The Noah trailers: a shot-by-shot analysis

It can be fascinating to see how the same movie is marketed to different audiences. Is Noah a family man of prayer, as the trailers that have played at various church conferences suggest? Or is he an action hero who wields weapons in self-defense, as the just-released international trailer suggests? Well, in Darren Aronofsky’s hands, he appears to be both — and that’s just one of several fascinating ways in which the trailers for Noah are sending different signals to their various markets.

What follows is a shot-by-shot analysis of the two trailers that were released today, focusing primarily on the North American trailer, but continuing with some screen-caps from the international trailer and a note about the elements in the church-conference trailers that were not included in these new trailers.

First, a disclaimer: as the church-conference trailers (one of which is still viewable at Gawker) have never been officially released to the public, and are only available via smartphone videos that were leaked to the internet, I am not going to post any screen-caps from those videos here. But since the point of showing the trailers, even in private conferences (at least two of which have been attended by friends of mine), was to create some buzz, I figure it’s fair to talk about what is in those videos.

Also, I am intrigued by the fact that the credits at the end of both new trailers say the screenplay was written by Darren Aronofsky and Ari Hendel, period; there is no mention of John Logan, who was hired to rewrite the script (or at least give it a polish) when Paramount came on board to produce the film. The screenplay I read a few months ago was also credited to Aronofsky and Hendel only, so who knows, the finished film may be closer to that script than we might have thought.

And now, without further ado, the shot-by-shot analysis:

The North American trailer is only about 139 seconds long, not counting the green band at the beginning, and it has about 84 different shots, not counting the dozen or so title cards. It starts on a dialogue-free note by showing us Noah’s dream, which includes shots of the serpent and the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden:

Then, Noah wakes up — for real this time — and is approached by his wife Naameh, who asks: “Noah, what did he say?” Noah replies: “He’s going to destroy the world.”

Then, we see Noah’s family hiking through a barren environment:

Noah sits down for a conversation with his grandfather Methuselah. As images of violence (including our first look at the movie’s villain, Tubal-Cain, as well as possible glimpses of Cain killing Abel and angels falling to earth) play out on the screen, Methuselah says: “My father said that one day, if man continued in his ways, the Creator would annihilate this world.”

Noah asks: “Can it not be averted?” Methuselah replies: “He speaks to you. You must trust that he speaks in a way that you can understand.”

Noah, in voice-over, describes his vision: “I saw water. Death by water. And I saw new life.” The footage includes glimpses of Noah underwater, as well as simulated time-lapsed images of what appears to be the creation of the world.

The camera zooms in on a storm-covered Earth:

Noah looks up:

Noah, in voice-over, tells his family: “A great flood is coming. We build a vessel to survive the storm. We build an ark.”

Naameh turns her head when Japheth calls out: “Mother!” Naameh runs to him and replies: “What is it? What?” Japheth points and says: “Them!”

Tubal-Cain arrives with his army:

Noah asks: “What do you want?”

As we cut to a shot of Japheth, Naameh, Shem and Ila, an offscreen Tubal-Cain replies: “You don’t know your king.”

Noah: “There isn’t anything for you here.”

Tubal-Cain: “I have men at my back, and you stand alone and defy me?”

Noah: “I’m not alone.”

This is followed by a title card announcing that the film is “from Darren Aronofsky, the director of Black Swan.” Appropriately enough, the reference to Aronofsky’s previous, bird-titled film is followed by a shot of birds circling the ark, and by shots of other computer-generated animals entering the ark:

Noah: “It begins.”

An aerial shot of the ark moves straight down towards Noah’s upturned face, and a raindrop lands near his eye:

More birds:

A title card declares that the film stars “Academy Award Winner Russell Crowe,” and this, in turn, is followed by the following images while Noah says, in voice-over: “When they come, they will be desperate, and they will be many.” (Is he referring to the animals? Or, given the third image below, might he be referring to people?)

Tubal-Cain rallies the troops by shouting: “Take the ark!”

Tubal-Cain’s men rush towards the ark, but are unexpectedly thrown into the air as water comes shooting straight out of the ground:

A title card declares that the film also stars “Academy Award Winner Jennifer Connelly,” followed by a couple shots as we hear Naameh tell Noah, in voice-over: “I see how hard this was for you.”

A title card reminds us that the film also stars “Emma Watson”:

Another title card reminds us that the film also stars “Academy Award Winner Anthony Hopkins.” This is followed by Methuselah saying: “Remember, Noah, he chose you for a reason.”

Two people hold hands (Noah and Naameh? Shem and Ila?):

Two more title cards tell us that “The Story Is More Than You Imagined,” while we see a handful of other shots, including one rather dramatic shot of people being tossed around inside the ark as it is buffeted by the waves, as well as another one that shows someone with a flaming sword (the angel standing guard outside Eden, perhaps?):

Ila asks: “Is this the end of everything?”

Noah replies: “The beginning. The beginning of everything.”

