Monster Ark – “He built one Ark to save us from the flood, the other to protect us from evil”
I’m going to start this entry with a bit of Bible study, just to make sure everyone’s on the same page. This movie deals (loosely; oh, so loosely) with the story of Noah, and the ark he built to save humanity from God’s wrath in the form of a flood. The short version is that people had become corrupted, except for Noah and his family, so God instructed him to build an ark and load up two of every animal, and then he and his family were to get on and ride out forty days and forty nights of rain that destroyed the rest of the world. (As an interesting side-note, the idea of a flood destroying the early world is found in a good many religions.)
Monster Ark is an archaeological tale (meaning inevitable homages to Indiana Jones, some intentional, some incidental) in which Dr. Nicholas Zavaterro (Tim DeKay, White Collar, Tell Me You Love Me) uncovers a long-lost Dead Sea Scroll that contains the original version of the Book of Genesis. Wanting to ensure the best translation is made, he takes it to his ex-wife Dr. Ava Greenway (Renée O’Connor, Boogeyman 2, Xena: Warrior Princess). After some effort (science montage!) they find that the scrolls talk about two arks built by Noah, one that survived translation throughout the centuries and was described in the Bible, and another that was used to transport the last demon to the ends of the earth to be banished. Unfortunately, the forces of darkness managed to cause this second ark to sink as it crossed the ocean, and the cage containing the demon was lost. However, because people are, historically, stupid, someone had written down coordinates (who knew they had GPS back then?) in the scrolls, so the two doctors head out to Iraq with a couple of graduate students and a squad of US Army soldiers to find the ark, predictably unleashing the demon on the world.
Left – Dr. Nicholas Zavaterro; right – Dr. Ava Greenway
Left – Joanna; right – Joanna and Russell
Left – Sgt. Gentry; right – Sgt. Gentry and his ineffectual weapon
The acting in this movie fell into two camps. The first is the scientists – DeKay, O’Connor, and the grad students (Amanda Crew and Bill Parks) are all pretty solid, and are definitely a step up from the SyFy norm. Then the first half-hour or so of the movie ends, and for the remaining hour, we’re left having to come to terms with rather unfortunate impressions of soldiers (led by Tommy Lister). Additionally, the CGI was sparing and, as such, was again an improvement over most SyFy, until the end, when a very sad-looking CGI thunderstorm, complete with very sad-looking CGI lightning, forced its way on screen, as though to drive home the point that this movie is a Sci Fi Pictures movie.
Left side of picture – sad lightning 😦
Lamentably, the cliché count is rather high in this movie. First, there’s the beginning, wherein Dr. Zavaterro and his grad students are at a dig site in Israel; when they find a long-lost chamber, the locals they’ve hired to dig refuse to open it, citing reference to a curse chiseled into the outer stone. This really touches on two clichés, that of ancient curses and warnings being left on doors to tombs and various resting places (which, of course, they were), and that of local diggers being superstitious (which I suppose they might be, but always strikes me as kind of over the top). Second, there’s the recurring theme throughout the movie of the dichotomy between science and evidence on the one hand and religion and belief (separate from proof) on the other. Here’s my issue with this juxtaposition – science and religion really aren’t mutually exclusive. There are plenty of religious scientists, and there are plenty of religious people who trust that science knows what it’s doing (modern-day politicians notwithstanding). The fact that movies, tv shows, etc. continually show scientists as ardent champions of atheism, trying at every turn to disprove all religion, is way too narrow, and way too overdone. (Yes, I realize that there are scientists like this out there, chief among them Richard Dawkins; but, though I may be mistaken about this, I like to believe that scientists actively trying to disprove religion are few and far between.) Finally, surprise surprise, the monster ark is guarded by its very own secret society. The descendents of Noah apparently took it upon themselves to preserve the secret location of the monster ark to ensure that the demon never escaped. Predictably, they failed without much effort on the part of our heroes. Strange how these secret societies always manage to keep a secret for umpteen thousand years, yet always end up looking kinda incompetent when a few people come along and unwittingly bypass their supposedly foolproof countermeasures…
“The cleverly disguised maps to the demon will throw everyone off the trail!”
Now, a riddle for you – if I shoot my Army-issue gun at a demon made of stone, with no noticeable effect, what should I try next? If you answered “the mythical staff that was originally used to subdue the creature”, then you’re better-prepared for such a situation than anyone in this movie, because the best they could come up with was “more bullets”. I seem to recall something like that being the definition (or one of them, at least) of insanity.
Bullets don’t work! Try more bullets!
The aforementioned staff was, of course, buried in Noah’s tomb along with him, but the location was known only to the aforementioned secret society. It’s a good thing someone long ago decided to build a map room straight out of Raiders of the Lost Ark. This was the most obvious, and most avoidable, Indiana Jones reference in the movie. (There were others, of course, but they were varying degrees of subtler.) And wouldn’t you know it, but the nonbeliever Dr. Zavaterro has a miraculous conversion along the way. He uses his newfound, hours-old (if that) religiousness to King Arthur Noah’s staff out of a sarcophagus that was supposedly Noah’s tomb, thereby giving him the power to subdue the demon and confine it once again in its monster ark, which brings me to this little gem – it’s difficult to watch this movie and not see the monster as the physical manifestation of Zavaterro’s refusal to believe in God. After all, it was after he had given himself over to God completely, turning to blind faith, that he found the staff allowing him to save the day. Moreover, he only was able to find the staff because he didn’t doubt his faith. He was also able to reconcile with his ex-wife because of it. Which brings us back to the beginning of the review portion of this entry – why can’t science and religion get along?
As a final, parting thought, I want to mention something in this movie that I, as a scientist, appreciated. When Dr. Zavaterro and his team bring the scroll to Dr. Greenway, there is the briefest of science montages, but then a cut-away with the caption “3 weeks later”. I would like to applaud this movie for recognizing the basic fact that science and research are not things that can yield solid results in minutes, and only rarely in hours. Of course, I suspect that three weeks is absolutely no time at all when one is trying to translate an ancient scroll, but it was still good to see some reference to the fact that science, as a discipline, typically takes time. (For a more accurate summary of science vs. montages, click here.)
Tune in next week for more sharks jumping; I can hear the splashing now!