Noah films range from reverent and entertaining to bizarre
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THE STORY of Noah and the Flood is one of the most popular, even iconic, Bible narratives.

But it hasn't been filmed all that often - partly because it's so brief, partly because it takes place on such a large and daunting scale. But that hasn't stopped some filmmakers from tackling it over the years. Here are some of the key films - long and short - which have braved these waters before.

Noah's Ark, an early talkie.
Noah's Ark (1928). Produced by Warner Brothers just one year after they introduced the world to talking pictures via The Jazz Singer, Noah's Ark is part silent and part talkie. Like many other Bible epics of the era, it is also part ancient and part modern; the actors who play Noah and his family also appear in a parallel storyline set during the First World War.

The film's stated theme is that God sent a deluge of blood to rid the modern world of war, just as he sent a deluge of water to rid the ancient world of corruption. If that seems naive, the film also takes a critical and seemingly prophetic stab at the greed of the stock market - one year before the Crash of 1929 sent the world into the Great Depression.

Meanwhile, the biblical segment pads things out by stealing plot elements from the stories of Moses and Samson; and it climaxes with some of the most fantastic disaster footage ever filmed - though it is said three extras died while the Flood was being shot.

Father Noah's Ark
Father Noah's Ark (1933). The first of Disney's Noah-themed cartoons is quite entertaining, and features a few gags that would be recycled years later - such as rabbits that multiply, boarding the ark as a couple and leaving the ark as a family of dozens. The animals help Noah build the ark by serving as machines, anticipating The Flintstones by decades.

The Green Pastures (1936). Rex Ingram stars as De Lawd in this adaptation of the Marc Connelly play, which in turn was based on African-American folk tales. The film treats God as a character with his own arc, who reacts to human sin with wrath and vengeance, before he learns the m Foureaning of suffering and mercy as embodied by an offscreen Jesus.

Along the way, he tells Noah to build an ark, and he insists Noah bring only one keg of liquor onto the ship, not two - a rare cinematic acknowledgment of the fact that the biblical Noah grew a vineyard and got drunk shortly after he and his family survived the Flood.

Noah's Ark (1959). That rare Disney cartoon which is done with stop-motion models - in this case, many of them constructed from office supplies - rather than drawings. Jazzy and creative, but marred by a subplot involving a flirtatious hippo and its jealous wife.

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John Huston as Noah in The Bible.
The Bible: In the Beginning . . . (1966). Director John Huston not only provides the voice of God, he also plays Noah in what is easily the film's funniest segment. The best part is the pseudo-King James English with which Noah and his family discuss how long they have been at sea, or what household chores should be done before the Flood comes.

In Search of Noah's Ark (1976). This documentary, spiced with dramatic re-enactments, aims to prove Noah's Ark is still on Mount Ararat. This film was one of several produced in the 1970s by Sunn Classic Pictures, which specialized in movies about psychic phenomena, aliens who visited Earth, and similar things - so don't watch it uncritically.

Genesis: The Creation and the Flood (1994). The first film in 'The Bible Collection' is also the artsiest. Replete with footage of nomads trekking across Morocco, this film also mixes footage of the pagan festivities of Noah's day with footage of bombs falling on Baghdad, oil fires, tanks and modern junkyards - all to signify the damage we have done to creation.

Noah's Ark (1999). Jon Voight stars in this bizarre, post-modern TV-movie. Some of the odder bits, like Noah's no-sex rule aboard the Ark, apparently come from later Jewish legends. But one can only assume that other bits - like setting the destruction of Sodom before the Flood, and turning the biblical Lot into a one-eyed pirate who attacks the Ark - are the work of screenwriters who have absolutely no interest in taking the source material seriously.

Fantasia 2000 (1999). Donald Duck is Noah's assistant in a segment set to Edward Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance. This cartoon has fun with the idea that the carnivorous animals remained dangerous, and it suggests that dragons and other mythical beasts were around in Noah's day - but were so busy mocking his efforts that they literally missed the boat.

Honourable mention goes to Bill Cosby's famous comedy routine ("How long can you tread water?").

Darren Aronofsky, director of such trippy films as Pi and The Fountain, has also said he intends to make a "serious" version of the story. "Noah was the first person to plant vineyards and drink wine and get drunk," he told the British newspaper The Guardian. "There was some real survivor's guilt going on there. He's a dark, complicated character."

- Peter T. Chattaway

July 2007