Thursday, December 14, 2006

Not a Whole Lot New? Fine By Me.


Just a note: Today is the 3-month anniversary of Kingdom Advancing! And, as evidenced by the amount of comments on the last post, it clearly is growing--slowly, but steadily--in popularity.

I finally went to see The Nativity Story on Monday night. Those who know me probably wonder why it took me so long to go see such an overtly Christian movie. Well, that's just the way things worked out this time. Anyways...

One of the major criticisms that this film has come under is that there is "nothing new"--or "different"--about it; that it is "too straightforward," "drab," and "dull"; and that it "feels like it was made for a Sunday school class." (Whatever exactly that means.)

I reply to such criticisms with a question of my own: what exactly is supposed to be new?

I have some ideas as to what secular critics would probably love:

Mary and Joseph have premarital sex and ingeniously cover it up with a "Messiah alibi" because of the resulting pregnancy.
Mary cheats on Joseph with a Roman soldier (this would be explicitly shown in the movie, of course), and pulls off the greatest cover-up ever.
Mary simply says "No" to the angel Gabriel.
Mary, as an early beacon of feminism and choice, aborts baby Jesus.
Mary and Joseph don't place Jesus in a manger for a bed; they place Him there as a pagan act of worship to the barnyard animals.
The wise men are actually magicians--who put a spell on the world to accept "Christianity."
Jesus is born gender neutral.

I'm sure that anything like that would have the Oscar buzz humming at full force (;)). But anyone who has any respect for the story--and Christianity's beliefs--would never do such a thing...or even anything remotely similar.
And, besides, the bottom line is that The Nativity Story does not need any help. It is the Greatest Story Ever Told. But more than that: the fact that the story is true compensates for any need of being "spiced up." It is the Greatest Truth Ever Known; the Absolute Turning Point in History; the Birth of the Greatest Man to Ever Walk This Earth. To make a great movie, The Nativity Story need only to be adapted and have some gaps filled. This the makers of the movie did.

Now, for Kingdom Advancer's breakdown:

Biblical Accuracy:

As I've stated in a previous article, "interpretive liberties" and "artistic liberties" are necessary in films such as this one. There is simply not enough dialogue or detail in the Bible accounts to sustain much more than a fifteen minute beginning to a movie about Jesus' life. With this in mind, the makers of The Nativity Story did an excellent job.
The one area where it clearly falls short is the topic of the wise men. As depicted in subconscious legend, nativity sets, and children's imaginations, the wise men arrive on the night of Jesus' birth--rather than almost two years later, as the Bible says.
Also including the wise men, the dream warning them not to return to Herod is not recorded in the movie.
A third element is that a "heavenly host" does not appear with the main angel in the shepherds' fields, as the Bible says.
But, other than that, I did not recognize any glaring inaccuracies.

Acting/Casting:

Unnecessary and inconvenient controversy enters in when discussing the casting of The Nativity Story. Keisha Castle-Hughes, an attractive rising 16-year-old actress, who plays the virgin Mary, is pregnant in real life--and no, of course, she's not married. Shohreh Aghdashloo, who plays her part as Elizabeth excellently, is an Iranian-born Muslim.
Not to mention the director, Catherine Hardwicke, who has produced not-so-wholesome movies such as Lords of Dogtown and Thirteen.
Fortunately, none of these factors seem to have an effect on the movie. As I stated, Shohreh is good in her role; Zechariah, Gabriel, Mary's parents, and the Roman soldiers are all par or better. Mary (Keisha Castle-Hughes) has some lines and facial expressions that aren't so great, but nothing that ruins the movie. The actor who plays King Herod illustrates well the paranoia of the pagan king. And, Oscar Isaac, as Joseph, is superb in my opinion.

Music:

Few movies in the past have been able to capture the perfect combination of Christmas--but not overtly Christmas--music and a movie soundtrack. The Nativity Story does a pretty good job of this. The movie begins with a rendition of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" in a different language (than English) --and the listening ear can detect--or seem to detect--hints of Christmas music spruced with the more than sufficient score.

