used in the film were recordings of the storm.
Here's a fun story Aronofsky conveyed at the screening Friday night:
“There was this incredible rain rig and at one point I was doing a take and something went wrong and the water was going and I had to reset and keep going. Then 30 seconds went by and 40 seconds and I started to see this special effects guy, like, jumping up and down in place and getting all excited. I thought he was having a heart attack or something. I thought I was using up all the water or something. I started to panic. And when I called cut he said, 'Yes! We broke all records: 40,000 gallons in one take!' But we recycled all the water, so we were responsible for it.”
(Check out the video at the top of this post for more on that.)
Regarding the Long Island build, Aronofsky continues to talk about how there is so much about the Noah story that is not detailed in the Bible, but one thing that is absolutely clear is the dimensions of the ark. And yet all religious artistic interpretations continue to portray it as a sort of ship with a keel and a houseboat and “two giraffes sticking out,” the director tends to joke. “We looked at pretty much every piece of religious art that we could find of the ark and we never found anyone representing exactly what's described in the Bible, which is just a box,” Aronofsky said. Friedberg is an unsung genius when it comes to Oscar nominations. If you don't believe me, go watch “Synecdoche, New York.” (He also designed “Selma,” incidentally.)
Then, of course, there is Aronofsky's longtime collaborator, DP Matthew Libatique. He picked up a much-deserved nomination for “Black Swan” and paints some absolutely striking portraits in “Noah.” His work melds with the top notch visual effects on display to forge a pretty unique look in what is, essentially, an entry in the otherwise well-worn biblical epic genre.
All of this comes months after the studio offered up free admission to the film for Academy members when it was in release, a rarity outside of the actual awards season.
So there's a lot for 42 West and Paramount to work with as they attempt to revive an early-year release. And why not? “Noah” made just north of $100 million and netted respectable reviews. Not only that, but in a year with such singular directorial visions as “Gone Girl,” “Birdman,” “Boyhood” and “Foxcatcher,” I would argue Aronofsky's bold, ballsy work deserves some respect, and maybe a serious look by voters as they go about assessing the season.