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The Nativity Story

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: I'm glad someone else was annoyed by the three wise men, their tiresome banter was too much for me.

Yeah, it was just like the jokey dialogue a friend of mine used to write for the Christmas plays at the church I grew up in. Didn't care for it then, don't care for it now.

Ditto. The most I can say for it is "It's for the kids." And even that doesn't go too far, though FWIW it's in a sense sufficiently bracketed that it doesn't bother me the way the tin-eared, cliched dialogue of TLTW&TW does.

Incidentally, that reminds me: There was an anachronistic jokey one-liner in Apocalypto that made me think of the silly bit in TPOTC with Jesus making a "tall table" for a "rich man," where Mary says with an unintended (by her) wink-wink nudge-nudge to the audience, "It'll never catch on." I.e., the moment where

the giant tree topples over into the midst of the slave procession

, and the unperturbed chief shouts,

apparently to the forest: "I am walking here!"

Ha. I wonder why throwing this kind of Mel Brooks humor into his otherwise ultra-serious period pieces appeals to Gibson?

Edited by SDG

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Come to think of it, remember this list? If we add what they're estimating for this week's new releases, it would now look like:

  • $24.3 million -- The Last Samurai (2003; R; 2,908 screens)
  • $18.7 million -- Behind Enemy Lines (2001; PG-13; 2,770 screens)
  • $12.9 million -- Honey (2003; PG-13; 1,942 screens)
  • $12.7 million -- Aeon Flux (2005; PG-13; 2,608 screens)
  • $11.0 million -- Analyze That (2002; R; 2,635 screens)
  • $10.0 million -- Psycho (1998; R; 2,477 screens)
  • $7.8 million -- The Nativity Story (2006; PG; 3,183 screens)
  • $7.7 million -- Closer (2004; R; 476 screens)
  • $6.3 million -- Empire (2002; R; 867 screens)
  • $3.4 million -- Turistas (2006; R; 1,570 theatres)
  • $2.2 million -- Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj (2006; R; 1,979 screens)
So this week would seem to mark something of a low point for wide releases on the weekend after Thanksgiving.

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It's a little early for any of this yet . . . why not wait until the weekend actuals go up?

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For what it's worth, there were about 20 people in the big downtown theater at 6 p.m. on Friday night in Seattle. I heard one woman sniffling near the end, but other than that it was strangely quiet through the whole film.

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Pshaw! Nobody waits until Monday afternoon these days! :)

:P

It's just that that number sounds low. If they'd said that it would make $20 million, I'd be saying the same thing.

Even so, BoxOfficeMojo's Friday chart seems to support that estimate.

Edited by David Smedberg

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David Smedberg wrote:

: It's just that that number sounds low.

It does and it doesn't.

Why it doesn't: The week after the American Thanksgiving is generally considered pretty dead, and in the 24 years since 1982 (the first year that BoxOfficeMojo.com has stats for this sort of thing), it has often happened that the studios just haven't bothered to release ANY new wide releases at this time of year. And in the years that they HAVE put out new wide releases, the grosses have always been below $13 million, with only three exceptions (uh-oh, here's that list again, only now it's LONGER... as before, this includes all the brand-new films that were in the top ten during the week after Thanksgiving in their respective years):

  • $24.3 million -- The Last Samurai (2003; R; 2,908 screens)
  • $18.7 million -- Behind Enemy Lines (2001; PG-13; 2,770 screens)
  • $18.2 million -- Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991; PG; 2,147 screens)
  • $12.9 million -- Honey (2003; PG-13; 1,942 screens)
  • $12.7 million -- Aeon Flux (2005; PG-13; 2,608 screens)
  • $11.8 million -- Christmas Vacation (1989; PG-13; 1,950 screens)
  • $11.0 million -- Analyze That (2002; R; 2,635 screens)
  • $10.6 million -- The Distinguished Gentleman (1992; R; 1,984 screens)
  • $10.1 million -- Misery (1990; R; 1,370 screens)
  • $10.0 million -- Psycho (1998; R; 2,477 screens)
  • $10.0 million -- Daylight (1996; PG-13; 2,175 screens)
  • $9.3 million -- The Naked Gun (1988; PG-13; 1,969 screens)
  • $8.6 million -- Spies Like Us (1985; PG; 1,700 screens)
  • $8.1 million -- Heartbreak Ridge (1986; R; 1,647 screens)
  • $7.8 million -- The Nativity Story (2006; PG; 3,183 screens)
  • $7.7 million -- Closer (2004; R; 476 screens)
  • $6.4 million -- Tequila Sunrise (1988; R; 1,411 screens)
  • $6.3 million -- Empire (2002; R; 867 screens)
  • $3.4 million -- Turistas (2006; R; 1,570 theatres)
  • $2.7 million -- Trapped in Paradise (1994; PG-13; 1,286 screens)
  • $2.5 million -- Young Sherlock Holmes (1985; PG-13; 1,502 screens)
  • $2.2 million -- Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj (2006; R; 1,979 screens)
  • $1.7 million -- White Man's Burden (1995; R; 954 screens)
Why it does: The Nativity Story is the ONLY one of these films that was released on over 3,000 screens, yet, not counting this week's other new releases, you have to go back over a decade to find another film that was released on over 1,000 screens yet made so little money. Indeed, two years ago, the R-rated Closer made almost the exact same amount of money, despite opening on less than one-sixth the number of screens. And once you adjust for inflation, The Nativity Story presumably slips even a little further down the list.

