I finally saw The Nativity Story this weekend with my wife and son. So how was it? Here's my grade:
Biblical accuracy: A-
The movie is faithful to the basic story, using the exact words of scripture when the angel appears to Mary, Joseph's dream, Elizabeth's words to Mary, etc. The wise men are accurately depicted as astrologers and religious scholars, not kings. King Herod is correctly shown as the brutal and insanely jealous tyrant that he was. However, the movie shows the wise men arriving at the manger on the night Jesus was born, even though Matthew's gospel indicates that they arrived up to two years later (Matthew 2:7, 16), and by then they were living in a house, not a stable (Matthew 2:11).
Scenery and costumes: A+
The move is a visual feast. You truly feel as if you are in first-century Palestine. The costumes and scenery are as realistic as any biblical movie I have seen, including The Passion of the Christ.
Acting and drama: B
This was my biggest disappointment. It lacked the power and intensity of The Passion of the Christ. While the acting is not bad, it is not great, either. There are some good one-liners, such as when Joseph and Mary are headed out of Nazareth for their journey to Bethlehem, and as they see the judgmental looks of the townspeople who think Mary has an illegitimate baby, Joseph says with a smirk, "They'll miss us." The wise men almost steal the show with their humor, such as when a third wise man decides to join them at the last minute, saying, "You forgot the map." However, at several places the acting seemed to lack enthusiasm. Mary and Joseph do not seem to get very excited about seeing an angel, and the shepherds come to the manger and just stare. My family said they were trying to show them in awe, and I suppose that's true, but the shepherds don't even seem very excited when the angel announces the birth of Christ. Despite these disappointments, there are some very nice touches to the story. There are several foreshadows of Jesus' future ministry, such as when Mary washes Joseph's tired feet on their journey to Bethlehem, and when Joseph sees the sellers in the temple and said it should not be that way, for the temple should be a house of prayer. The movie does an excellent job of showing the emotional pain of Mary and Joseph and Mary's family in dealing with the mystery of the virgin birth, and this will probably open the eyes of many Christians who had not thought about how hard that was for them at the time. And while I was critical of the movie director's decision to show the wise men arriving at the same night as Jesus' birth because of its biblical inaccuracy, I must admit that one of the best theatrical elements of the movie was how they go back and forth between the wise men traveling and Joseph and Mary traveling, with everybody arriving at the same time.
Musical score: A
The music was beautiful and moving, and helped to draw an emotional response at the right times. I especially like the subtle use of tunes to Christmas carols at several points.
Overall, I highly recommend the movie to truly appreciate the real meaning of Christmas. I certainly plan to buy it when it comes out on DVD. My son said, "Now I have a picture of it in my mind." Given the accuracy of the costumes and scenery, and faithful reverence of the movie, it's a picture I'm glad he has in his mind.
The Nativity Story is rated PG due to some violence (King Herod's men killing innocent children of Bethlehem, although no blood or gore is shown).