More images of water shooting straight out of the ground, and of Noah watching and falling to his knees (mixing footage from two different scenes?):

Finally, our best look yet at the ark itself, as the trailer comes to an end:

The international trailer is almost exactly the same length as the North American one, but is very, very different. However, rather than go through the entire thing shot by shot, I’ll just focus on the extra footage that is missing from the American trailer.

The first thing I notice about the international trailer is that it plays up the miraculous — and not always biblical — special effects quite a bit more than the North American trailer did. Take, for example, the opening shot, of a growing stream of water:

You might think that this trickle of water marks the beginning of the flood — but look closer. Green plants are growing very rapidly along the edge of that stream, which suggests that this may be from the same part of the film that gives us the time-lapse image of trees growing from later within this same trailer:

Note also the extra shot of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (or might it be the Tree of Life? are the two trees entwined together?):

And note the rather curious image of two fingers coming together, as one of them seems to form some sort of magical connection to the other:

We may even get another angle of an angel falling from heaven (assuming that the meteor-like things in these trailers are not, in fact, just meteors):

The second thing I notice about this trailer is the extra violence — not only the violence committed by Tubal-Cain and his minions, but the violence committed by Noah, as well (no doubt at least partly in self-defense):

Note also how Ham is holding a knife in one shot:

And note how Methuselah tells Noah: “Man corrupted this world and filled it with violence, so we must be destroyed.”

As Methuselah says this, the trailer gives us some new images of people being trampled and a woman (Na’el, perhaps?) yelling for help, etc.:

As befits Methuselah’s dire assessment of the human condition, the international trailer also gives us some bleaker shots from Noah’s visions; in this trailer, Noah does not just see himself underwater, he sees lots of dead bodies underwater, too:

The third thing I notice is that the international trailer gives us more footage of Harry Potter star Emma Watson, who plays Noah’s daughter-in-law Ila. In one scene, she tells Noah, somewhat ominously: “The choice was in your hands, Noah.”

In another sequence, we see shots of Shem and Ila both running through a forest:

We also see Noah carrying what appears to be a young version of Ila, presumably from an earlier part of the film, or in a flashback:

The fourth thing I notice is a lot more CGI shots of water shooting out of the ground and sweeping over the forest and wiping out Tubal-Cain’s army:

The fifth thing I notice is a brief scene in which Naameh asks: “Snakes are coming too?” Noah replies, apparently to the amusement of their son Japheth: “All that crawls, all that slithers.” This is interesting, as the international trailer does not include the shot of the serpent in the Garden of Eden.

Here are some other shots from the international trailer that are not in the North American trailer, as far as I can tell:

Turning from visuals to dialogue, there are two other slight differences between the international trailer and the North American trailer.

First, in the international trailer, Noah says they are building an ark not to survive the storm, per se, but “to hold the innocent.” (If you listen closely, you can hear a slight change in audio quality half-way through the sentence, which suggests that two separate lines of dialogue have been spliced together.)

Second, in the international trailer, when Tubal-Cain and his army confront Noah, Tubal-Cain begins by asking, “Did you really think you could protect yourself from me in that?” To which Noah replies: “It’s not protection from you.”

Also, a couple of brief notes about the title cards:

First, while the North American trailer has title cards that say, “The Story Is More Than You Imagined,” the international trailer has title cards that declare: “The End of the World Is Just the Beginning.”

I also find it curious that the two trailers use different fonts for the titles and credits. The North American trailer has no serifs:

While the international trailer does have serifs:

Finally, you might be wondering, was there anything in the church-conference trailers that is not in the mainstream trailers? The answer is yes.

The most significant elements missing from these trailers are the title cards and lines of dialogue that accentuate the film’s biblical or religious connections:

  • The church-conference trailers quoted actual Bible verses onscreen;
  • Methuselah begins one of his sentences by saying, “Before he walked on, my father Enoch said…”;
  • Tubal-Cain says, “When I heard talk of miracles, I dismissed them”;
  • Noah tells Tubal-Cain’s men, “Return to your cities of Cain! Now we have all been judged!”;
  • Noah and his family are seen holding hands in prayer together; and
  • Noah tells his family, “You see how [God] made the forest to give us wood for the ark. How he sent the birds. Has he not sent everything we need?”

And there were probably a few other minor differences, too (such as a close-up on a bucket of pitch as Noah and his family are building the ark). But I’m not going to obsess over them for now. The existing shot-by-shot analysis is enough!

About Peter T. Chattaway

Peter T. Chattaway was the regular film critic for BC Christian News from 1992 to 2011. In addition to his film column, which won multiple awards from the Evangelical Press Association, the Canadian Church Press and the Fellowship of Christian Newspapers, his news and opinion pieces have appeared in such publications as Books & Culture, Christianity Today, Bible Review and the Vancouver Sun. He also contributed essays to the books Re-Viewing The Passion: Mel Gibson’s Film and Its Critics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004) and Scandalizing Jesus?: Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ Fifty Years on (Continuum, 2005).

  • Adam Percifull

    This movie is gonna be awesome


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