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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. .