Massawyrm Says THE NATIVITY STORY Is Kinda Like EWOKS: THE BATTLE FOR ENDOR!!
Published at: Nov. 29, 2006, 9:02 a.m. CST by merrick
Hola all. Massawyrm here.
You know, leave it to Hollywood to capitalize upon the success of a really great movie. But despite the obvious potential for a sequel (I mean, come ON! The end of the first film even showed him coming back. They were totally trying to set up a sequel) Hollywood opted to make a prequel to Passion of the Christ. I guess with the sheer amount of deserving deaths awaiting the Jews from the first film, Gibson’s probably got the rights to that story locked down pretty tight. So a prequel it is.
This time around Jesus is being pursued by the ancient world version of a Bond villain, simply named Herod, who, knowing of Jesus’s amazingly bad assed ability to take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’ (I mean, really, he’s like Roman era John McClane) that he’s gonna try to kill him before he’s even born. So he sends out an army of Roman soldiers to try and find the unwed mother pregnant with the savior of humanity.
I know, I know, I know. I know what you’re thinking. I liked this story a lot better when it was called The Terminator. I guess someone at New Line thought that it would be better with Roman soldiers instead of killer robots. Which is exactly why James Cameron is a genius. Everything is better with killer robots. Especially the story of Jesus.
But don’t think they removed all of the science fiction elements, because for some reason Dr. Bashir from Deep Space 9 keeps beaming down into people’s dreams to boss them around. You’re going to have a son and you’re going to name him Jesus. No shit. I hope she names him Jesus, because that’s kind of who the movie is about. Which is kind of sad when you think about it, because Jesus doesn’t even show up until the end, and even then, you only get to see him as a baby. I guess Caviezel wasn’t available. Sometimes you have to write around that kind of thing.
Then there’s this weird plot about this ambiguously gay trio of wise asses who notice that three stars are going to conjoin and when they do the single greatest badass in cinema history will be born. So they spend the whole movie riding camels and cracking jokes just to stop by and say “Oh, hey, look. It’s the single greatest badass in cinema history. In, like, 33 years that guy is totally gonna get the shit beat out of him.” Then they leave presents. One guy leaves gold, another leaves frankincense – then the third guy gives the other guys a look like “What the fuck? We said nothing over $20. Now I look like a total asshole. All I brought was myrrh.”
Okay. I’ve got to give it to New Line. I mean, I really see where they were going with this. Someone was thinking Hey, if Passion of the Christ could make $600 Mil with an “R” rating, imagine the amount of money we could make with a “PG” rated film! Just think of it! A family rated Christian Film! Um, yeah. As a life long Christian, I’ve got some news for you. Christians? We make pretty shitty movies on the whole, especially when we try to make movies for other Christians. If you have any doubts about that, I highly recommend you spend a day or two watching the Fox Family channel. Not that I’d actually recommend that, but it would certainly prove my point. The Christians that are good enough to slip through the cracks seem to be few and far between – kinda like white guys in the NBA.
But, for a moment, let’s examine The Nativity Story as if there had never been a film made with the word “Passion” nor the word “Christ” in the title. As a family film, as a Christian film and as a story of the birth of Jesus, this film isn’t half bad. In fact, compared to other Christian films, it’s pretty damn good and ultimately watchable. There are a few odd choices that some folks might not care for – like the three wise men being played for laughs (I’m not kidding) - but all in all, it certainly isn’t painful or preachy.
All of the actors do fine jobs, especially Ciaran Hinds (Miami Vice, Munich, Sum of all Fears) as Herod who really does an excellent job bringing him to life and Alexander Siddig (Syriana, Deep Space 9) does a really good job with some pretty bland dialog taken straight out of the Bible – managing to breath emotion into some very stiff material.
However, there WAS a film called Passion of the Christ. And it completely raised the bar on this kind of film. Gibson took a lot of risks and made a film that transcended religion and proved to be a religious film that even non-believers could enjoy and be affected by. By presenting the film in its original languages (despite the use of Church Latin, rather than the original pronunciation) and with such raw, unfettered brutality in the torture sequences, Passion had this feeling of authenticity, as if you were there at the actual crucifixion.
And despite having heard the story every Palm Sunday once a year for every year of their life, and despite being able to recite the tortures in order, verbatim – Christians saw the death of Christ in a way they never imagined it. And through the violence and suffering, Christ’s ultimate message of love despite all things shone through loud and clear. For many it was an epiphany, an understanding of exactly how far Christ went to make his point about loving your enemies no matter what. And despite the “R” rating - despite the violence that many Christians vocally take issue with in other films – the film brought tears to the eyes of many and became the gold standard of Christian filmmaking. And it even managed to touch many non-believers, especially those whose only exposure to the teachings of Christ are through the boneheads that picket Wal-Mart every year for their use of the phrase “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”
But this film ain’t Passion of the Christ. It ain’t even close. By whitewashing several of the elements of the Nativity and by flinching when it should go all the way, the story of the birth of Christ (which if you’re not completely familiar with it, isn’t exactly the sweetest of stories) doesn’t seem the slightest bit profound or enlightening. The film spends enough time setting up Herod’s order to kill all of the male children in Bethlehem under the age of two, but then drops it and pulls its punches when it needs it most. Mary and Joseph get a few wayward glances over the whole “unmarried pregnancy” thing, but it gets a pass with an offhand joke. And the manger is a surprisingly clean little cave that just happens to have animals in it. Even the hardship of the journey seems a bit toned down.
And having seen a film in its original historical language, watching another from the same time period performed in English seems to remove all authenticity. Remember how in Ewoks: The Battle for Endor all the ewoks suddenly spoke English rather than their original dialect of Yub Nubs? Remember how wrong and disconcerting that was? It’s kinda like that. It just doesn’t feel right.
This feels in every way like a “YOU’VE READ THE BOOK, NOW SEE THE MOVIE!” kind of film. It’s not going to make you look at the Nativity story in a new light, it won’t cause you to re-examine or strengthen your faith. And to anyone not of the faith, it’s probably gonna bore you to tears.
But it is family-friendly. And I can definitely see this as a great tool for sharing the story of the birth of Christ with children on Christmas Eve if you are one of those “He’s the reason for the season” folks. But there’s absolutely no reason at all to see this if you’re not Christian. It just doesn’t have anything special to offer.
Until next time friends, smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em.