Sunday, December 03, 2006

A Round-up on "The Nativity Story"

Hollywood embraces the biblical film. It's long overdue. Judging by the response of bloggers and reviewers, The Nativity Story is a must-see!

Steven D. Greydanus, writing for Decent Films, notes:

It is fitting, then, that the success of The Passion of the Christ should have paved the way for The Nativity Story. In the past, Jesus films have generally sought to cover the whole sweep of the gospel story, whether according to one particular Gospel (e.g., The Gospel According to Matthew; The Gospel of John) or synoptically (e.g., King of Kings; “Jesus of Nazareth”). By contrast, The Passion and The Nativity Story, like earlier forms of Christian drama, are narrower in scope — modern equivalents of, respectively, the medieval passion play and Christmas/Epiphany play (also known as “pastores et magi” or “shepherds and wise men”).

Astonishingly, The Nativity Story is essentially the first major “shepherds and wise men” feature film in Hollywood history. There’s never been any shortage of Christmas movies, of course. From It’s a Wonderful Life to A Christmas Carol, from Miracle on 34th Street to Tim Allen’s Santa Clause films, there are more Christmas movies than you could watch in all twelve days. Yet even at the height of Hollywood biblical epics, the real meaning of Christmas was essentially ignored (a few brief scenes in Ben-Hur notwithstanding).

The Nativity Story goes a long way toward redressing this historic omission. Written by Mike Rich (The Rookie, Radio) and directed by Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen, Lords of Dogtown), the film weaves and elaborates the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke into a character-centered tale of faith, calling, and sacrifice.


Despite its limitations, The Nativity Story is bound to become regular Advent and Christmas viewing for countless Catholic and Protestant families. I’m sure it will be for ours. We’ll still watch It’s a Wonderful Life at Christmas, but now we’ll also have The Nativity Story, just as we have The Miracle Maker for Easter.

The Nativity Story has been a long time coming. It’s a most welcome addition now that it’s finally here.

Frederica Mathewes-Green observes:
The Passion of the Christ had earlier been a shock to Hollywood. Perhaps they had envisioned the conservative Christian audience as too tiny or too ignorant to fool with; perhaps they had envisioned the Christian-bashing audience as including everyone worth including. But the long lines for Mel Gibson’s strong medicine, back in the spring of 2004, astounded everybody. And it turned out that Christian money is just as green as everybody else’s.

But is something deeper going on? The film’s producers insisted to the New York Times that they have had enough of the “cynical, youth-oriented, disposable entertainment you saw Friday and forget by Saturday,” as Wyck Godrey put it. The kind of films he wants to make now will be “about something and stick with you.” And producer Marty Bowen says he wants to make “movies I’d be proud of making. Movies my mother would go to.” He adds, “I’d rather be corny than cynical. I’d rather make a movie that’s patriotic than partisan.”

Those are surprising and refreshing words, and they wouldn’t have been heard a few years ago. But it may take a little longer to discover a way of producing films undergirded with such convictions that also have a bit of a spark. There is nothing in this film to offend devout Christians (parents note, however, a PG rating for some glimpses of crucifixion) — but solemnity rolls through it all like molasses. As the film opens with golden letters scrolling over a background of stormy clouds, and an unseen choir sings, “Veni, Veni, Emmanuel,” you have the distinct feeling that you’ve traveled back in time. No, not to first-century Palestine — to 1965, and a showing of The Greatest Story Ever Told.


Judging by the quantity of sniffles during closing credits, The Nativity Story hits a lot of viewers squarely in the heart. It’s a respectful and historically authentic film, and those two assets are rare enough to promise success, both on opening weekend and down the years. If this is the beginning of a trend toward movies that are not “cynical” and “disposable,” I’m all for it. And I hope eventually we’ll find a way to do it that is fresh and authentic, and not merely safe.
The American Papist sings its praises:
I’d say once again that I did enjoy the movie, and would recommend it to others (with the reservation about small children I’ve mentioned). The movie could have been far, far worse, and I am infinitely thankful that I am only left to pointing out small deficiencies instead of bemoaning a problematic movie that could lead people astray.

The Nativity Story is just the beginning, and I hope there will be many other movies like it in the future that pick up where it left off in retelling us the greatest story ever told.

AmP rating: 4 out of 5.
The Captain gives it his twenty-one gun salute:
We left the theater highly impressed by The Nativity Story. It will make a perfect movie for the family this Christmas season, although I would caution people to leave the younger children at home, especially for the scenes of the Bethlehem slaughter (which is not graphic but disturbing nonetheless) and a number of crucified bodies throughout the movie that remind us of the turbulent era in which this story takes place. Eventually, this will grace family shelves alongside copies of Jesus of Nazareth, The Ten Commandments, and other well-made films based on the Bible.
Bill Cork rounds up other reviews.

And perhaps the greatest miracle? MSM critics are mixed!

Sounds like a winner! Now, if only I can convince the Blushing Bride... :)