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Flood of imagery: 'Noah' movie goes beyond familiar Sunday school Bible story

It’s the message that matters in relating the tale of Noah, Oklahoman experts say about new film.
By Carla Hinton, Staff Writer Published: March 29, 2014
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An old man with a white beard and a staff to corral animals into a large wooden boat.

A benevolent elderly gentleman surrounded by giraffes, lions and elephants.

This may be how Noah and his ark has been described in Sunday School classes or how he has been depicted in children’s picture books.

Now moviegoers are being flooded with larger-than-life imagery that isn’t quite so benign.

Hollywood has brought the familiar biblical story to the big screen, complete with CGI animals and movie stars Russell Crowe and Anthony Hopkins.

Paramount Pictures’ “Noah” premiered in theaters nationwide on Friday, but controversy dogged the film prior to its debut — and much of the flap is due to the image of Noah depicted by Crowe. The Hollywood Reporter and other news outlets reported that the studio decided to include a disclaimer with its marketing materials after some Christian groups saw early film clips and expressed concern. The Hollywood Reporter said the movie has sparked debate among Christians because of the “intensity and darkness of the character” of Noah.

Paramount’s disclaimer seems designed to let audiences know upfront that the movie is a creative adaptation and not a literal one: “The film is inspired by the story of Noah. While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide. The biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis.”

The fact is the story in Genesis is extremely concise, so some creativity with the tale — especially by Hollywood — is hardly a surprise, one local biblical scholar said recently.

Kevin Hall, Ph.D., professor of biblical and theological studies and the Ida Elizabeth and J.W. Hollums chair of Bible at Oklahoma Baptist University, said many people probably grew up hearing more elaborate accounts of the story than the brief tale in Genesis and this likely helped shaped how they envision Noah and his ark.

Hall said he, like many other Christians, heard the story of Noah’s ark when he was a child in Sunday school.

“I’m guessing maybe when you’re telling children’s Bible stories you like to embellish it,” he said. “You’re not trying to change the story, you’re just trying to tell it in a way they can relate to it.”

The Rev. Blake Gideon, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Edmond, said his mother read him a children’s Bible story about Noah when he was a young boy.

“I guess my first impression of it would be what most people focus on: Noah getting all the animals into the ark and sometimes it’s portrayed as this very pleasant picture of all these animals getting saved and there’s this beautiful rainbow,” Gideon said.

He said the story of Noah’s ark is so popular as a biblical story to relate to children that many parents decorate their children’s nurseries with Noah’s ark-themed accessories.

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