Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Nativity Story: A Review

I went to see The Nativity Story today. I thought it was okay. Not great, not horrible. Just very average. not really worth the $9.95 I paid for admission. Not even a rental. It's the kind of movie you watch at 2 PM on a Sunday afternoon before Christmas because there's nothing better.

It's not that the acting was bad-- it was okay. The production values were really good-- the attention to detail was excellent. The costumers, the food, the sets, the nitty-gritty in the dialogue-- all very well thought out.

It's just that I did not like the interpretation. This movie felt like an attempt by a liberal to make a movie about the supernatural, that just didn't quite make it. And all the while, it tried to be a little too clever, by making the scenes a little original and down to earth. So the treatment of the supernatural was rather superficial. Yes, Christ is the Messiah in this movie, and people seem to believe it, but it just didn't ring true for me. I think it's because they were a little too obvious about it. I know that might sound strange coming from a believer. But it was almost like they were protesting too much with their religion on their sleeve. I feel like I was reading the historico-critical reading of The Nativity.

My main beef about the movie was Mary. She was emotionally flat. I felt like I never got to know her. She kept her emotions to herself. When she was scared, she didn't look scared; when she was humble, she didn't look humble. There was no emotional build-up to her reactions. And was she ever dour during most of the movie! Almost never smiled, almost never reacted. She never really did anything for me.

That doesn't mean I didn't find some of the scenes moving. The Visitation was the best part of the movie: just like I pictured it. Some of the scenes were clever and touching. But they were few and far between, and the whole emotional tone of the movie was wrong.

But it was all so subdued, emotionally. One thing that I liked about The Passion of the Christ, was the fact that it was so over the top. Okay, I didn't like all the blood. But when they tortured Christ, they tortured him, and Christ cried out in pain; and the Pharisees and the Jews were screaming out for his blood, and the soldiers were so psychopathic in their indifference to Christ as they crucified him, and Mary was beside herself.

I just felt the whole thing was disconnected from a theological vision. The director, Catherine Hardwicke, didn't really intend this as a religious movie, and I think that's what it boils down to.

I think this is why The Nativity Story did not catch on like the The Passion of the Christ. What it needed was for it to be more interwoven with a theological vision. It needed a little "baroque," is what I'm trying to get at. Just more everything: more drama, more emotion, more theology, more conflict, more everything.

If Hollywood really wants to tap into the Christian market, it should use conservative Christians to make the movies.

I don't want to leave the impression it was a bad movie, just not a great one.