Of course, one wild card in any estimate of The Nativity Story's grosses this weekend is the question of to what degree Sunday services might get in the way of movie attendance -- or, contrariwise, to what degree churches might encourage their members on Sunday morning to make a point of getting out there and watching the movie.

Either way, the real test of this movie will be in its performance NEXT week, and the weeks after that, up until Christmas. The Polar Express opened with a so-so $23.3 million in mid-November two years ago, but had a final gross of over $160 million -- thus meaning the opening weekend accounted for less than one-sixth of the total gross, which is very rare these days -- and it was all because of the film's "seasonal" relevance, and perhaps also because of word-of-mouth.

So it is possible that The Nativity Story might come out looking better in the end, box-office-wise, than it does right now.

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This probably deserves its own thread, but tonight my wife and I sat down and watched The Nativity. I take great pride in owning one of the only copies of this, finding it at a video-store's closing. I waited a full year to watch this, the length of time it took for another Nativity movie to go from drawing board to final product.

Jeffrey, if you're concerned that your review for Hardwicke's Nativity Story would come down as too hard, you may want to temper your review by watching the 1978 TV-movie version with a haven't-gone-to-acting-classes-yet Madeline Stowe (Mary), the chew-the-scenery-like-nobody's-ever-done-before Leo McCern (Herod), and pre-Raiders pre-Lord-of-the-Rings John Rhys-Davies (in a tie for best performance in the film, for a role written for the movie... he tied with John Shea (Joseph)... who was in _Missing_, and then... went missing.

The film has been done with the level of craftsmanship and detail as, well, as any TV-based "Jesus-Of-Nazareth" knock-off would be. For example, there is an appearance of "Salome", dancing before Herod some thirty years before she asks for the head of John the Baptist. In one scene, it appears like the Ark of the Covenant was in the background.

Most vexing is the inclusion of three roles written for the film, of advisors to King Herod going around and interviewing all of the principal characters of the Nativity, as if they were part of a police procedural, playing off of each other's questions with philosophy and theology and hard evidence. It was so much of them that I actually thought the filmmakers were going to make them into the Three Wise Men for budgetary concerns, but it was not to be. (They did, however, beat the Three Wise Men to the stable). And, as I wrote earlier, John Rhys-Davies was phenomenal in this small role, showing a gravitas he had never been allowed to share in the aforementioned super-blockbusters.

The visitation scene and the dream scene were both done as ripoffs of the "Jesus of Nazareth" style, that is, we do not see what the protagonist sees.

I felt bad for Madeline Stowe. In one sense, she is luminous with her beatific smile... but it seems that is all she was able to bring to the table. The one great sequence to be prepared was the "Magnificat" recitation, but Stowe is unable to make such a pronouncement in such a manner that it didn't feel previously memorized, and not as a spontaneous, affectionate praise to God. Years later she was to improve her acting, starting with silly vehicles like "Stakeout", but graduate upward to modern-sci-fi classics like "Twelve Monkeys."

All in all, this may be the one Natvity movie we catch this season. Next year we can rent the remake.

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Saw it last night with Jeffrey.

Watched Touristas right before.

Liked Touristas better.

'sall I'm saying.

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Nick Alexander wrote:

: Jeffrey, if you're concerned that your review for Hardwicke's Nativity Story would come down

: as too hard, you may want to temper your review by watching the 1978 TV-movie version . . .