Wardrobe/Sets:

This isn't a overly-romanticized production or cheap church play. There are no halos floating above Mary and Jesus' heads, and Mary does not wear flowing, royal purple robes to help her stick out from the crowd. Because of this type of thing and other factors, the movie has been accused of being "dull" or "not magical." Well, welcome to first century Jewish life. As a matter of fact, the movie comes across as very believable--is that not what you want in a movie? Perhaps unbelievers don't want anything about Jesus to look believable.
The sets are well-done and the scenery is breathtaking, the movie having been filmed in Italy and Morocco.

Plot:

When I wrote about One Night with the King, I asked the question in reference to the plot: "Does it get any better?" Well, it took time, but I think my question is now answered. This story is so awe-inspiring, so plain inspiring, so harrowing, so hope-inducing, and so true!!!
Before having seen the movie, I had heard that it focused on Mary and Joseph. I cringed at the thought, worrying that too much emphasis might be put on their work or they themselves and not on the essential part of the story--the arrival of the Christ-child. But, after seeing the movie, I realize that is not a necessary concern.

Filming/Special Effects:

This movie does not rely on special effects, but it does have some cool--if not eery--effects, such as a hawk in flight representing the arrival and departure of the angel Gabriel.

Summary:

If you only see one movie this Christmas season, see this one. If you aren't planning on seeing any--then change your mind and see this one. The Nativity Story does its best to do the ageless story of the birth of Jesus respectful justice, and ultimately, supporting this film is one step of many that can be taken to help keep Christ in Christmas. .
Favorite Elements/Parts:
1.) The Birth of Jesus: And you were expecting something else? To the non-Christian, the scene of Jesus' birth in The Nativity Story might come across as anti-climactic. But, to the Christian... I hope you like chills and spine-shivers.
2.) The Shepherds: The shepherds are portrayed more realistically in this movie than in any other portrayal that I have seen to date. You really feel sorry for these guys. The scene with Mary and Joseph on their journey conversing with one of the shepherds can almost bring one to tears. The extra-curricular--but certainly somewhat biblical nature--sub-plot of "everyone is given a gift" that is revealed in this part is really one of the best elements of the movie. By the time the shepherds show up at the stable, you really see how the Savior is a gift to even the lowest of people.
3.) Joseph's Dream: Although I thought that Gabriel's visit to Mary could've been better played out in the film, Joseph's dream is intense, exciting, and unique from other works. I would tell you just what about I like so much, but I don't want to spoil it for you if you haven't seen it.
4.) The Love Story: It's not love at first sight--at least not both ways--and there's no fireworks here. This is likely exemplary of the mass majority of marriages at that time. But the relationship between Mary and Joseph is so sweet in its slow building, virtuous way, with virtually no physical contact--at least in a romantic/sexual way: no kissing, tripping and falling on the ground together, or--obviously--"Rated R" scenes, if you know what I mean.
5.) The Roman Soldiers: Ever since I was a little kid, I've always loved the Roman Soldiers in "walk through Bethlehems," Christmas pageants, and nativity movies. Not because I liked that they were mean and brutal, but because they were soldiers. Hey, I was a little boy who liked to play soldier--what are you going to do? Anyways, in this movie, the soldiers are cold, heartless, inconsiderate, brutal, and always quick to say something clever. They illustrate a double-truth: the attitude of the soldiers and how difficult it must have been for the Jewish citizens to humbly and meekly pay exorbitant taxes, etc.
6.) Jewish Life and the Journey: Life wasn't a bowl of cherries for the Jews in the first century, and this film illustrates that well. But, it also shows a softer side of Mary and the Jews in scenes where children are being read Bible stories. The journey was long, hard, dangerous, and desperate, and that is also well portrayed in this movie.
~ Kingdom Advancer
This season, go see in motion picture form the Reason--if not the origin--for the season.

8 comments:

Tom Bailey said...

Nice to see a blog based on faith. I enjoy reading about faith. Nice blog.

http://sms100.blogspot.com/

Keith M. said...

