Cinema Junkie by Beth Accomando
Friday, December 1, 2006
Bible stories have always been popular in Hollywood. Mel Gibsons The Passion of the Christ may be a recent box office winner but it is by no means the first film to tap the scriptures for success. Back in the silent days, Cecil B. DeMille discovered the appeal of reveling in decadence and sin as part of Biblical tales about redemption or Gods wrath. Later he enjoyed the epic scope of The Ten Commandments , and dare I say, found sexy appeal in the sword and sandal films where so much skin could be exposed without raising any disapproval. There were also sprawling sagas such as The Greatest Story Ever Told and The Bible . These Biblical epics proved irresistible to an adolescent Martin Scorsese who fantasized about making one of his own. He eventually did tackle a Christ story with his flawed yet brilliant The Last Temptation of Christ , which stirred controversy for showing a very human Christ.
Keisha Castle-Hughes stars as Mary in The Nativity Story
This years The Nativity Story taps into this long tradition of Bible tales and aspires to show a more human side to its well-known and iconic figures. The phenomenal financial success of Gibsons The Passion of the Christ probably made funding The Nativity Story a little easier than it might have been just a few years earlier. The press materials, striving to inflate the film with portentous weight, boasts that its a cinematic journey into the heart of historys greatest story, The Nativity Story is poised to come to the big screen for the first time in a major motion picture event. New Line Cinemas The Nativity Story chronicles the arduous journey of two people, Mary and Joseph, a miraculous pregnancy, and the history-defining birth of Jesus.
But this major motion picture event plays more like a small screen after school special or a Sunday school video. Writer Mike Rich ( The Rookie, Finding Forrester ) and director Catherine Hardwicke ( Thirteen, Lords of Dogtown ) try to show the teenage Mary (Keisha Castle-Hughes) and her husband-to-be Joseph (Oscar Isaac) as ordinary people placed in extraordinary circumstances. The filmmakers desperately want to create a film where the characters feel real rather than like larger than life icons. Unfortunately such aspirations are artistically beyond their grasp. You can see what they are trying to do but you also see how far short they are falling.
The production design (by Stefano Maria Ortolani) has a very made-for-TV appearance. Nothing looks quite lived in and extras are always walking through carrying some artifactbasket, water jug, bundle of woodthat seems calculated to prove that the design staff did some research. But you have the feeling that if the camera panned just a little to the left or right youd see a a catering truck and trailers for the actors. We simply don't feel like the world we're presented with in one that's lived in. It feels more like a Disneyland's The Nativity Set.
The Nativity Story
Hardwicke, who may have been hired because shes dealt with young characters in her previous films, tries to show what life might have been like for a teenage girl like Mary. One day shes playing with her friends, running through the field like a child and the next day she finds herself in an arranged marriage with a man she doesnt know. But showing a bunch of giggling girls like the high schoolers in Thirteen , isnt really digging deep for insight. And when Joseph eyes Mary, his friend nudges him like the skaters in Lords of Dogtown checking out the local talent and saying "Hey she's a hottie." That just plays as anachronistic rather than humanizing the young Joseph. Hardwicke tries to apply whats shes done in her contemporary teen films to this period tale but it doesnt quite work. None of her characters fully live or breath in this film.
The casting of Keisha Castle-Hughes is good. This fine young actress brings a maturity and natural grace to the role. But with Richs less than inspired script she ends up a little lost and one-dimensional. The only other performer to achieve any naturalism is Shohreh Aghdashloo as Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. Aghdashloo has become Hollywoods token Middle Eastern actress, and while shes a fine performer, it would be nice if they started to look beyond her for some additional talent that can be found in abundance in the many fine Iranian films still coming out of that country. The men of The Nativity Story fare far less well. They are earnest yet wooden in their efforts. Theres also the oddity of having the three wise men being turned into the comic relief of the film.
Having been raised by a Catholic mother and an agnostic father who read me the Bible every night because he thought it was a beautiful work of literature, I grew up with a unique perspective on these religious stories. They were about both faith and art. The Nativity Story captures neither. It neither radiates with an inspiring sense of faith nor does it find the beauty of the storytelling.
The Nativity Story (rated PG for some violent content) is a sincere but ultimately uninspired work. For a film that does capture a more vivid sense of the drama and the mystery within this Biblical story, check out Franco Zeffirellis TV mini-series Jesus of Nazareth with a radiant Olivia Hussey as Mary. When it came out in 1977, I remember it stirred controversy for, among other things, showing Mary going through labor to deliver the baby Jesus. But after the various controversies over the Biblical themed films of Martin Scorsese and Mel Gibson, Zeffirelli's film is now referred to as a reverent adaptation.
Companion viewing: Jesus of Nazareth, The Passion of the Christ, Jesus Christ Superstar, Whistle Down the Wind, The Whale Rider
December 06, 2006 at 01:48 PM
An excellent film. For believers it is an occasion to visualise all that is written in the Gospels about the nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Furthermore it serves as a meditation about the ways the God acts with us His people so that He could help us to aquire His Kingdom. After the film I felt the need to thank God for his Love towords us his people for sending His only Son to redeem us. The acting is excellent. Excellent scenes. Nothing to criticize. The world needs films with positive messages as is the film The Nativity Story. Thank you -----
December 07, 2006 at 06:17 AM
I am a youth pastor and rented the whole theatre for my church youth group. My assistant and I were surprised how the teens gobbled up the tickets. I took about 185 teens and a few adults. An excellent film. Well done, in good taste, and inspiring. Very human. Having read the prophecies and narratives about the Messiah, I enjoyed the biblical references throughout the film. The every day life of Nazereth was believeable. The focus on Joseph was very interesting and a fresh twist to the old story. As a believer, I approached the film from a faith point of view, and loved it. Our youth now have a new understanding of the culture of the day and the hardships faced. I appreciate all the effort in making this movie and I hope it does well. Thank you.
