The Nativity Story is probably the most staged skit/play/musical in the month of December in most churches, and everyone who has been to Sunday School will definitely be all too familiar with the humble birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem. With Christmas becoming too much of a commercial farce (in my opinion anyway), and with plenty of movies set during the Christmas holiday being a little lightweight, I thought this production is timely in remembering the origins of the festival.
Not that it's 100% accurate (as in exactly as what's in the Bible), as it dramatizes certain events, but on the whole, the familiar plot elements are all there. While Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ was a controversial piece with big named stars, and probably blown out of proportion with the general focus on its graphic violence, The Nativity Story in contrast is a humble, beautiful film that celebrates life, making its way to become the first feature film to premiere at the Vatican, compared to Passion's fixation with painful death.
Director Catherine Hardwicke, in her third movie after Thirteen and Lords of Dogtown, begins the movie with the premonition of the coming of John the Baptist, Jesus' cousin. Which I thought was a nice touch, rather than zooming it straight into our star parents Mary and Joseph. And she deftly brings out believability in both Keira Castle-Hughes as Mary, and Oscar Isaac as Joseph. Their Mary and Joseph come through as God-fearing and obeying, yet, like all humans, have the tendency to doubt. Between the two, I thought Isaac's Joseph had the meatier role as the man being entrusted the responsibility to take care of his wife and unborn child in times of strife, though of course, with God on their side, you'd come to expect nothing bad to befall them.
All's not gloomy and serious in this story though, as comic relief is provided via the Three Wise Men, though I'm not really sure if it'll go down well with audiences. What I thoroughly enjoyed was to see certain milestone scenes from my faulty memory about the story, being played out on screen - the discovery of the virgin pregnancy, the visit of Gabriel, the census, and of course, the awesome scene at the Bethlehem manger, where the shepherds and the Wise Men arrive to pay homage.
It's a tale of love and sacrifices made by the central characters of Mary and Joseph, of their unwavering belief and faith, and in my opinion, that's what made this telling of the Christmas story compelling to watch. And I liked the bit where discrimination crept in as a minor plot point.
The movie has excellent production values and no effort is spared in creating the telling of the arrival of the King of Kings, especially in the costumes and sets department, be they computer generated cities, or rock-walled villages. The musical score also evokes the mood accurately, and if you listen attentively, you can hear whispers of familiar Christmas hymns and songs incorporated into it.
While biblical movies of old like The Ten Commandments has itself a place amongst cinematic greats, The Nativity Story, if I may add, certainly has earned its keeps amongst movies for this holiday season of goodwill, by putting up an excellent movie on the origins of the festival.