Blu Reviewed: Noah

Andrew reviews the technical aspects and different versions of Noah that were released today. He's got wood.

Darren Aronofsky’s most expensive and divisive project to date, Noah, hits blu-ray today in several unique offerings.  There’s the standard edition which comes with the blu-ray and DVD copy, Best Buy’s limited Steel-Book edition, Wal-Mart’s edition which includes an unrelated CD of Christian Rock, and Target’s “Wooden-Box” edition (really just a paper sleeve) with an additional blu-ray of extras.  The standard blu-ray includes 3 making-of featurettes, while Target’s edition contains 3 more.   And for importers, there are several releases including the international release with the 3D retrofitting.  There are two reviews of the film on The Movie Sleuth site, including one by the editor-in-chief and a rebuttal witness by yours truly.  This blu-ray review, more or less, attempts to take a gander at the technical specifications of the transfer.

Beginning with image quality, it goes without saying Noah has been transferred flawlessly to blu-ray.  Aronofsky’s frequent collaborator, Matthew Libatique, creates a visual schema of gritty handheld close-ups and wide-angle symmetrical vistas of Icelandic landscapes.  While The Fountain was largely created on an elaborate film set, most of Noah was shot on natural locations, attempting to create a vision of the world untouched by man.  Much like The Fountain, a large portion of Noah is dimly lit, particularly when Noah and his family lock themselves within the ark.  Certain sequences also make use of Aronofsky’s trademark high-contrast grain, notably the opening shots of Adam and Eve eating from the fruit of knowledge.  Industrial Light and Magic’s visual effects are preserved beautifully on the high definition format.  Overall, it’s perfect and provides newcomers to blu-ray with a stellar demo disc to show off the benefits of HD television.

Equally strong, if not stronger, is the DTS-HD 7.1 surround sound mix.  Unlike most 7.1 mixes which are ultimately bumps of 5.1 mixes on DVD, Noah fully utilizes all 7 channels with a thundering soundtrack.  This is one of the few times where home video comes very close to replicating the theatrical experience.  Aronofsky’s unique sound design of natural and metaphysical sounds come through crystal clear on the format, and finally does make the argument that additional 2 sound channels of 7.1 have something to add over 5.1 audio.  Clint Mansell’s epic score, with notes harkening back to The Fountain, sounds as powerful as it did in the exclusive IMAX presentation (which sadly only lasted a week).  Dialogue, as expected, comes through loud and clear.  A perfect scene to demonstrate the full spectrum of 7.1 involves the birds entering the ark for the first time.  You are literally plunged into the middle of a massive flock of birds.  For those who currently only have 5.1 surround sound, Noah may persuade you to upgrade.

In terms of extras, the blu-ray release is a bit fractured in that the standard release contains 3 making-of featurettes, while the Target release contains 6 in total.  Aronofsky fans will be pleased that Noah’s extras don’t take the usual route of standard Hollywood promotional featurettes.  As with every Aronofsky release, his right-hand documentarian Niko Tavernise shoots and edits the making-of contents, covering virtually every aspect of the production.  There’s footage of the first day of production (which was rained out), location scouting, and the building of the ark set used in the film.  Target’s edition contains featurettes on the creation of ‘The Watchers’, the rock giants used to build the ark that freaked out ILM technicians and Paramount Pictures, and the creation of the film’s soundtrack and sound design.  There’s a bit more behind-the-scenes footage of the stoic Russell Crowe clowning around than you would expect.  It’s also interesting to see Aronofsky regular Mark Margolis on the Iceland locations, roughly performing his voice work for The Watchers. 

Given just how many different releases of Noah are coming out, I’d say take your pick based on how interested you are in the extras or your preference for cover art.  As for the disc itself, it’s absolutely flawless and presents a reason for home video owners to upgrade their equipment to take full advantage of the disc’s technical offerings. While Noah might not be Aronofsky’s strongest film for some, and one that continues to divide the world over (including being banned in some territories), it’s the first “Hollywood” effort in years to emerge with a sharp auteur behind it.  Whatever is onscreen wasn’t compromised by the bigwigs that be, and is totally Aronofsky’s unfettered vision of what it must have been like on Noah’s ark.

-Andrew Kotwicki