I'm going to tackle this one "good vs. bad" style, mostly in hopes that doing so will help me decide what I think! Don't continue if you want to see the movie fresh, though I'll leave out major spoilers.
- The performances. Everyone is good, but Emma Watson stands out the most, in part because her character really redeems the movie (in more ways than one). Russell Crowe's changing hair style is an impressive performance of its own.
- The plot seems to develop around the idea "What if Noah didn't know exactly what God wanted him to do or why?", or in other words, "What if Noah misunderstood his mission?" The faithful, bible-believing side of me was uncomfortable with that at first, but I quickly recognized the value in debunking the notion that prophets are perfect men and God's BFFs. I think the portrayal of doubts, fears, and mistakes is far more realistic and, in a sense, encouraging.
- As an extension of the above, I like the turmoil Noah and his family undergo when faced with their own weaknesses. "Survivor's guilt" is a believable conflict, given the situation, and overall, the movie does a good job reminding us that the story of Noah, despite its end message, is a tragedy.
- Family heritage, priesthood, and patriarchal blessings play a large role in the disguise of supernatural relics and healing powers. Cool by me.
- The Watchers. Going in, I knew the movie took liberties and was completely comfortable with that. (As my wife put it, we already know where to look for spiritual reinforcement. This is entertainment.) I even like the explanation for why the Watchers look and act the way they do, and their redemption provides nice foreshadowing. But they are just too familiar. Ents if they were rocks instead of trees. Everything about them screams The Two Towers, which is why so many reviews are referencing The Lord of the Rings. As a plot device to protect Noah's family and heighten tension, they are far too "stock."
- I was actually so prepared for creative liberty that I am a bit disappointed by the lack thereof. In other words, if the movie isn't going to feel obligated to the scriptural account (short as it is), why not push the boundaries a bit? Despite several moments of genuine, gut-wrenching surprise, too much of the movie feels safe. For example, why go to the trouble of designing extinct/under-evolved animals if you're only going to show them in vague groups from a distance? Or why not merge the biblical account of the deluge with its equivalent in other religions and cultures (The Epic of Gilgamesh, for example)? The attempt to satisfy both the literal and the literary falls short.
- Likewise, the attempt to merge ancient and modern worlds is unnecessary (an assumption that the bible is outdated) and clumsy. Anachronistic technology is an interesting idea (who knows what they'd figured out in the antediluvian world?), but a welding helmet? How random.
- I don't know if the environmentalist/vegetarian agenda is necessarily trying to replace the traditional message about death and rebirth, but it definitely butts in several times. You have to roll your eyes a bit when the religious apology for animal products -- that God gave man dominion over the beasts -- is put in the mouth of the disgusting, overindulging villain.
That's a tied score by my reckoning, so I guess I'm saying I didn't hate it, didn't love it, but could be pushed further one way or the other with a second viewing or a really persuasive interpretation. Because I'm flaky like that.
And while I did approach this film as a very separate entity from the scriptural account of Noah, I will add that, for me, that story is most significant as a foreshadowing of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, whose life and teachings bear a message of mercy and hope.-- a message left intact in this telling.