MEXICO CITY — The Pepsi Centre, a cavernous arena that's typically hosting concerts and sports events, might not be the obvious pick for the world premiere of "Noah," Darren Aronofsky's dramatization of the biblical flood story.
But if "Noah" can't play in Latin America, home to legions of Roman Catholics, than it can't play anywhere.
Co-financed by Paramount Pictures and New Regency for about $130 million, "Noah" marks Hollywood's return to the Old Testament, a long-forgotten genre that once yielded movies such as John Huston's "The Bible" in 1966 and "The Ten Commandments" in 1956. New Testament-inspired productions, including the recent "Son of God" and Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," have performed strongly at the box office.
Paramount packed about 1,400 fans into the Pepsi Centre for Monday night's screening of "Noah," which opens in Mexico before the film's U.S. premiere on March 28. Aronofsky, who directed and co-wrote the film with longtime collaborator Ari Handel, was joined by actors Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth and Jennifer Connelly. (Russell Crowe, who plays Noah, was in Australia.)
For weeks, conservative Christians have been criticizing "Noah" for diverging from the biblical text, even though many of the detractors hadn't seen the film.
"It's a very, very different movie," Aronofsky, who made "Black Swan" and "The Wrestler," said in introducing the film. "Anything you're expecting, you're ... wrong," he said, punctuating his remarks with an expletive.
While the movie follows the biblical account very closely, it adds a back story about the plight of the planet, created a villain in Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone) and dramatizes how Noah and his family wrestle with God's instructions to spare no one save the animals.
After the screening, whose red carpet was designed to look like an ark, the filmmaker noted that Noah's story in the Bible is fleeting and that he doesn't even speak until after the flood is over. Consequently, he and Handel had to invent plot, dialogue and characters.
"Everything in the film is there for a reason. And we can explain the inspiration and where the theology comes from," Aronofsky said. "And there are many things that are not in the Bible that people think are in the Bible."
Bowing to pressure from conservative Christians, Paramount Pictures recently added a new disclaimer to "Noah," noting in marketing materials that the film "is inspired" by the story of Noah.
The film is the target of a fatwa issued by Al Azhar, a leading Sunni Muslim institution.