Vatican Newspaper Blasts 'Noah,' Calling Film a 'Lost Opportunity'

VATICAN CITY – Noah star Russell Crowe pushed hard in March for a meeting that could at least appear to be an endorsement of the Biblically themed blockbuster from Pope Francis and the Vatican. According to Thursday’s editions of the Vatican newspaper Avvenire, he didn’t get it.

In the Vatican’s first official word on the popular but controversial Darren Aronofsy film, Avvenire called Noah “A lost opportunity, Noah without God.” It went on to say the film told a story colored the story “ecologically, and vaguely new age, transforming the Biblical tale into a missed chance.”

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Crowe, Aronofsky, producer Scott Franklin, and Paramount vice-chairman Rob Moore all traveled to the Vatican on March 19 following two weeks of social media lobbying from Crowe aimed at cajoling the pope into watching the film. In the end, the team briefly met the pontiff, who blessed them -- along with 40,000 other people in St. Peter’s Square -- but the film was not discussed.

The events garnered a spike in attention for the film on social media, but Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, repeatedly stressed in the following days that the encounter in no way constituted an endorsement of the film, which nobody at the Vatican had seen at that point.

That changed with Avvenire reviewer Mimmo Muolo, who called the film “strange” and “perplexing,” though he did allow that it was “visually potent.” At one point he called the film a cross between Crowe’s Oscar-winning Gladiator, the Harry Potter series of films, and the Lord of the Rings franchise, and he criticized it for straying too far from the Biblical account of the Noah story from the book of Genesis.

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That final point is the charge that got the film into hot water with religious groups in the U.S., many of which called on the faithful to boycott the production. Last month’s visit to the Vatican has been interpreted as an effort to offset that controversy.

It is notable that despite his criticisms, Avvenire’s Muolo did not call for a boycott of the film, which opened in Italy Thursday.

The controversy does not seem to have hurt Noah’s bottom line, however. It opened strongly in the U.S. two weeks ago, taking in an estimated $44 million in its first weekend. The non-religious reviews of the film have been mixed, with The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy calling Aronofsy “daring,” and casting the film as a “fresh look at an elemental Bible story most often presented as a kiddie yarn.”

Twitter: @EricJLyman