The Nativity Story - In Theaters December 1, 2006 [UPDATED]

The Nativity Story

I am very glad to have seen the movie The Nativity Story at a screening this past Monday. The movie completely exceeded my expectations, and was compelling enough to make me want to see it again with my family before Christmas! I hope that if you have any opportunity to see the movie (especially during this opening weekend), you take it; you won't regret it.

The Nativity Story - Mary and Joseph

(WARNING: Spoilers to follow!)

I think the producers did a very commendable job of making this movie not have the gore and violence that could've taken it to a PG-13 or R rating (the movie is rated PG), yet still incorporate a gritty realism of the time period and social situation Jesus was born into. We see an authentic portrayal of Roman and Jewish society and culture in many scenes—whether it be the sacrifice of an animal, the harvesting of grain, the methods of travel or the collection of taxes.

I also think the writers came up with a great formula for success: Take the original, biblical story, add some respectful character development where it will benefit the story and entertainment value of the movie, and make it into a cohesive whole.

Some reviewers are quick to criticize the scene in which Mary falls off the donkey in a river and Joseph has to save her because it seems 'sketchy.' But I think that scene makes a very valid point: travel in the first century was very dangerous, and there weren't bridges on all rivers. To travel required a bit of planning, a lot of stamina, and physical strength. I like the fact that Joseph is portrayed as being so caring and devoted to Mary, even though her situation has served to bring a certain amount of scandal upon both of them.

One thing I like about The Nativity Story that, in my opinion, distinguishes it from many other lower-budget religious films, is the production quality of the film. This movie was made by New Line Cinemas, and so had a generous amount of financial backing and movie studio muscle. Unlike movies such as Thérèse and the like, which unfortunately don't have very large budgets, the film quality, sharpness, color, and editing were all top-notch. (Of course, if you're looking for dazzling special effects, you'll have to look elsewhere—there is no need for them in this story-driven movie).

This is not to say I thought the movie was perfect, though... There were a few scenes in which I think Mary could've been portrayed as being a little more loving towards her parents (and vice-versa), and a few of the Biblical dialogs were a bit 'cheesy' in that they didn't seem natural. However, these minor flaws are far outweighed by the great joy I felt throughout most of the movie, and especially in the climax scene of the birth of Jesus.

And about the Magi: I loved their characters. I think that the director and screenwriters deserve a lot of credit for the way they interpreted the traditional characters Melchior, Balthazar and Gaspar. If you see the movie, you'll see why—the characters are not portrayed as stodgy, solemn old kings, but as men who were learned and curious, and quite humble, with a bit of a sense of humor thrown in the mix!

Other Movie-Related News:

It seems the Vatican premiere went well, and that those who viewed the movie in Vatican City liked it. Also, there seems to be some controversy about a Christmas event in Chicago which is no longer going to have The Nativity Story playing because it 'might offend' those who aren't Christian. Finally, some papers were reporting that the 16-year-old Keisha Castle-Hughes who played the role of Mary in the film was pregnant out of wedlock (UPDATE: since posting this review, it has been confirmed that she is pregnant), and that was the reason Pope Benedict didn't attend the Vatican screening (protesting the movie because of the pregnancy... this is false...). But, Pope Benedict has something else on his plate this week that demands a little more attention. Come on, people!

The Soundtrack

Finally, I would like to state that, like blogger Peter Chattaway, on the blog FilmChat, I am often frustrated that movie soundtrack albums often don't contain only the movie soundtrack, but also some promotional pop songs. Well, in this movie's case, there was a CD released entitled "Sacred Songs" which contains absolutely NONE of the soundtrack to the movie. Instead, there are a bunch of CCM artist renditions of Christmas carols. Not that those songs are bad, but I think the Latin versions of the carols and the orchestral score in the movie are much better than all the CCM stuff stuck on the Sacred Songs CD.

The Nativity Story: Sacred Songs

Oh, well. What do I know, anyways? The actual soundtrack hasn't been released yet, but I will probably get a copy when it comes out, because the songs in the movie were so moving.

[UPDATE: The soundtrack for the movie is now available on iTunes and at any other retailer - I bought a copy, and I give the soundtrack 5/5 stars! It was very good.]

My Recommendation:

See this movie—you won't regret it! I give it two thumbs up!