Paramount comes out swinging against Variety’s Noah story

Paramount comes out swinging against Variety’s Noah story February 18, 2014

Well this is unusual. Paramount, the studio producing Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, has just issued a press release responding to yesterday’s story in Variety which claimed that an online survey had found that the film was not appealing to religious audiences.

The studio notes, rightly, that Variety overinterpreted the survey results in its headline, and that the survey question itself is so vaguely worded that it never actually refers to Noah (though the webpage hosting the survey does make the connection explicit).

The studio then goes on to cite studies by secular and Christian research groups which indicate that over 80% of the self-defined Christian or “very religious” people who are aware of the film are interested in the film or would recommend it to their friends.

As my friend Steven D. Greydanus has pointed out, there was never any real story here. Faith Driven Consumer, the website hosting the survey, was clearly looking to cash in on an upcoming blockbuster and stir up some trouble, and Variety was clearly looking for headlines that would generate some hits.

But none of it really means anything because, as my Patheos colleague Rebecca Cusey has pointed out, virtually no one has actually seen the finished film yet.

And yet… and yet…

As Roger Ebert once pointed out, while explaining how some expensive movie or other flopped at the box office, movies can rise or fall based on the memes (the bits of supposed information) that are spread about them. Even if people haven’t seen a film, they might hear that it’s “controversial”, or that it had a “troubled” production, and this can taint their interest in the film unless there are other memes out there that combat those memes.

Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, for example, was “controversial”, but it was also heavily promoted as an expression of the director’s personal faith. The “faith” meme trumped the “controversial” meme and even absorbed it in a way, so that the film became a major battleground in the so-called culture wars.

The question now is what sort of memes are out there about Noah.

The ads for the film have played things very close to the vest — we still haven’t had a good look at the Nephilim, even though Aronofsky keeps mentioning them in his Twitter feed! — and conservative websites like Big Hollywood have been critical of the film for well over a year, based on quotes of Aronofsky’s and an early draft of the screenplay.

So it’s possible that there might be a bit of a meme vacuum out there that hostile websites can fill, to the movie’s detriment. The Faith Driven Consumer survey would simply be another example of that.*

The question now is whether the studio can combat those bad memes — not just by trashing stories like Variety’s, but by putting more attractive memes out there.

Certainly the studio has had experience turning things around before.

As Deadline points out, there was lots of bad buzz around World War Z a couple years ago when that film was still in production, but it turned out to be one of the biggest hits of last year, and the biggest hit of Brad Pitt’s entire career.

But that film went through massive reshoots that utterly changed the storyline, including the film’s climactic third act. Noah, on the other hand, has reportedly stayed true to Aronofsky’s original vision all along.

As ever, time will tell how things pan out. Right now, though, I am curious as to whether people will perceive Paramount’s move today as a sign of strength, or as a sign that the studio thinks it might be vulnerable here.

* Turning to the non-religious demographic, the impression I get is that a lot of movie bloggers are curious to see Noah because of the Aronofsky factor, but they also think the film’s advertising campaign has been pretty lame and conventional — to the point where some, like Drew McWeeny, are worried that Aronofsky might have lost his mojo. A lot will hinge on what the early reviews say, I think.

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  • Nate Fleming

    I’m a Christian with quite a bit invested in the story of Noah – having written my own version as a novel – and I can say without hesitation that I can’t wait to see the movie. I’m glad that Paramount “struck back”, because the way that Variety article was worded was completely misleading! It’s not vulnerability (in my ignorant and humble opinion) but the studio’s attempt to try and avoid needless negativity.

    Let the movie play before you start lauding or bashing it, people!