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Overall Rating

Awesome: 10.26%
Worth A Look: 12.82%
Just Average46.15%
Pretty Crappy: 30.77%
Sucks: 0%

5 reviews, 9 user ratings

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Nativity Story, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"a.k.a. Thirteen B.C."
2 stars

“The Nativity Story” is a recreation of the events leading up to the birth of Jesus Christ that features stilted dialogue being uncertainly delivered by actors encased in uncomfortable-looking outfits, any number of dull spots and a couple of moments that come off so badly that it will take all of your willpower to stifle any potential giggles. In other words, it is pretty much like every other Nativity pageant that you see every holiday season. In those cases, of course, you are likely to forgive such flaws because you have a kid up there playing the important role of Sheep #2 and because of the promise that punch and pie will be served afterwards–there are few things in the world that cannot be overlooked in the face of parental love or the promise of punch and pie. In this case, however, we are talking about a cinematic Nativity pageant that, despite being staged by an acclaimed director with two Oscar-nominated actresses and a $25-million-dollar budget at her disposal, is just as awkwardly staged and executed as anything you are liable to encounter in a school auditorium or church basement this season and you don’t even get any Hi-C and HyDrox cookies for your troubles when it finally ends.

Not surprisingly, “The Nativity Story” doesn’t stray from the familiar beats of the tale it is telling. After a prologue depicting (in a strictly PG manner) the slaughter of the first-born male children ordered by the prophecy-obsessed King Herod (Ciaran Hinds), the film introduces us to young Mary (Keisha Castle-Hughes) as she is first betrothed to friendly carpenter Joseph (Oscar Issac) and then as she is visited by the angel Gabriel (Alexander Siddig) and informed that she will be bearing the son of God. Of course, this isn’t the easiest thing to explain to her parents or her husband, especially since intercourse has been forbidden by law for her for another year, but Joseph accepts her explanation and eventually receives his own vision as well. Before long, Herod, still looking for the figure who may become the savior of us all (which would be bad for business), orders a census that requires all men to return to the towns where they were born. Joseph heads back to Bethlehem and the quite-pregnant Mary must make the arduous journey with him, a trip that ends with her giving birth in a manger when no other room can be found in the now-crowded town. (If you are about to complain that the previous sentence needed a Spoiler Warning, I am going to gently suggest at this time that you may not be the target audience for this film.)

Although one probably shouldn’t go into a film like “The Nativity Story” looking for some radical narrative approach, I kept waiting for it to demonstrate some reason as to why it was made in the first place, other than the fact that “The Passion of the Christ” demonstrated that a contemporary religious film could have a potentially strong commercial upside (especially with the absence of the relentless gore that marked “Passion”). Instead of doing that, it just plods along in the most unsurprising manner possible and even the stuff that usually doesn’t get covered in most versions of the story–such as Mary’s consternation over marrying a man she hardly knows and her visit to an older relative (Shohreh Agdashloo) whose miraculous pregnancy was also foretold by Gabriel–is handled by screenwriter Mike Rich in a dry-as-dust manner that sucks all of the human drama out of the material with its disjointed fusion of Biblical quotes and dialogue that can’t decide whether it wants to approximate the formal tone of most Bible films or a more casual and everyday approach. The latter take can be interesting when handled in an intelligent manner (as it was in Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ”) but here, we are treated to such silliness as comic relief Wise Men who wander around the desert while saying things like “It’s Venus, if I’m correct–and I usually am” or “I am the wisest" as though they were the Three Wise Stooges.

I think that part of my disappointment with “The Nativity Story” stems from the fact that the presence of director Catherine Hardwicke, whose previous efforts were the youth-gone-wild tales “Thirteen” and “Lords of Dogtown” and Keisha Castle-Hughes, the young actress who turned a lot of heads with her performance in the great “Whale Rider,” seemed to promise a fresh take on the story that the film doesn’t deliver on. I haven’t been an admirer of Hardwicke’s previous films but they did have a sort of heedless energy that unfortunately wasn’t carried over to this project–she handles the material in the same stodgy manner as many a previous Biblical epic without any of the notes of genuine cinematic grace that would occasionally turn up in something like “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” As for Castle-Hughes, the compelling presence that she displayed in “Whale Rider” is largely absent here–as Mary, she furrows her brow a lot and looks vaguely concerned but comes off as far too remote of a presence to really engage any of us in the audience.

“The Nativity Story” has been handsomely mounted–former production designer Hardwicke has given the film a harshly realistic look far removed from most Biblical epics (although she throws this approach away at the end with a finale that includes a light show reminiscent of the one that greeted Richard Dreyfuss at the end of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”)–and I would guess that for many potential viewers, the mere fact that someone has made a large-scale film of this particular story trumps any of the complaints that I have made. I understand those sentiments and for those people, this film should be more than satisfactory. However, for those whose interest in the film is driven by concerns cinematic instead of theological, “The Nativity Story” will probably come as somewhat of a disappointment.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15286&reviewer=389
originally posted: 12/01/06 01:11:55
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User Comments

1/12/09 Anonymous. obviously really good story :], nice to look at and worth a watch.. 4 stars
12/30/08 John Sullivan A moving story told intelligently. A yearly must 4 stars
11/25/07 g webster a wonderfully done story on the birth of Christ,faithful and well acted 4 stars
11/17/07 jared this was a wonderful presentation of the birth of Jesus. I loved every second of this film 5 stars
1/13/07 Millie Maelstrom At least they're still making Christian movies in the post-Mel Gibson era! 4 stars
12/22/06 erik great movie, moved me to tears 5 stars
12/14/06 Joan Fumento I Thought it was Wonderful, it filled my heart with joy and hope, we need more like this. 5 stars
12/05/06 Matthew Carratt I can't see how the story could be told any better, or beautifully. Very real. Loved it! 5 stars
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  01-Dec-2006 (PG)
  DVD: 20-Mar-2007



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