December 12, 2006 at 04:04 AM
I thought the film was an excellent portrayal of the characters of Mary and Joseph. Not overstated or understated. The story, told simply and with a committment to scriptural accuracy, speaks for itself and stirs emotions because of it. Well acted, well filmed, I came away thankful and focused on the meaning of the season.
December 16, 2006 at 09:34 AM
Thanks to everyone who is posting. I do urge anyone who liked the film to check out Franco Zeffirelli's Jesus of Nazareth as well and see how they feel the two compare.
December 18, 2006 at 02:48 AM
Refreshing! I appreciated seeing a more personal, humanistic approach to Joseph, Mary, and her family. The faith they portray is a lesson to all. I felt many times as if I was in Nazareth or Bethlehem and witnessing the event for myself.
December 21, 2006 at 04:15 AM
A beautiful and not-so-glamorized portrayal of the birth of Our Savior. My wife and I left the theater saying "that must be what it was like". Thank you for a wonderful experience that put tears in my eyes, and brought back hope for Hollywood. This is what America wants.
December 22, 2006 at 03:55 AM
I loved this movie. It was simple and beautiful. I felt it captured as close as possible what the birth of Jesus must have been like. I was moved to tears more than once. I highly recommend it. I take excpetion to the reviewer's silly comment that "But you have the feeling that if the camera panned just a little to the left or right youd see a a catering truck and trailers for the actors," if you think about it doesn't that apply to every movie ever made? BTW, my 10 year old daughter thought it was boring and scary.
December 22, 2006 at 08:11 PM
Having 1 Catholic parent and 1 agnostic parent is not unique. I don't know why the reviewer has to tell us this, but she apparently feels it qualifies her to deem the movie lacking in faith inspiration. I'm a 65 year old "macho" male Christian (Catholic). It certainly radiated something. I wept. I'll recommend it to my friends and family.
December 23, 2006 at 12:20 AM
I found thid movie very realistic and it helped me to understand better the life and trials of biblical life. And as far as dialoge, im sure the real Mary and Joseph would not have had flowery,extravegant speech. I thought it was done well.
December 29, 2006 at 05:36 AM
I thought this movie was well done and made me feel what it was like to be there. The manger is something we only see on table tops, and to see it like it really was, gave new insight of the humble birth of our Lord. I like the way Joseph was portrayed, and we forget that being amongst the people of the town must have been difficult for both Mary and Joseph. I imagine the angels were a bit more mighty however! I am glad to have had the opportunity to see it, and hope there are many more to follow.
December 29, 2006 at 08:44 PM
I had to take my eight year old daughter out 15 minutes into the movie as she was sobbing loudly and refusing to watch anymore. She found both the baby slaughter scene at the opening and the tax collector taking the young girl away horrible to watch (as did I). I'd like to watch it the whole movie with her when she is older, but definately would not recommend it for young children.
August 06, 2007 at 03:42 AM
that movie was fresh 2 death my dudes
November 15, 2007 at 11:49 AM
i love it! its very magnificent but some of the events in the movie has similarities to Zeffereli's Jesus of Nazareth like the dream of joseph aboutmary about to be killed and the labour of mary. but despite all that i really love it go see it it's a classic with a twist of realness and humanity!
November 30, 2007 at 06:00 PM
While Jesus of Nazareth by Zeffereli has it's good points, it does not spend near the amount of time on the story of the birth of Christ as this film. Also, the adult Jesus of Jesus of Nazareth is portrayed in a very unrealistic fashion. I feel like he stares off into space---far worse than the portrayal of Mary & Joseph in "The Nativity." BTW, I much prefer the portrayal of the adult Jesus in "Matthew" (The Visual Bible), though that film suffers a bit from not being allowed to deviate from the Bible text.
December 14, 2007 at 11:39 PM
The Nativity story touched my heart in so many ways. I think anyone can watch it and I recomend it to anyone that I meet and you should to. After I saw this movie I looked for the Fulllength move on the web and on T.V. franticly that is how much I love it!!! It changed the way I see the world,pray,attend mass, and it really makes me want to think that was the way it 100% happened. The people that play the characters are soo amazing and are great actors and the make me want tobelive they are the real characters. God Bless all of you.
Roberto Rodriguez Sr
December 25, 2007 at 10:07 PM
Obviously this movie was made for the faithful who longed for a more "realistic" view of the world sorrounding Mary and Joseph. Both appear as normal everyday people, as opposed to previous attempts at showing Mary as a Virgin with virgin regalia in human form, or maybe even in nun attire. No, she is portrayed a regular innocent child who was chosen by God to be the mother of the Saviour. Definitely this movie was not made for critics, as they would only take apart, disect it and find al kinds of faults and production bloopers. Rather present it to the people who is going to enjoy it for what it is, or stick it in a drawer somewhere.
January 02, 2008 at 07:01 PM
Again I urge people to see Franco Zeffirelli's Jesus of Nazareth, which I think also tries for a more realistic portrait but which does so with much greater artistry. And Olivia Hussey's Mary is breathtakingly beautiful.
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