During this hectic holiday season, many people like to relax by watching their favorite Christmas movies and videos. There are countless options: the BB gun “You’ll shoot your eye out!” movie. The timeless “A Charlie Brown Christmas” TV special, with that great jazz soundtrack and the poignant scene where Linus recites from Luke’s Gospel. There’s Jimmy Stewart in the fictional town of Bedford Falls wishing he had never been born. Now really, who can keep from shedding a tear during the final scene when Donna Reed saves the day? And, of course, there are a dozen versions of “A Christmas Carol.” Surprisingly, Michael Caine’s interpretation of Scrooge is quite impressive, especially considering all the other characters in the film are played by Muppets.
But of all the popular and traditional Christmas movies, none really addresses the birth of Jesus, the true reason for the season (not counting Linus’ two-minute speech). It seems the last time there was a Hollywood Christmas movie that Catholic parents felt comfortable letting their children watch, it was in black-and-white and Bing Crosby was a young man.
Well, there is a movie that does focus on the true reason for the season. It is called “The Nativity Story.” This film is so family-friendly that even the most concerned Catholic parents won’t have to worry about shielding their youngsters from the immoral junk regularly produced nowadays by Hollywood.
“The Nativity Story” came out in 2006, and it was the first religious-themed movie produced by a major Hollywood studio in almost 50 years (Films such as Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” were independently produced). The last films from major Hollywood studios that portrayed religion in a positive light were “Ben-Hur” and “The Ten Commandments” way back in the late 1950s, back when Charlton Heston was Hollywood’s official Bible go-to guy.
Unlike some of those low-budget church videos you occasionally see, where you can tell right away it was filmed in the pastor’s backyard, because the family dog plays the part of a camel, “The Nativity Story” had a huge Hollywood budget. The scenery and the musical score and the acting performances are all first-rate and breath-taking.
Yes, the movie does take a few liberties with the basic story, combining some events for dramatic effect. But hey, if every Christmas pageant in every North American church can have the Three Wise Men show up at the stable on the night of Jesus’ birth—which is biblically incorrect—then it’s OK for a movie to do so. Otherwise, instead of being two hours long, the movie would have to be, for the sake of historical accuracy, close to 24 months long.
And in this case, the Three Wise Men, Caspar, Balthasar, and Melchior, are the comic relief, offering a steady stream of humorous comments. They often act more like those other Three Not-So-Wise Men: Moe, Larry, and Curly.
To be honest, the climactic scene in the stable looks a little too much like a Hallmark greeting card, and as far as I can tell, every newborn baby—including a divine one—ought to have an umbilical cord.
However, the movie does a great job of bringing some realism to a story that is often reduced to plastic figurines on suburban front lawns during December (and remaining in some cases until April). You can really feel the anxiety that Mary and Joseph experience as they wonder what is going to happening next.
So make sure you add “The Nativity Story” to your family movie library. The DVD costs around 10 bucks. You’ll start a new and enjoyable family holiday tradition, and you won’t “shoot your eye out!”