Netflix this: ‘The Nativity Story’

I must confess: I planned on liking this movie before I even saw it.  As a Christian and as a movie addict, The Nativity Story seemed like the right amalgamation of spirituality and cinema.  I was in the mood to watch an uplifting film about the Christmas story, especially since I tried to watch the abismal Rankin-Bass special Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey the other day.  (Bastardizing Santa and Rudolph is one thing, but stay away fom the birth of Jesus.)

I shied away from The Nativity Story because when it was released theatrically in 2006 it got lousy reviews (Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer has it at 38%) and it only grossed about $44 million worldwide.  Quite a pitiful sum, when you consider that the target audience is all of Christendom (that’s a lot of people).  So I added it to my Netflix queue, wanting to get into the Christmas spirit in a medium that speaks to me.  (I’m not big on candy canes or tacky sweaters.)

It could be my innate bias towards such a film, but I found The Nativity Story to be a compelling and, yes, moving  portrayal of a story I’ve heard and read numerous times.  This is a film where you know what’s going to happen.  The key is to enjoy the journey of how they arrive at the final destination.

What’s it about? Regardless of your faith or your devotion to it, there’s a pretty good chance you know the gist of the story.  Set in the year before Christ’s birth, Mary (Keisha Castle-Hughes) is told in a vision that she’ll give birth to a child that will be the Messiah the prophets have proclaimed would redeem the people of Israel.  Pretty controversial, considering that her betrothed husband Joseph (Otto Isaac) is still her betrothed (read: they haven’t consummated the marriage).  Despite persecution and King Herrod’s (Ciaran Hinds) constant attempts to locate the prophecied Messiah.  Add some shepherds and the three wise men, and you’ve got yourself The Nativity Story.

What’s good about it? This is one of those films where you can tell that meticulous research was put into this film.  You get a sense of the everyday life of living in Nazareth.  You get a better understanding of the political climate.  You have a little more context for why people did what they did back then.  There’s attention to detail and there’s sense of scope from seeing a studio-funded production.  And at a hour and forty-one minutes, The Nativity Story doesn’t overstay its welcome.

And while there are a lot of dramatic holes to fill with a movie based on scripture, screenwriter Mike Rich does a good job of developing the relationship between Mary and Joseph.  If anything this movie is the story of how they fell in love.  It added a nice human touch to a story so immersed in the divine.

This is the type of film I want to watch every year and make it part of my family’s tradition.

What’s bad about it? I wanted to like this film, so I don’t have much to say here.

Perfect for: Anyone needing a detox from innocuous Christmas tv specials or made-for-tv movies.  Oh, and the 2 billion Christians on earth.

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