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'The Nativity Story': let the reviews begin

Well, it’s a blizzard of buzz on the opening day of The Nativity Story, so let’s get right to the shovel and sidewalk:

The prize of all Nativity reviews and comments goes to Barbara Nicolosi’s mere five word review, a witty take off on the former Pope’s words regarding The Passion of the Christ, to which this film is inevitably linked. (While you are there, take a look at her scathing review of Casino Royale, which this blog actually liked. And it’s worth reading Jeffrey Overstreet’s take on Nicolosi’s review, especially his closing comment, heh. While I think Nicolosi got a bit stuck on one aspect of the film, I must say that there’s no other film reviewer that I enjoy reading more. This woman has chutzpah. Wow.)

As to other Christian takes on the film, see Christianity Today’s review by Peter Chattaway, who gives the film 3 (out of 4) stars. Bottom line? “For all the talk of ‘realism’ and ‘authenticity’ that has surrounded this film,” says Chattaway, “it is still very much a family-friendly Christmas pageant, a Christmas crèche brought to theatrical life.” But that’s not such a bad thing, he says because the film ends up expressing “spiritual truths that go beyond mere historical facts.” Chattaway also finds notable the portrayal of Jospeh, whom he says is one of the more well-rounded characters of the film, “the real hero” who displays “the most attractive embodiment of goodness and self-giving devotion that we have seen in a movie since Sean Astin played Sam in The Lord of the Rings.” CT’s David Neff seems to agree. Also, before you leave CT, stop off at Chattaway’s look at how Mary has been portrayed in a century of filmmaking.

Matt at BibleFilms says “the film is more good than bad, just”, observing that the film “can't quite decide what kind of bible film it wants to be.” Lisa Rice, a contributing writer to Crosswalk.com, gives the film a positive review, who found the story “beautifully filmed,” the characters “very believable and even humorous at times,” and a film that provides “plenty of material for great family discussions.” Dobson’s PluggedIn Online gives the film a warm-but-not-hot review, summarizes it as a “sweet and respectful work.” Hollywood Jesus doesn’t yet have a review up, but keep checking back. (Oh, and you can always re-read this blog’s early review by Susan Britton, heh.)

As to mainstream press reviews, as always RottenTomatoes has the best collection. Interestingly, the film, with 27 reviews being counted, is running a really low 26% on the Critics TomatoMeter. (That lead me—out of curiosity—to see what Passion ran when it was released. Strangly, RT doesn’t list the film on Gibson’s filmography, but a Google search brought up the busybody blog which records the rating at 51%, another “rotten” rating. Interesting.) Here are some snippets from the more well-known media outlets listed at RT, starting with the positive (for the full reviews and more links, go to RT's site):
Kirk Honeycutt, Hollywood Reporter: “Hollywood is in a born-again mode with its rediscovery that Biblical epics can bring manna at the boxoffice. In New Line Cinema’s The Nativity Story we have the first smart, artistically and spiritually satisfying film to emerge from this trend.”

Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune: “Nativity is a movie that may not take full advantage of its tale but doesn’t betray it either.”

A.O. Scott, New York Times: “. . . The Nativity Story sticks to the familiar details of the narrative and dramaticizes them with sincerity and good taste.”
And some of the negative:
Ian Freer, Empire Magazine [UK]: “Surprisingly sedate telling of the rather well-known tale from Catherine Hardwicke.”

Dezhda Mountz, E! Online: “The Nativity Story is no whitewashed Christmas pageant, but it’s no masterpiece either.”

Christy Lemire, Associated Press: “In their silken robes, the wise men—like everyone else in The Nativity Story—feel like participants in an elaborate high school production, one that looks authentic but has no soul.”

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times: “This is not a chance to ‘experience the most timeless of stories as you’ve never seen it before’ but just the opposite: an opportunity, for those who want it, to encounter this story exactly the way it’s almost always been told.”
Interesting stuff. I don’t have the time to compare what these reviewers (Christian and secular) said about Passion, but I’m beginning to wonder if these two films represent opposite ends of the spectrum for many reviewers—one too grindingly realistic and the other too story-book oriented. Just a thought.

(Images: NewLine via Comingsoon.net)

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