UPDATE: New Line Home Entertainment brings The Nativity Story to DVD on March 20, 2007
FILM SYNOPSIS: In Nazareth, a town oppressed by the devastating taxation practices of King Herod, a teenage girl, Mary, is told by her parents that they have arranged for her to marry Joseph. Distraught by the idea of marrying a man she hardly knows, Mary takes refuge in a grove to collect her thoughts. There, she is visited by an angel who tells her that she has been chosen by God to bear his son. Despite the public scorn from an unwed pregnancy, together, Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem for a census mandated by the King. It is here where the world receives its greatest gift.
COMMENTS: The studio and filmmakers worked diligently in order to ensure that the The Nativity Story was both historically and biblically accurate. There were many Christians involved with the film, such as screenwriter Mike Rich and producer Wyck Godfrey, and a wide spectrum of Christian New Testament scholars and historians had been involved in the pre-production process.
PHIL BOATWRIGHT: Though missing some of the grandeur we would love to have seen when the angles proclaimed the birth of the baby Jesus, the film successfully fleshed out Mary and Joseph, making them real people and clarifying their love and devotion to God and to one another. Its a love story in so many ways.
PRODUCER MARTY BOWEN: Im really proud of the love these two characters share in this movie. The first two acts present a very gritty, difficult way to live and we wanted the film to feel of that time and place. We wanted to show you a few layers of the individuals and show you the journey of faith and then have that faith rewarded at the place of His birth.
The DVD includes:
16x9 widescreen (2.35:1) version of the film
4x3 fullscreen (1.33:1) version of the film
English Dolby Digital 5.1 and English 2.0 Stereo Surround
English & Spanish subtitles
DVD special features subject to change.
PREVIEW REVIEW:The Nativity Story opens on a panoramic view of a clear night sky, with an orchestral version of O Come, O Come Emmanuel on the soundtrackprecisely what you would expect from a film about the birth of our Lord and Savior. But seconds later, the tone has changed. King Herods troops swarm into Bethlehem to begin slaughtering male infants, a plan hatched by the paranoid ruler to ensure the Jewish Messiah wont live to overthrow him. Graphic bloodshed is kept off-camera, but the point is clear: This wont be a Hallmark-style depiction of the Christmas story.
Flashing back one year, the film shows a teenaged Mary (Keisha Castle-Hughes) sharing a small home in Nazareth with her parents, grandfather, uncle and two young cousins. Its an impoverished life, and Roman tax collectors make matters worse by pulling girls into slavery when their families crops fall below expectations. To spare Mary this fate, her father blesses her betrothal to Joseph (Oscar Isaac), a young carpenter she hardly knows. Mary runs to a secluded olive grove to sort out her feelings, and its there that the angel Gabriel appears to tell her she will conceive and bear the son of God, while yet a virgin. As in Scripture, her acceptance of this news is both full and immediate. A visit to older cousin Elizabeth (Shohreh Aghdashloo), herself chosen to bear John the Baptist, confirms Marys faith. But harsh challenges remain. The movie fleshes out the Gospel accounts in plausible ways, as Mary is shunned by the village once her pregnancy is known, and Joseph shifts from feelings of betrayal to selfless love and sacrifice.
Traits are revealed in Mary and Joseph that, the script suggests, will be passed on to Jesus. For instance, on a stop during the census journey to Bethlehem, Mary washes Josephs feet, an act of loving respect for his own devotion. Later, Joseph is angered by the sight of merchants at the Temple in Jerusalem. Yet they both understandably wonder if theyll be able, as parents, to teach Gods son anything.
Other scenes hint at future painthe couple passes a row of cruficied men, a street prophet is beaten and dragged away by Roman soldiers. And while crossing a river, Mary falls in and is nearly bitten by a water snake, which may symbolize Satan trying to prevent the birth. But all moments of periland shots of Mary and Elizabeth in laborare treated discreetly, making The Nativity Story suitable for children beyond preschool age.
Like The Passion of the Christ, the film was shot mostly in rural, southern Italy because the original sites are now too modernized. But the substitution works well, giving most of the story a gritty, you are there feeling. Director Catherine Hardwicke makes a few wrong choices. The Magi are treated as semi-comic characters, with a persnickety Gaspar fussing throughout their 600-mile trek to greet the newborn King; and the angels appearance before the shepherds recalls biblical epics of Hollywoods golden agemaybe a bit too much for contemporary tastes. But performances by the international cast are uniformly sincere. Mr. Isaac, a Guatemalan-born actor in his starring debut, is especially moving as Joseph. Ms. Aghdashloo and Ciarn Hinds make strong impressions as the supportive Elizabeth and insidious King Herod. And if 16-year-old Keisha Castle-Hughes seems more reserved here than in her Oscar-nominated Whale Rider turn, it may only be to express the mature-beyond-her years quality Mary likely possessed.
The Nativity Story is truly an antidote to the secularized holiday entertainments that flood the market this time of year, and it deserves to be seen and applauded.
Do the movies scenes match your own vision of the story?
What aspects might have been explored, which were not?
When have you made your greatest leap of faith as a Christian? How did the experience change you?
Bill Fentum is an associate editor of the United Methodist Reporter, and a radio-TV-film graduate of the University of Texas at Austin. This review was published in the December 1 issue of the Reporter, and is posted on Preview with permission from UMR Communications, 1221 Profit Drive, Dallas, Texas 75247. 1-800-947-0207.