NEW YORK (AP) — In the beginning of their work together on "Noah," director Darren Aronofsky made Russell Crowe a promise: "I'll never shoot you on a houseboat in a robe and sandals with two giraffes popping up behind you."
Decades after Cecil B. DeMille's "The Ten Commandments" and "Ben-Hur," Aronofsky has renewed the tradition of the studio-made, mass-audience Bible epic, albeit as a distinctly darker parable about sin, justice and mercy. While much of his "Noah" is true to Scripture, it's nothing like the picture-book version many encounter as children.
"The first time I read it, I got scared," the director says. "I thought, 'What if I'm not good enough to get on the boat?'"
It's an altogether unlikely project: a $130 million Bible-based studio film made by a widely respected filmmaker ("Black Swan," ''Requiem for a Dream") few would have pegged as a modern-day DeMille. In the lead-up to its March 28th release, "Noah" has been flooded by controversy, with some religious conservatives claiming it isn't literal enough to the Old Testament and that Noah has been inaccurately made, as Aronofsky has called him, "the first environmentalist."
"Noah" is a culmination of the shift brought on by Mel Gibson's independently produced "The Passion of the Christ," which awakened Hollywood with its unforeseen $612 million box office haul in 2004. In the time since, Hollywood has carefully developed closer ties to faith-based communities, (Sony and 20th Century Fox have set up faith-based studios targeting evangelicals).
Yet the debate about "Noah" proves that it can be tricky to satisfy both believers and non-believers, and that finding the right intersection of art, commerce and religion is a task loaded with as much risk as potential reward.
A lot is at stake, and not just for "Noah" and distributor Paramount Pictures. In December, Fox will release Ridley Scott's "Exodus," starring Christian Bale as Moses.