Earlier in the year the BBC’s Tony Jordan told us the first draft of his script for The Ark ended with the first drop of rain. Now it’s two months later and for this new Noah movie that’s the starting point rather than it’s end.
You see whereas many Noah films are concerned with the protagonist and his struggle with his role, in this one Noah is entirely absent. Instead the focus is on the animals on-board the ark, or rather those that are not quite on-board. You see somehow our hero Finny, and his new friend Leah have missed the boat, literally. Finny wasn't meant to be on it in the first place. He and his dad Dave had stowed away on board disguised as the other half of Leah’s family. But when the two go exploring they get separated and end up not being on-board when the ark gets swept away.
It all leads to a Finding Nemo type plot only involving two children and two parents (Leah’s mum, Hazel, is also part of the cast). There’s been criticism in some circles for that similarity of theme, but I don’t think those are warranted. Separation of children from their parents is such a primal fear (in both directions) that it’s territory worth exploring - let's face it, it even crops up in the story of Jesus. And the way that plot device is used to examine the issue is fairly different and different themes emerge.
One of the most interesting of these is the way the film examines the issue of nature versus nurture. Other films look at how we can break free from our upbringing, or move past traumatic experiences from the past. By assigning personality traits to the evolutionary make up of species Two by Two is able to look at the issue of how much of who we are is due to hard wiring and how we might overcome it. Leah and Hazel are grimps - their status as aggressive loners is built into their DNA. Yet the film raises the possibility that they might even overcome the limitations of their birth, such that, by extension it suggests, so might we. In a not dissimilar vein it also seems to advance the theory that if we can discover the place we really fit we can thrive in a way we might never have thought possible.
Part of the reason that the film can explore these issues is because rather than using known and familiar animals as its lead characters, it uses made up ones instead. This raises interesting possibilities in a way that using rabbits and guinea pigs would not. Had it used familiar animals then any sense of tension would be gone - the audience would know in advance that their survival was guaranteed. Here, whilst it seems unlikely that all of the leading characters are going to be wiped out, it does suggest some latitude, particularly when you bring evolution and adaption into the mix as well. It opens up a range of options and lead to a surprisingly satisfying conclusion.
Sadly, for me at least, it doesn't really have a great deal to say about the biblical story of the flood. The basics are there (although the eponymous two by two rule is seemingly not adhered to religiously) and it’s an interesting idea to take away the human focus, but it doesn't have much to offer in its place. There are a number of moments when the characters pull through in unlikely ways, but these are clearly just down to a question of genre rather than God-acting-in-mysterious-ways moments. Everything just happens because it does and leaves the whole film feeling like an unsatisfying plot device. The original story has layers of meaning - it’s an origins story, a story of faithfulness, of a god purging his subjects, of deliverance and of new creation. None of these themes really emerge and the film ending where it does leaves little conclusion other than a bit of self realisation.
The other thing that was lacking, for me at least, was humour. I stress the personal angle in this not merely because humour is notoriously subjective, but also because I’m wary of veering into abusing national stereotypes. The film is a collaboration between Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and Ireland and three of those nations have a notably poor reputation for humour amongst the English. I strongly suspect it’s just a difference in what one is used to. Nevertheless, it did seem like it would have been rather easy to inject a little more humour at numerous points in the story. Humour that would be a bit more lowest common denominator (meant in the original, rather than the more modern - and derisory - sense).
Overall Two by Two: Ooops Noah is Gone is not a bad little film. I enjoyed it more than I expected and the kids did as well, and some of its lessons are certainly valuable. But it’s not really a Noah film, it just came along for the ride.