Thursday, March 19, 2015

NOAH: Book from Rizzoli on Aronofsky's Masterpiece

A picture book with a screenplay in the back is available from Rizzoli, New York.
A quick review is in order.

As you may know from my longer posts on Aronofsky's NOAH (contributed over several weeks when the movie came out) I found the movie, from a Moral Premise standpoint, good and challenging in many ways.

So I bite my lip and paid for the book and the novelization. I'm not into novelizations, but since I coach writers a lot, I thought this one might be interesting to look at sometime in the future. But first the picture book. It's worth a few comments.


No doubt, in part a dig at Aronofsky's "Christian" critics who claimed the movie was not Biblically accurate, the editors chose to use ONLY Scripture as textual explanations in the picture portion. Insistent critics will no doubt point out that the Scripture text used is not from any modern translation but rather a "translation" or "paraphrase" by Aronofsky and Handel found in their screenplay. Such criticism is disingenuous, however, because no modern day translation is inerrant or infallible—
labels that can only be assigned to the original manuscripts none of which exist. And, if a Christian writer were to paraphrase a passage of Scripture to make a point, his work would be accepted as inerrant or infallible, e.g. Peterson's THE MESSAGE from Navpress.

But the presence of only Scripture in the picture book reinforces the effort Aronofsky and Handel have repeatedly claimed, that their intent was to take the Biblical record as true and authentic and to then fill in
the gaps of the record with gleanings from other oral and written traditions, being careful never to step on the literal Scriptures. Much of the argument against the film by Christians concerned the incorporation of such material, as if it could never be true. But, as my longer post points out, Aronofsky has proven to be the more honest Biblical scholar and not given in to those Evangelical ideologies not found in the Bible.  The vast differences in Protestant doctrine, supposedly all based on the Bible, creates a vacuum for such arguments. The movie is based on the Bible and here the writers and publishers remind us of that.        


Normally, in this blog, I'd have nothing to say about "print quality." I try to stand apart from commenting on aesthetic elements and stick with story structure. But that is what I'm doing here. It's clear that the editors/producers of the book made a decision that their creation would reflect the tone, arc, and structure of the movie by how they printed the inside pages. I got a kick out of this because I've said from the beginning of writing The Moral Premise, that the concept applies to ALL aspects of a story, right down to the marketing,... and now I can say it can apply to the printing techniques of the ancillary picture book.

The beginning and end of the book is printed with glossy stock that allows the ink to lie on top of the paper providing sharp edges, and  rich color as the light is able to reflect it all back to the eye. But the center of the book is printed on drab, ink-absorbing, matt. The photos are washed out, lacking in color and sharpness. The contrast is low, and the blacks are gray. The center is truly ugly and depressing to look at.

But this was on purpose. It's not a budget consideration. Indeed, the turning point up front, is a spread that changes from beautiful to ugly. It is in a section where Noah and his family (particularly Ham) come to grip with the sin and ugliness of the world around them. In the photo below, compare the left page with the right. The left is bright and glossy and the right is dull and matt.

This is the spread that follows Noah reflecting on the world's condition as described by this Scripture:
 The World was filled with violence. And the Creator looked upon the World and saw it was corrupt for all flesh and corrupted his way upon the World. Genesis 6:11
The spread above shows Ham and the girl he tries to rescue from the World's violence and from a mass grave. But as the story unfolds in the minutes that follow, the girl is lost to the mob and Noah pulls Ham to safety and the ark.  This is the ugly side of seems that all is lost.

Near the end of the story, the ugly pages end and transform back to the beautiful pages. This spread occurs precisely at Noah's Moment of Grace, where he realizes and accepts the truth of the Moral Premise. Examine the photo below. Notice the transition from dull and matt (left) to bright and glossy (right). This too, on the right, more viscerally reveals the blood that has flowed to the surface of Noah's skin.

The center of this spread is Noah's Moment of Grace, when he finally figures out that God does not want to destroy all humanity, but rather give humanity a second chance by saving Noah's family and his off-spring. The pages on the left will be re-created later by Abraham when Abraham believes that God wants him to kill his only son, Isaac with a knife upon an altar of wood. And here is Noah, foreshadowing that later scene. On the left, because Noah is righteous he is determined to obey God. His righteous does not come from omniscience and understanding God, but from obeying what he understands. And so, Noah, like Abraham, prepares to sacrifice the two baby girls on an altar of wood (the top of the ark). 

But right in the middle of this spread (and I think the middle two pictures are actually a single frame), is the moment when Noah looks at the babies and (later explains): "I looked down on those girls and all I had in my heart was love." He puts down the knife and kisses the babies with his blessing. This scene can only remind us of the anguish that Abraham must have experienced in preparing to follow God's command to sacrifice Isaac. 

Now, notice again, what the editor did with the printing. The left is the last of the ugly pages in the book. And on the right we have the bright, glossy beauty restored. This is the moral premise realized in the books' production:

Justice without mercy leads to dread, death, and annihilation (UGLY); but
Justice with mercy leads to hope, life, and a new creation (BEAUTY).


The included screenplay is a big disappointment, although it is smaller than normal (6.5" x 8.5") and is cleverly inserted in a box built into the back cover.

The disappointed is due to its violation of many screenplay formats rules that the industry demands for practical reasons of reading, scheduling and budgeting.  And because those of us in the industry read so many screenplays, picking up this small monstrosity is distracting and provides a wrong role model for aspiring screenwriters.

Among the violations:

  • The slug lines are CENTERED and BLUE.
  • The transitions are CENTERED and STRUCK THROUGH
  • The action lines are nearly the same width as dialogue making it difficult for the eye to quickly distinguish the difference. It's easy to confuse the two.
  • The action lines are fully justified, creating awkward gaps between words.
  • The dialogue lines are centered.
  • The character tags are centered. 
  • The page numbers are at the bottom of each page and centered.
  • The page is 23% smaller than normal. Not easy to read. 
  • But HEY, the font looks like Courier. (what a concept).
My advice to Rizzoli, whoever made this decision, correct them. We want real looking screenplays that we can share with students. What you published is very much in keeping with the ugly world of Noah that needed to be destroyed. In Hollywood vernacular you "sinned."

Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln loved the play. 

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