The Nativity Story
RATING: PG for some violent content.
RELEASE: Dec. 1, 2006
STARRING: Keisha Castle-Hughes, Oscar Isaac, Hiam Abbass, Shaun Toub, Ciaran Hinds, Shohreh Aghdashloo
DIRECTOR: Catherine Hardwicke
DISTRIBUTOR: New Line Cinema
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'The Nativity' Brings Christ Back to Christmas
By Lori D'Augostine
CBN.com Associate Producer
CBN.com For unto us, a film is born, and it is not the typical, commercialized Holiday motion picture. This is the first time in nearly 50 years, that a Biblically-based movie has been budgeted by one of the reigning kings of Hollywood. That would be New Line Cinema. The studio took a leap of faith, and will undoubtedly reap a harvest of box-office blessings this Christmas.
Much like the simple story it tells of the birth of Christ, The Nativity Story is a gift packaged for movie-goers of all ages and backgrounds. Producer's Wyck Godfrey and Marty Bowen expect it to become an annual Holiday tradition.
"We hope that for years to come, many families will watch this on Christmas Eve and see why this story is so important," said Bowen.
Set to release in 8,000 theatres worldwide today, The Nativity Story comes to us at an opportune time. With films like the The Passion and One Night With the King preparing ye the way in a desert of Hollywood spectacle, Christians can now rest easy. The true meaning of Christmas is back.
The Nativity Story will give Christmas a makeover and audiences a reality check. It is a story about "one family, one journey, (and most importantly) one child ... that will change the world forever."
Staying true to the Biblical account, the movie opens with an authentic portrayal of Nazareth, a town oppressed by the taxation of King Herod. A teenage Mary is disturbed to learn that her parents have arranged her marriage to Joseph, a man she hardly knows. Then, to make matters more complicated, she is visited by the angel Gabriel, who tells her she is with child.
Mary's response is awe-inspiring. She submissively answers, "Let it be according to your word."
Sixteen-year-old Academy Award nominee (Whale Rider), Keisha Castle-Hughes is compelling in her portrayal of Mary. We see a clear and believable arch in her character, as her youthful angst gives way to an adult-like love and acceptance for the will of God.
Perhaps the most surprising performance of all comes from Oscar Isaac (upcoming Guerilla), a graduate of Julliard who is making his Hollywood debut. He clearly did his homework and found ways to expand upon a character that is simply described in the Bible as "righteous." Perhaps his Christian upbringing aided him. Yet his performance is still thought-provoking. Every line he delivers is rich and indicative of his love for Mary.
Huges and Isaac do not completely steal the spotlight. Even though their characters are relatable and inspiring, Screenwriter, Mike Rich's story dominates and draws the most attention towards Bethlehem.
By and large, The Nativity Story chronicles the arduous journey of this young couple's deportation from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem, Joseph's ancestral home. By order of King Herod, they must register for a census. It is a journey of more than 100 miles, through treacherous terrain, made much more difficult by the fact that Mary is nine months pregnant.
Also joining in the journey towards Bethlehem are the three wise men. To break up the other weighted scenes, Rich craftily creates the Magi as comic relief. He gives them vices, making one a seeker, a scientist, and a cynic.
There is also a shepherd whose journey culminates at the nativity scene. Although there is theological debate surrounding the timing of the wise men and shepherds arrival to the manger, Rich's nativity would have lacked an essential subplot if either were absent.
"This story is also about the transformation of man. The one scene that surprises me more than any other is when Gaspar (the cynic) drops to his knees and is overwhelmed by the birth of Christ. That is the centerpiece of the story," noted Rich.
There are few moments that the audience will need to suspend their belief, because the film evokes the same authenticity that Mel Gibson portrayed in his rendition of Christ. Although not as gritty and explicit as Gibsons take, The Nativity Story still carries the weight of epic realism and is rated PG for some violent content.
Rich did not want to overload the movie with angelic visitations or grandiose visions of heavenly hosts so that more focus would be paid to the human elements of the story.
Having seen the movie, there are a few eyebrow raising moments when the angel Gabriel appears. He is cloaked in white, and mimics the 1973 Jesus Christ Superstar rendition of Jesus.
Yet for the most part, Director, Catherine Hardwicke captures this spiritual journey as provocative as an artist/production designer should. She admittedly dropped the rosey-colored glasses to paint a less than pretty Hallmark picture, unlike her Biblical epic predecessors.
"I wanted to see Mary as a young girl and not perfectly pious. I wanted to see that moment when Joseph saw Mary pregnant," she has said.
According to New Line Cinema, Hardwicke was chosen because of her uncanny ability to create cutting edge, multi-dimensional characters. Having just directed Lords of Dogtown and Thirteen, she is a novice at capturing the lives of teenagers and the struggles involved in making difficult decisions.
During the last few months, Rich has traveled internationally promoting The Nativity and making guest appearances at churches and theatres. He says there is nothing more satisfying then hearing the audience's reactions to lines like Joseph's, "Why me?"
Perhaps he has wondered the same thing. This film can't help but to inspire awe and humility. At the Vatican last Sunday, a crowd of more than 7,000 even broke out in thunderous applause several times during the film's 90-minute showing, with the most enthusiastic being during the scene of Christ's birth in Bethlehem.
Not by any fault of the Screenwriter or Director, the race to behold the long-awaited Messiah, will leave you on the edge of your seat, but there is no need to fasten your seatbelt.
Rich has packed some subtle action with rabbit trails and booby traps along the way. There is the antagonist, King Herod who hurls his threats throughout the movie.
In the opening of the film, the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:15 is fulfilled as Herod orders the onslaught of all male children under two-years-old in the city of Bethlehem. Irish actor, Ciaran Hinds, last seen for his role as an Israeli assassin in Munich, is every bit as evil and conniving in his attempt to hinder the birth of the Messiah. Yet, he is not completely overpowering.
Even Shoreh Aghdashloo, a passionate Iranian actress, named 2003's Best Supporting Actress for her performance in House of Sand and Fog is subtle and spirited in her portrayal of Mary's cousin, Elizabeth.
One of the best moments in the movie occurs after a well-worn Elizabeth, past her child-bearing years, gives birth to John the Baptist. In a scene lasting a few seconds, we see in her a wide range of emotions. She is laughing and crying at the same time. Elizabeth is overwhelmed by the fulfillment of a prophecy given to her husband Zechariah, as well as the intense, primitive, post-birth agony she must have experienced.
There are scenes that border the same genius Gibson had in his ability to show levels of Biblical and prophetic symbolism. There is the moment that Joseph crushes the head of the snake as is prophecied of Jesus, the breaking of bread that would later symbolize Christ's sacrifice, and the mention of the temple as "meant to be a holy place" by Joseph and later uttered by the adolescent Jesus.
Set in the backdrop of Southern Italy and Morocco, the sets bear a striking resemblance to Israel around the time of Christ. The landscape is rich with rolling green hills, protruding limestone rocks, and ancient olive groves. The village of Nazareth was recreated with the look and feel of the way houses were built expanding upward on hills, away from the flat lands used for the wheat and grape fields.
Yet, none is more eye-appealing than the way the cameras' captured the final Nativity scene. The three stars have joined together, the perfect silhouette of characters are all in place, and the baby Jesus is aglow with all the reverence and worship due Him this Holiday season. And by this time, audiences have earned their 50 year long-awaited right to see Christmas as it should be. This final Nativity scene will be their reward.
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For more Nativity movie information, go to CBN.com's Special Nativity page.
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