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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Review - The Nativity Story

Being a Christian, I wanted to love this movie.  However, being a  Christian, there are lots of "Christian" things I want to love, but  few that I do.  The Nativity Story is one for the latter catagory.   The landscape, productions, costumes, cinematography is all  brilliant.  Unfortunately, in this day and age, most movies can be lauded for this if any serious attempt is made.  We are too far  along in history for Christian films to be excused for poor quality  because they are Christian so having these parts of the movie be  brilliant does not give it points, only reaches to what is expected  of every movie.  So we must look at the acting, the story line and  the script.    The story line is, well, rather hemmed in since it is a story that we all know backwards and forwards and one where there is no allowance for departing from it.  So that makes that task of making it exciting and compelling, that much harder.  A bonus was that they did maintain a story line that was true to the actual story.   Although, why they started with the murder of the innocents, I do not know.  Well, I assume it was to get the movie moving with a scene that included some suspense but it seemed out of place and it didn't really have any suspense if you don't know what is happening or why.  This is the one part of the story that most people probably don't get to when reading it at Christmas and most likely ignore because of its unsavory nature.  So, to use it at the beginning seems to waste it and also dimishes it when we actually get to it again at the end of the movie.  They really didn't tie it together well either.   Which brings us to the screen play.  It starts out, like I said, with the murder of the innocents but what is happening and why is vague so the tension that is desired is lacking.  It doesn't last nearly long enough either.  Which is a common theme throughout ths movie.  They needed to cut down on pretty scenary and lengthen the dramatic and suspensful parts.  By the time your emotions catch up with what is happening on the screen, the scene is over, leaving you bored.  And we didn't really need to see Mary and Joseph traveling through every possible landscape and weather condition.  One or two would have given us a good idea of the difficult nature of the journey and this could have been accomplished through the scenes that included an actual event such as the river crossing or the family with weak mule or several others.  To try to make it seem as though the journey they were on was any more difficult than any journey that any person would take on a normal day in that period of time is a little disingenuous to me. The need for lengthening of a dramatic scenes happened time and time again.  The opening scene, the scene where the kids are playing in the field, the scene when Mary is leaving to go to Elizabeth and the soldiers come through, the scene on the path with the weak mule, the scene of the river crossing, the scene when they arrive in Bethlehem, the scene when she gives birth, the scene with the shepherds and the final scene with the slaughter of the innocents.  All of these scenes needed to be much longer and more suspenseful.  The scenes with the angel were dreadful as well.  These should have been almost frightening encounters.  It seems to me that they wanted to keep this a movie that children could watch so they limited anything extreme.  But they missed a great opportunity to graphically show the story as it was lived out.  If Gibson had made this movie it would have been an R but it would have been moving, life changing and worth watching.  As it is, it will be hard for me to get my kids to sit through it again each Christmas.   Take the slaughter of the innocents, this event would have taken a large amount of soldiers, it would have totally disrupted the city and it would have taken quite a bit of time.  It also would have affected, even the hardened Roman soldiers.  Mary and Joseph would have needed a bit of time to leave since they had been there a couple years already or they would have needed to be much more secretive when they left if it had been while the soldiers were already in the town.  The fear would have been immeasurable and the anguish from the town uncontrolled but none of this was shown at the end.  It was the height of an anti-climax.    And this attitude towards dramatic scenes permeated the entire film. The only scenes I felt went long enough were the tax collecting scene (although the extremely poor character developement up to that point made you miss all the drama concerning her father because you are not even sure who the guy is at that point),  the scene where Mary is confronted by her parents and Joseph, and the scene when Mary and Joseph leave town.  This last scene provides one of the best lines from a movie I have heard in a long time.  I won't ruin it for you by telling you but listen for it.  The scenes with the wisemen work well and bring some needed emotion (by way of humor) to the movie.  Although, there are things that don't make sense even with these characters.   When they are going through the narrow city streets they are devoid of the servants accompanying them.  And, it seems to me that they would need a much larger party, including some military if they were to make such a long journey.  The scene with the Pharisees in Jerusalem was a hugely missed opportunity for insight into the religious leaders mentality about the whole thing as well. I could go on forever, but let's get to the actors.   I felt all the actors (accept the angel) did a decent job although often they were not given much to work  with as far as the script was concerned.  Everthing was too  subdued.  Mary had almost no emotion show on her face ever.   Partly this could be due to the idea of her piety but mostly I think  it was due to the words she was saying.  They just didn't elicit  emotion.  There were only a few times where there was some fire  to what was being said.  In her discussion with her parents about  the pregnancy, and when she told Elizabeth that she was nothing.   That was a scene that escaped nearly everyone I spoke to about  the movie, maybe because her face reflected none of the anguish  she felt inside when she said it, which was a problem for Mary the  entire movie. She seemed like a deer in the headlights most of the  time.  If that line had been uttered with more conviction and  emotion it would have brought me to tears.  The other part that I  felt Mary did well was whe she came to the realization of what an  amazing man Joseph was.  You could see the love growing in her  heart for this man she hardly knew.  The wisemen were amazing,  the highlight of the movie.  Herod was drab and his son was, well,  odd.  And the scene when the wisemen bypassed Jerusalem on their  way home reminded me of Monty Python's Holy Grail "On second  thought, let's not go there...tis a silly place."  But I digress.   Overall it was hugely dissappointing and could have been so  much more. Hopefully this will be a lesson to future Christian  film makers to forego "family freindly" and stick to making a  good movie.  "The Passion of the Christ" this movie is not...and  more passion is what we need.     

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Hardy Ulmet said...

Interesting to read your take on the movie. I urged people to see it even though I felt it was less than average in quality. It DID put me in the Christmas mood. It was a good see for a family outing, IMOO (In My Obnoxious Opinion).

I thought Mary was excellently cast even though I felt she was too submissive to what was happening . . . although, considering the culture, etc., maybe that was OK.

The graphics and special effects were terrible. The whole overall lighting of the movie was lousy.

I disagree with how much depth we needed on the characters other than Mary & Joseph. (I likewise felt Joseph was far too dismissive with events that had happened.) I DO think it a bit sad we seemed to know the wise men better than Mary or Joseph. I felt their portrayal (The wise men.) gave some levity to the flick.

Still, again, I felt it was worthy of support and better than time spent with Letterman or Leno. As I said, we were very much in the Christmas spirit as we left the theater.

One of the most ridiculous critiques, IMOO, was USA Today when they said they found the plot line too predictable! Duh!

Enjoyed perusing your blog and will return.

Have a blessed day,

Hardy Ulmet

Nicholas said...

Thanks for your comment! Maybe it didn't come across in what I wrote but I too enjoyed the movie, myself, however, my concern is that with so many missed opportunities to make it a great movie it will be hard to get my children to enjoy it even as much as I did. Again, I would LOVE to be able to watch this movie with my family every Christmas but my 14 year already wasn't impressed with it and I can't really argue against his complaints, unfortunately.

I also thought that Mary was cast well but that she seemed to lack emotion. Not so much in her voice but her face. This isn't her fault as much as the director's, I would think.

LOL, I hadn't read the USA Today but I had read another review that complained of the same thing. I guess they maybe wanted some sub-plot that challenged Mary's virginity or an ending that suggested Jesus maybe DIDN'T escape to Egypt. Frankly, they are not qualified to review such a movie except for the technical areas like quality of acting and filming, etc.

Thanks for the comment and I will read you soon.



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