Viacom's (NASDAQ: VIA) Paramount Pictures has taken an interesting step regarding the release of director Darren Aronofsky's film Noah. An "explanatory message" is set to appear before the film and in marketing materials, letting potential viewers know that "creative license" was applied to the Biblical story of Noah.
The decision to add the message before screenings was made in conjunction with a request from Dr. Jerry A. Johnson, the new president and CEO of National Religious Broadcasters (NRB.) The use of the message was jointly announced by NRB and Paramount, indicating how closely the two worked together to get the message right.
At first, it might seem like the studio is going out of its way to avoid offending potential Christian viewers. In reality, though, it's more a case of trying to market to the largest audience possible.
Answering Noah's critics
Part of the reason behind the studio's eagerness to add an explanatory message to the film's marketing is that it has recently received criticisms concerning its Biblical accuracy. While the story of the flood appears in a number of legends, the film itself was modeled specifically after the Biblical account of the flood with Noah and his family.
Biblical films tend to be large draws for church groups and other Christian-oriented audiences. 2004's The Passion of the Christ, for instance, captured the largest February opening weekend of all time due in large part to the film's Christian draw; it earned $83.8 million domestically during that first weekend, and went on to earn $611.9 million worldwide. Though Noah may find a wider audience than Passion due to its potential appeal to fans of disaster films and historical epics, Paramount would obviously like to cash in on the previous successes of Christian-oriented films as well.
Unfortunately, early screenings have resulted in reviews that questioned how accurate the film was to the story in the Bible. This could be potentially disastrous for the film if it drives away the Christian audiences that the studio hopes to court. Adding the statement not only lets audiences know that it is a creative take that may differ in a few points from the Biblical narrative, but also shows that Paramount is sensitive to its potential Christian viewers. Releasing the statement alongside NRB also provides the studio with a de facto endorsement by showing that NRB is fine with the film's content ... so long as the explanatory message is used.
Courting the Christian audience
The marketing for Noah is ramping up ahead of its March 28 release, especially in light of the film's criticisms. Star Russell Crowe even spent time on Twitter recently hoping to entice Pope Francis to request a screening of the film, as the pontiff's approval of the film would obviously carry a heavy weight with Catholic audiences.
Even Dr. Johnson is playing a part in promoting the film, in a way; in interviews, he has stated that while the film takes liberties with the story, it does hold true to some of the key Biblical points and that Christians should at least see the film before judging it. He even suggests that the film could be used by Christians as a springboard to enter into "holy conversations" and share their beliefs with others.
Of course, it remains to be seen whether the attempts to court the Christian audiences will make the film into the blockbuster that Paramount hopes it will be. Made on a budget of $125 million, the film could run into serious problems if the criticisms it has received before its release lead to Christian audiences staying away. Even if it manages to take the top spot at the box office on its opening weekend without a Christian draw, the film only has one week until Marvel Studios' Captain America: The Winter Soldier is released and Noah is washed into second place (at best).
While some might question whether Noah really needed a special message to let audiences know that it wasn't a complete adaptation of the Biblical account of Noah and the ark, the message could go a long way toward silencing some of the criticisms about the film. If this helps Paramount to get the audiences that it needs for the film to be successful, then the decision to add the message to the film's marketing materials will have proven to be a good one.