Monday, December 04, 2006

Religion & Entertainment: My Review of The Nativity Story

Ok, when it's all said and done, I give it a C+. I don't know which, really. I'll give my reasons.

The script was, indeed, Scripturally based, but the passages lifted from Scripture did not mesh well with the rest of the script. I suppose I'm a bit of a purist about this -- I think Peter Jackson's screenwriters did a superb job on the Lord of the Rings movies. There were also lines omitted for no good reason. One example is Zechariah's canticle upon the naming of his son: it was completely omitted. I seem to recall some of the words or phrases used elsewhere by Elizabeth, while John was still in the womb, but the impact is different. The Magnificat is spoken at the end of the film, but not in its entirety.

[Update: The exact use of Scriptural speech is, in my opinion, an all-or-nothing endeavor. The movie failed because it injected Scriptural passages (like the "Blessed are you among women" of Elizabeth, the Benedicta) without trying to conform the rest of the script of the movie to that kind of language. Simply put, it seemed like Elizabeth was "talking crazy talk" instead of being inspired by the Spirit. I would not have minded if they conformed the Scriptural words to the script of the rest of the movie.]

Other omissions I had hoped to see included are centered around the presentation in the temple (Luke 2:22-38). The Nunc Dimittis (the canticle of Simeon), Simeon's grim blessing to Mary, Anna the prophetess... all missing. This leads me to another issue: the timeline.

In reconciling the Luke narrative and the Matthew narrative, if Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day and presented in the temple after the forty days necessary for Mary's purification, I would have expected that the visit of the magi and the subsequent flight to Egypt took place after that. Matthew 2:11 mentions a house, not a manger. Then again, I'm not a Bible historian, so I don't know what an "official" reconciled timeline of the nativity narratives would be.

This movie also suffers from "translationism". The name of the infant is called "Jesus" instead of Yeshua (or Yehoshua) which is grating amid names like Zechariah. Mary should be called "Miriam" (or something like that). They speak in Aramaic occasionally (when saying particular prayers or greetings) and then go right back into English. Now I recognize the worth of authentic language found in The Passion.

The soundtrack was a little off at times -- meaning, the music didn't really fit the scene. There were several pieces of music based on Christmas songs that just didn't click.

Finally, and I will admit this is a very tricky matter to handle properly, the representation of the angel Gabriel is weird. He seems to appear and disappear with the presence of a dove (or some other bird, but I'm assuming it's a dove), but this has the unwanted effect of making angels transforming animals or something along those lines. I'm not sure exactly how I would do it, but the movie's handling of it seemed too weird.

Despite these complaints, I did enjoy the movie, it just didn't grab hold of me the way I'd have liked it to.

5 comments:

Chance said...

"They speak in Aramaic occasionally (when saying particular prayers or greetings) and then go right back into English. Now I recognize the worth of authentic language found in The Passion."

I agree. The Passion changed my expectations of biblical movies, and I think subtitles greatly add to the quality of the movie, especially if they want to compete with the secular movies.

japhy said...

Yeah. I don't the subtitles detract from the movie, like some critics suggest. Even if a viewer does have intimate knowledge of the scene, or can guess the dialogue from the surroundings and the context, it's still nice to know exactly what's being said.

I find translationism most irritating when there's a scene in a movie of, say, two Russians speaking to each other in Russian (with subtitles), and then they continue the conversation in English (with a Russian accent) for the sake of the viewers'. Suspending disbelief is one thing, but I'd prefer I didn't need to suspend my disbelief in a bungee cord, if you get my meaning.

Velvet Cowboy said...

Hey, English is better than English with a British accent. I grew up wondering why Jesus was British in all of the Jesus of Nazareth movies. But I definitely see your point there. Passion really raised the bar when it comes to Biblical films.

So... would you say it is worth seeing at the theaters?

japhy said...

It's not the most theater-enhanced movie, but there are enough panoramic shots to warrant viewing it on the big screen.

When I saw it on Sunday night (a 10:00pm showing) I was the only one in the theater. That's weird.

Chance said...

"I grew up wondering why Jesus was British in all of the Jesus of Nazareth movies. " haha, exactly.