Fassbender Set to Face Flood as Bale Bails Out of Aronofsky's “Noah’s Ark”

Fassbender Set to Face Flood as Bale Bails Out of Aronofsky's “Noah’s Ark”
The first graphic novel in Darren Aronofsky's series titled "Noe", which will influence Aronofsky's screenplay for "Noah's Ark"
(Courtesy Le Lombard)

Christian Bale, who won an Oscar for playing a drug-addicted former boxer in “The Fighter,” will not be winning one for playing a wine-quaffing Noah. The British actor, long touted to star in Darren Aronofsky’s epic retelling of the Noah’s Ark story, has passed on playing the Old Testament and Qu’ranic prophet and husbandman. Variety reports that Aronofsky has entered into talks with Michael Fassbender, whose new film, “Shame,” opens in the US tomorrow.

Bale is currently committed to shooting two Terrence Malick films back to back in 2012: “Lawless,” which has been in production for several months, will be followed by “Knight of Cups.” Fassbender was expected to play the murdered FSB and KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko in “Londongrad,” but that project is held up following the departure of director Rupert Wyatt.

Paramount is partnering New Regency Productions on “Noah’s Ark,” which will cost between $130-150 million. Although Aronofsky’s last visual extravaganza, 2006’s “The Fountain,” failed to recoup half of its $35 million budget, he is now coming off a huge critical and commercial success with “Black Swan.” The psychological thriller grossed $329 worldwide and earned him a Best Director Oscar nomination.

John Logan, who wrote the screenplays for “Gladiator,” “Hugo,” and Steven Spielberg’s upcoming “Lincoln” has been hired to rewrite Aronosfky and Ari Handel’s “Noah’s Ark” screenplay, which has been six years in gestation.

Aronofsky, a 42-year-old Harvard graduate, and Noah go back a long time. When he was 13, Aronofsky won a United Nations poetry competition at his school in Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn, with a poem showing the Deluge from Noah’s point of view. He and Handel have adapted their original screenplay for a four-part comic book illustrated by the Canadian artist Niko Henrichon (“Pride of Baghdad,” “New X-Men”); the first part, “Noé Tome 1: Pour la Cruauté des Hommes,” became available on October 7.

Noah’s biblical story is told in Chapters 6–9 of the book of Genesis. In Noah’s six hundredth year, God decided to wash away wicked mankind with a flood and instructed the righteous Noah to build an ark to save himself, his wife, their three sons and their wives, along with one male and female of every living creature. After the flood, Noah, “the first tiller of the soil,” planted a vineyard and drank the wine it produced, becoming intoxicated. An indiscretion on the part of his son Ham — who saw his inebriated and unclad father’s genitals in his tent and reported it to his brothers -- caused Noah to curse Ham’ s son Canaan and take his land from him. Scholars of different religions and traditions dispute the entire legend and what it means in metaphorical, ethnological, and moral terms.

Aronofsky hasn’t yet disclosed which parts of the story, beyond the flood, he will tell — though he is interested in Noah’s bibulousness. “Noah was the first person to plant vineyards and drink wine and get drunk,” he has said. “It’s there in the Bible—it was one of the first things he did when he reached land. There was some real survivor’s guilt going on there. He’s a dark, complicated character.

“I don’t think it’s a very religious story. I think it’s a great fable that’s part of so many different religions and spiritual practices. I just think it’s a great story that’s never been on film.”

Aronofsky is wrong about that. In 1928, Warner Bros. released their part-talkie “Noah’s Ark,” at $1 million-plus their most expensive epic up to that point. Conceived and written by Darryl F. Zanuck to top Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments” (1923) and “The King of Kings” (1927), and directed by Michael Curtiz, it parallels biblical events with contemporary issues: the worship of the golden calf is likened to Wall Street greed, the building of the Tower of Babel with the building of skyscrapers, and the flood with the deluge of blood in the First World War. The flood scenes were depicted with ferocious power and realism, even by 21st century standards: three extras were drowned and many seriously injured, lead actress Dolores Costello fainted when water crashed against her and subsequently caught pneumonia, lead actor George O’Brien lost both his big toenails. One extra who survived was the young John Wayne.

Paul McAllister played Noah and a modern-day minister, O’Brien was Japheth, one of Noah’s three sons, and an American soldier called Travis, and Costello was Japheth’s betrothed Miriam and Travis’s German wife Marie, who is falsely accused of being a spy. Myrna Loy played a slave girl and a dancer in Marie’s troupe. The talkie scenes added to the modern story, which had a synchronized soundtrack and a musical score, were directed by Roy Del Ruth. Despite its rushed ending, the film made $2 million at the box office. It is not considered a classic, however.

In John Huston’s “The Bible: In the Beginning…” (1966), the scenes on the Ark were treated comically, the flood seriously. Huston’s chief attraction to the film was the opportunity to work with the animals. He himself played Noah and provided the voice of God. In Roman Polanski’s “Chinatown” (1974), Huston played a corrupt, incestuous Los Angeles land baron with a sinsister relationship to water and a truly biblical name—Noah Cross.

Jon Voight was Noah in NBC’s two-part “Noah’s Ark” (1999), memorable for its awful screenplay. The animated “Noah’s Ark: The New Beginning” (2011), told from the animals’ perspective, is currently in post-production; Michael Keaton voices Noah. Aronofsky, meanwhile, is readying us for forty days and forty nights of rain.