Heh. Exactly.

My favorite exchange from that 1978 TV-movie: Mary: "I had a visitation. I'm going to have a baby." Joseph: "You had a what?"

Or, better: Joseph, after his friend says women in Mary's condition like to blame phantoms, etc.: "She said it was an angel." Joseph's friend: "So she's original!"

Mary also asks her dad: "Father, do you have any doubts about how I became pregnant?" (Thank God The Nativity Story never uses the word "pregnant". It sounds so clinical, so clunky, so modern, so unlike what a modest Middle Eastern girl might say to her father. I am reminded of that old debate over whether the passage in Genesis where Rachel tells her father "the manner of women is upon me" ought to be translated "I'm having my period.")

Jumping to another topic ...

I have to say that one reason why I do like The Nativity Story -- the 2006 movie -- is the fact that it avoids the soppy teenaged romanticism of the 1970s TV-movies and posits instead that Mary was in an arranged marriage AND ADJUSTED TO IT. We have so, so, so many movies about people who abandon the partner they're with in order to be with the partner they just met -- about people who abandon decent partners in favour of partners that they feel passionate about -- and I am VERY glad that we have, here, a film in which one of the primary lessons is not "marry the one you're smitten with" but, rather, "love the one you're married to." We don't have anywhere near enough stories that model this kind of lesson, or this kind of relationship, and this is one reason I am very inclined to stick up for this film, despite its flaws (and I know they are many...).

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I'm not sure I can come to like a movie better by seeing another movie that's worse.

I don't rate movies as "A"-grade because they're better than other movies. I rate them as A-grade if they're A-grade movies. If I give The Nativity Story an "A" because it's better than other Nativity movies, that'll be pretty meaningless if someone comes along and makes a Nativity movie that is truly glorious, transcendent, and poetic. I'll save my rave for a movie that suggest very little room for improvement. This one... I can't go five minutes without thinking about how much better something might have been.

Edited by Jeffrey Overstreet

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Went to see it again yesterday afternoon with the whole family, plus our three nephews. Really liked it again.

Peter, I see what you mean about noticing the subtleties in Castle-Hughes' performance more the second time around. It's a more interesting performance than I originally thought. I'm going to have to make a slight tweak to my review to account for this.

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Jeffrey Overstreet wrote:

: Nor did I imagine they would subvert their attempts at realism by scoring the film with a "Christmas's

: greatest hits" collection. (Even "Carol of the Bells" is in there, folks. Listen for it.)

Well, so it is! I haven't a clue which scene it plays over, but click here for an interview with the composer, which begins by playing the track from the film that uses that carol.

I have to say I'm not sure that this is necessarily a problem. 'O Come, O Come, Emmanuel' -- which appears over the opening crawl and again, later on, when Ruth and Mary talk about the arrival of the tax collectors -- calls on God to "ransom captive Israel", which certainly fits the subject of those scenes. Playing 'Silent Night' at the end is a bit trickier, given that the scenes which play under that music all take place in the daylight.

But how different is this from playing Bach or 'Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child' or the Missa Luba over the "neo-realist" images of Pasolini's The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964)? (If memory serves, the original review of that film in Christian Century complained that the use of the Missa Luba there -- only a few years after it was composed -- was already a cliche.)

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Why did the film not do so well? The studio blames the snow.

Jeffrey Overstreet wrote:

: I don't rate movies as "A"-grade because they're better than other movies. I rate them as A-grade

: if they're A-grade movies. If I give The Nativity Story an "A" because it's better than other Nativity

: movies, that'll be pretty meaningless if someone comes along and makes a Nativity movie that is

: truly glorious, transcendent, and poetic. I'll save my rave for a movie that suggest very little room

: for improvement.

Fair enough, as far as that goes. But not all movies should be judged within the same set of parameters, right? I mean, if The Nativity Story is intended to be the movie equivalent of a Christmas pageant -- just as The Passion of the Christ was intended to be the movie equivalent of a passion play -- should we not look at it, at least in part, in those Christmas-pageant terms? This is one of the reasons the film's relatively subtle use of Christmas carols doesn't bother me. The film is not trying to pretend that centuries of later tradition haven't happened; quite the contrary.