My two brothers and I went and saw the movie last friday night.And we noticed the same things you did, I really enjoyed the article you wrote, here is what I have to say about it.
"The one area where it clearly falls short is the topic of the wise men. As depicted in subconscious legend, nativity sets, and children's imaginations, the wise men arrive on the night of Jesus' birth--rather than almost two years later, as the Bible says.
Also including the wise men, the dream warning them not to return to Herod is not recorded in the movie."

That was a problem and a thing I didn't like about the movie, they seemed to stick too much to legend with the wisemen. My guess for why they had them come the night of Jesus' birth was:
1) so as not to drag the movie on and on
2) if the wisemen came later, it would seem out of place and weird to those who don't know the story
3) The producers probably figured it would just screw peoples minds into knots seeing something different than what they had a faint idea of.
4)the wisemen would have had to leave their palace around the same time (or later) of Jesus' birth. This would be odd in the movie because you would have a hunk about Mary and Joseph here, and then a hunk about the Wisemen. But to do it in little blips and blurps was good. (Like in the LOTR, it would have been kind of dumb to do all the story with Frodo and Sam and then switch to the others)


"This movie does not rely on special effects, but it does have some cool--if not eery--effects, such as a hawk in flight representing the arrival and departure of the angel Gabriel."
That was one thing I REALLY liked about it. They didn't rely on special effects like you said, but rather the true meaning and acting. The angel Gabriel wasn't shown as very bombastic, but rather humble and 'down to earth' to give some comfort.
I think that the 'hawk' you mentioned was actually the holy spirit as a dove. Wouldn't that make sense?
"The shepherds are portrayed more realistically in this movie than in any other portrayal that I have seen to date. You really feel sorry for these guys. The scene with Mary and Joseph on their journey conversing with one of the shepherds can almost bring one to tears."
That was a moving part that I really enjoyed. I think the comment Joseph made about them always living in the fields, never really getting out into the real world added a superb effect to the movie. It truely showed how Jesus came for the humble.

One final thing that I really respected the movie for was the producer stuck to the story. He didn't add all kinds of extra weird stuff like in the passion. The snake in the river was VERY odd at first, it seems like it would be a deleted scene. However, my brother mentioned he thinks that is was meant to be satan attempting to kill mary before Jesus could be born. Just and idea. =D

Kingdom Advancer said...

I agree with your assessment of their probable decision-making process about the wise men, but I didn't think it was necessary to add my speculations.

"I think that the 'hawk' you mentioned was actually the holy spirit as a dove. Wouldn't that make sense?"

Yeah, that would make sense, I guess. But, it sure didn't look like a dove--especially the way it seemed to soar. Doves around my house don't do that, but I'm not a universal dove-expert--if I was, I could be on Fox News, along with the body language expert! ;) (I love Fox News...my family just always jokes about the number and type of experts they have.)


I thought the movie did a good job of showing the difficulty of the journey. I think the snake scene was just an example of some of the dangers they probably faced, although your brother's idea is a possibility.
I am also glad it stuck to the story--and to historical accuracy and norms. I've noticed some Catholics don't like the portrayal of Mary. (Who would've thought? ;))

kingdom advancer said...

I'm glad you like the blog, Tom. I hope you will return, and I hope you will claim--if you haven't--the Christian faith as your own.

Keith M. said...

Yeah, I don't know, dove or hawk, I am not a bird expert either. =D

Faultline USA said...

Thank you for your excellent review of The Nativity Story. I'll be linking to you in my next post

Austin said...

Keith,

I read that the producer's made that mistake on purpose, for the sake of the story.

I read that while they were filming one scene with the camel, the camel refused to walk on the sand because it was over a hundred degrees, so the producer asked them all to pray for a miracle, and then the camel walked on the hot sand. (No worries, animal rights people, there was an animal rights person on the scene, making sure it was safe =) )
Of course, the producer had to have her words interpreted because the cast and crew spoke seven different languages between them.

Praying in seven languages is, apparently, highly effective.

Kingdom Advancer said...

Your welcome and thank you, Faultline. You are a big encouragement.