You wouldn’t hire a director like Darren Aronofsky if you wanted Noah to be a straightforward, conventional Bible story, but even audiences who go to the movie expecting a dash of weirdness may be startled when Aronofsky reveals the film’s fallen angels. These Nephilim are referred to as the Watchers, but let’s not mince words: They’re freakin’ rock monsters! And though the Watchers are computer-animated, they move with the halting, Harryhausen-esque swagger of a stop-motion figure, adding a most unusual ingredient to Noah’s spiked stew.
What do the Watchers look like? We’d show you, but though these fallen angels are significant characters in Noah, Paramount has kept them out of the movie’s marketing materials entirely, an act that could be charitably interpreted as a safeguarding of spoilers but is more likely the result of studio skittishness. (The only place you can glimpse one, at present, is in the background of this tweet from Aronofsky himself.)
Still, imagine some wild mix of Floory from Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, the spider from It, a silhouetted Transformer, and John Kerry’s weathered, craggy mug, and you’ll be in the ballpark.
Aronofsky compares his unusual creations to “seagulls coated in oil,” and indeed, when we see these glowing angels fall to earth in flashback, they crawl out of the muck so encrusted with earthly goo that they might as well be contestants in an antediluvian Tough Mudder. Even the special effects studio that animated the Watchers found themselves stumped by Aronofsky’s odd vision. “When we started to come up with these designs, we scared the hell out of ILM,” the filmmaker told Badass Digest. “They were saying, ‘How are we going to do this? They’re so bizarre.’”
Paramount executives apparently concurred. The Watchers appear early on but factor most heavily into the battle for the ark at the movie’s midpoint, and according to the recent profile of Aronofsky in the New Yorker, studio execs lobbied the director to ixnay the rock monsters and add the lions and tigers already on hand to Noah’s army instead. While that presents a tempting vision of Noah’s animals fighting cooperatively like the X-Men — imagine hawks dropping scorpions on Tubal-cain and his posse of brutes, for example — Aronofsky stuck to his guns, and the result is a centerpiece action sequence where tiny humans try to spear a glowing, gigantic, six-armed rock monster voiced by Nick Nolte. You remember that from Sunday school, right?
The Watchers have proved to be a problem for many critics: The Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday calls them “the most distracting of Aronofsky’s creations, by far,” while Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir says the battle sequence that stars them is both “tremendous and ridiculous.” Both assessments are totally accurate, but it’s only bothersome if you consider the weirdness of the Watchers to be a bad thing. This is a movie that could have been a rote recitation of a story we know all too well; instead, thanks to Noah’s gonzo characters designs, contrasting art styles, and abruptly flipped character arcs, it’s a movie that even seems to surprise itself. Biblical purists may blanch, but we know which sermon we’d rather hear, and it’s the one where Noah commands a front line of angel-giants that crush the unbelievers in their rocky fists. Finally, a movie tie-in toy we could get behind.