DVD Release Date:  March 20, 2007
Theatrical Release Date:  December 1, 2006
Rating:  PG (for some violent content)
Genre:  Drama/History
Run Time:  101 minutes
Director:  Katherine Hardwicke
Actors:  Keisha Castle-Hughes, Oscar Isaac, Ciaran Hinds, and Allessandro Guiggioli

I have a dream. …  Imagine if you will, parents pushing aside all the meaningless movies about Santa crises, glowing reindeers, North Pole fiascos, irritating Christmas relatives, greedy Grinches and stingy Scrooges on the rental shelf, and pulling to the forefront a winsome, compelling, well-crafted movie that brings the real story of Christmas to life for the whole family. 

As much as such a radical selection might confuse our Santa-indoctrinated children, it could be very worth the risk.  Well, it seems that such a movie has arrived! Opening this weekend, “The Nativity Story” is a movie with everything:  drama, action, romance, history, and miracles – a sure bet to edge out the shallow, same old “pretend-Christmas” offerings.

“The Nativity Story” is a New Line/Fox Faith Films production that tells the true story of a very young, engaged Israeli couple, Mary (Keisha Castle-Hughes) and Joseph (Oscar Isaac) and the part they play in God’s often covert, masterful plan to redeem the human race.  During the reign of Herod (Ciaran Hinds), a paranoid, narcissistic, power-hungry, Rome-serving ruler in Israel, ancient prophecies are being studied intently – not just by the faith-filled Israelites, but also by curious astrologers and fearful rulers.  Because all signs seem to be pointing to the imminent arrival of a king for Israel, wise men are taking road trips, prophets are making curious proclamations, and kings are ordering that baby boys be murdered.  Amidst such an environment, Mary and Joseph have to make a 100-mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem to be counted in a Rome-ordered census.

Their journey is complicated by the fact that Mary is a pregnant virgin whose accounts of angelic visitations have alienated her from her friends; Joseph has taken a huge risk to believe the angel who encouraged a marriage instead of a stoning; and the couple is hungry, tired, facing dangers on the road and running from the insane Herod and his not-so-adorable son, Antipas (Allessandro Guiggioli). And a crowded Bethlehem with no vacancies is the last straw when the labor pains begin.  It will take a miracle from God for the savior of the world to be safely born and hidden from Herod’s jealous reign of terror.

“The Nativity Story” is beautifully filmed, with realistic scenes of ancient Israeli countryside, Herod’s palace, crowded Jerusalem markets, the temple, and little Bethlehem.  The characters are very believable and even humorous at times.  At one point, when the shunned couple is leaving town as their friends scowl at them, Joseph says to Mary, “They’re going to miss us.”  The experienced filmmakers manage to make the supernatural seem natural, as with the angelic visits, and the cinematography is memorable, with little flecks of wheat flying almost magically in the air during the harvest.  The soundtrack is terrific, evoking great emotion throughout the film.  It would have been nice, however, to see just one kiss between Mary and Joseph, as well as interesting to see Herod’s rage at the end.  But otherwise, all the elements for intrigue are there.

The movie also provides plenty of material for great family discussions.  For instance, “who remembers what gold, frankincense, and myrrh stand for?”  Or, “I wonder why those people saw evidence of the supernatural all the time (angelic visits to Mary and Joseph, Zechariah hearing the audible voice of God and becoming deaf through unbelief, Elizabeth becoming pregnant in her old age, prophecies being foretold and fulfilled, constellations coming together to form a star of such magnificence that astrologers would drop everything to follow it, and of course Mary becoming pregnant through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit).  Were these things just for biblical times or certain scattered purposes of God’s plan, or should we be seeing more of the supernatural in our lives?  Are these things still out there but just undetected because our brains are full of electronics and media?”