zondag 6 juli 2014

Noah didn't do it

Usually I don't have any trouble with plot holes, since I've been watching movies for as long as I can remember and I just love 'em! Especially where scifi and fantasy movies are involved. Sometimes you just have to imagine you've been transported into another time or another universe where different laws exist. When not, there's very little left to enjoy. So, "Unobtainium"? No problem! A "Heisenberg compensator"? Works fine as far as I'm concerned!

It may be clear to frequent visitors to my blog that I'm not the most religious person - to put it mildly. Still, I'm an avid fan of classics like "The Ten Commandments" or "Ben Hur". They're enjoyable and since they're blatently clear that they're taking the orthodox Christian point of view, I have no problem with them. They also stay very close to their source material.

However, the recent movie "Noah" does not. It adds new elements to the story up to the point where I'm not quite clear where they stand. Instead of "God" they consistently use the weasel term "Creator". Maybe to lure other religions into the equation (didn't work)? Maybe to distance themselves from the origins of the story and take a more "secular" point of view? Well, it failed - big time!

Yes, you can try - as many did before - to "merge" the Genesis story and the evolution theory into one single, consistent tale, but it always fails. Yes, you can try to "mask" the fact that the sun and the moon are created much later than the light in order to hide the simple fact that the concept of "day" can't exist without them - making the whole tale moot to begin with. It's also fun to see that giant "sea monsters" are created a whole day before the rest of the animal kingdom. What should they feed on?

Let's face it: the whole "Genesis" story breathes a "civilization" of uneducated people who didn't have a grasp of population dynamics or cosmogeny. You can't even try to reconcile it with modern science - so don't. And by trying to give people a "Lord of the Rings" experience instead of presenting the verbatim Noah story, you're making yourself vulnerable - that is where "plot holes" come in.

Yes, it's true - some of the plot holes are embedded in the "Noah" story itself. The movie is even trying to "fix" some of them by introducing "sedation". Well, think again. As e.g. IMDB correctly states, you can't have an elephant lying down indefinitely - it dies. That also goes for several other animal species. Furthermore, there are around 5500 mammal species, which alone would amount to 11,000 animals. And let's not forget reptiles, birds, amphibians and insects.

Then there's the food problem. E.g. an elephant eats up to 150 kg of food a day plus about 40 liters of water. Since we see a whole pregnancy develop aboard of the ark, we have to assume they're about 280 days on sea. That amounts to (accounting for four elphants, two African ones and two Indian ones) 168 tonnes of food and 44.8 tonnes of fresh water. And yes, we need fresh water because we're at sea, remember?

But, let's assume they're in hibernation. The fat dormouse, for instance, sleeps for seven months - a record - and loses 50% of its body weight during that period. Bears sleep significantly shorter and lose 25% of their body weight. They do that during the winter months when there's little food, low temperatures and they have significantly fattened up. There is no indication that any animal has taken any of these precautions before they enter the Ark.

Let alone, that most are not equipped for hibernation. Hummingbirds, though small, need their own weight in nectar per day. In order to survive a metabolic rate of 75% you would need to fatten the humble 2.5 grams hummingbird up to a weight of almost a kilo! Hibernate that one!

Ok, you're already playing the "God" card? Hang on, we'll come back to that one later on.

But we're not done yet. Let's assume they all make it and disembark safely. Now we're up to the next challenge. If spread to thinly, the predators won't be able to find any prey and starve pretty quickly. If they're concentrated too much, a whole lot of prey animals will be consumed long before the are able to procreate, reducing the number of species available - so why save them in the first place. Just to feed the predators? Some animals procreate pretty quickly, like rodents, others quite slowly - let's introduce the elephant again. Some animals use a wide variety of food sources, others are highly specialized. Let's assume there were two ants on the Ark - goodbye anteater.

But even if that worked out fine, we're still in trouble where the "food" department is concerned. Most plants would not have survived a world wide, nine month submersion in salt water. We would have disembarked on a barren plain. Goodbye herbivores.

We'll also have to face the problem of reproduction. Most populations of just two animals are just not viable. First of all, the gene pool is just too small. Unless two completely perfect specimens were introduced, we would be facing the problem of genetic defects. But diversity also serves a different purpose. It allows a species to adapt to different circumstances - and the classic example of the two-colored butterfly will just do fine. White butterflies put in a predominently black environment are easily noticed by predators. Mix in a black variety and the species will have a better chance to survive. Take away that variety and you're done. Small populations are simply doomed from the start - they're just too vulnerable. Every population geneticist will tell you that - even the most Christian ones.

Let's see what we can say about the metereology. We see the world covered with atmosperic depressions. Now a depression can only exist when there are areas of high pressure. An earth covered in depressions would equalize the overall pressure pretty quickly since they're so close to one another, so they would cease to exist. Furthermore, they would contain a massive amount of water vapor. How much? Well, an average hurricane weights 50 million tonnes. That's 20 million Olympic swimming pools. So go figure how much water got into the air by evaporation. Must have been some heat wave..

And when it finally start raining, the director decides it doesn't come up quickly enough, so he throws in some high pressure aquifers. Where is that high pressure suddenly coming from after all that evaporation? We have to assume this is happening all over the world, don't we? There simply aren't enough sufficiently large aquifers around to make the water level rise that quickly. Even better, there isn't enough water to cover the entire world, even if we thow in the icecaps.

And even if there would be, where should it go "when the waters subdued"? The only natural phenomenon that comes close is a tsunami. That one, I would have believed. It's also compatible with the original Bible text. I'm sure that's the one Cecil B. DeMille would have chosen.

Ok, now you are allowed to play the "God" card. "God" is a problematic character in a movie, just like Superman - he can do just about anything, which makes both of them troublesome literary devices. For that purpose they invented Kryptonite. In case of God, there is no such thing - not even free will or the devil. God knows everything (omniscience), is everywhere (omnipresence) and can do everything (omnipotence). You can argue that God "works in mysterious ways", but that doesn't mean "erratic" or "illogical". If you look at nature, there is nothing that is "erratic" or "illogical" - although some will argue that quantum mechanics is. I disgree. It's brilliant in its simplicity and if humanity ever came close to reading the mind of God, it's in that quality. So:

  • Why doesn't he simply kill off all "evil" persons by simply stopping their heart or strike them down by lightning?
  • Why doesn't he take all righteous people - and the animals - to a promised land (like the Exodus) and discard the rest by any means of His choosing?
  • Why doesn't he simply wipe the earth out of existence and start out a new one with the lessons He's learned?

In short, why does he use such an elaborate, complicated, but crude mechanism to achieve his goals when He has so many other tools at His disposal? These are legitimate, theological questions. But even more, they cease to be theological questions when you're "reinventing" your own story. Then they simply are plot holes. Plot holes, large enough to drive a train through. More plot holes than a Swiss cheese. Enough plot holes to irritate the average, reasonably intelligent moviegoer - religious or not.

Worse of all, I think the director wanted to emit a message, but this message is now completely drowned in the complete mess he left behind. That's why "Noah" is a bad movie and will go down in history as a failure. If not commercially, than certainly artistically.