FWIW, I think my three-star review of the film counts as more of a "B". I agree that an "A" film has yet to be made. And if there were LOTS of "B" films out there, who knows, maybe I'd want to knock this one down to a "C-plus" or something. But most films in this genre have been "C" at best, and some, like the one Nick just mentioned, are down at the "D" level. So I think this film stands head and shoulders above the rest of its genre, at least for now, and deserves some qualified praise. (Though I will freely concede that many elements in, say, Zeffirelli's Jesus of Nazareth work better than their counterparts here -- but that film is not a Nativity movie, per se; instead, the Nativity is just the first chapter in a much longer story.)

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FWIW, Cinematical (a crappily-written, overly-self-indulgent, and often behind-the-ball website) did make one interesting point about The Nativity Story's release this weekend that had not yet occurred to me to look up: namely, with $7.8 million in the till, this film has the 2nd-lowest gross EVER for a movie that opened on over 3,100 screens; the only film that's done worse is Quest for Camelot, which opened in May 1998.

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What would be fun is to see how it rates budget-wise against all the competition in that category. It's up against a whole bunch of $100-million plus movies. It doesn't have nearly as big a hill to climb.

Even rated against movies in its league, though (Bad News Bears, or Corpse Bride), it comes up short in terms of the opening weekend. However, there is still the strong possibility that this movie's best business will be around Christmas, and so comparing its opening weekend against that of an ordinary "event movie" is not terribly helpful.

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I think their marleting strategy is definitely to gather momentum in time for Christmas. It's a new way of doing word of mouth I reckon.

Matt

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'The Nativity Story' Movie Problematic for Catholics, "Unsuitable" for Young Children

A review of New Line Cinema's The Nativity story by Fr. Angelo Mary Geiger of the Franciscans of the Immaculate in the United States, points out that the film, which opened December 1, misinterprets scripture from a Catholic perspective.

While Fr. Geiger admits that he found the film is "in general, to be a pious and reverential presentation of the Christmas mystery." He adds however, that "not only does the movie get the Virgin Birth wrong, it thoroughly Protestantizes its portrayal of Our Lady."

In Isaiah 7:14 the Bible predicts the coming of the Messiah saying: "Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel." Fr. Geiger, in an video blog post, explains that the Catholic Church has taught for over 2000 years that the referenced Scripture showed that Mary would not only conceive the child miraculously, but would give birth to the child miraculously - keeping her physical virginity intact during the birth.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church at no. 499 teaches "The deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary's real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man."

The film, he suggests, in portraying a natural, painful birth of Christ, thus denies the truth of the virginal and miraculous birth of Christ, which, he notes, the Fathers of the Church compared to light passing through glass without breaking it. Fr. Geiger quoted the fourth century St. Augustine on the matter saying. "That same power which brought the body of the young man through closed doors, brought the body of the infant forth from the inviolate womb of the mother." . . .

LifeSiteNews.com, December 4

- - -

Incidentally, after posting the above, I looked for the original site with this review, and discovered that the comments below include references to our very own SDG, who writes:

: Regarding virginity in partu: Ludwig Ott's treatment of this is fairly standard, and helpful. At the

: same time, this is a bit of a tangent, since the film's treatment doesn't compel a particular

: interpretation on this point.

Well, the absence of an umbilical cord might point in a more Catholic/Orthodox direction! ;)

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The guy who calls himself "Doctor" has spoken:

"The most negative responses to the movie reflect a clear inability to accept any movie that deals reverently in any way with beloved Bible stories like the birth of Jesus Christ," said Dr. Ted Baehr of the Christian Film and Television Commission in a released statement.

...

While Baehr had praised the film as it put Christ back into Christmas, several critics had called the film "boring" and "stillborn."

"Don't buy these outrageous, disingenuous lies," Baehr urged moviegoers in a statement. "'The Nativity Story' brings the Gospel alive in a compelling, captivating, entertaining, and inspiring manner that shatters expectations. It has one of the best scripts of the year."

Meanwhile, for what it's worth, I've posted my own "outrageous, disingenuous lies."

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Gosh, what a twit. (I refer to the so-called "doctor", of course.)

Hey SDG, look at this, from the Toronto Star's review:

Incidentally, lest one doubt there's a
Passion
-conscious target-market strategy at work, check the following statement by
Nativity
's producer Marty Bowen to something called the Decent Film Guide: "We wanted to make a movie that a Christian audience would love and want to see at Christmastime."

Not quite as good as being quoted by name by Roger Ebert, huh?

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Not quite as good as being quoted by name by Roger Ebert, huh?
Heh. Especially since he didn't even get the name of my site quite right (Films, plural). Thanks for pointing it out, Peter.

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