Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Nativity Story: Chattaway's take

Peter Chattaway's articles and reviews are always well worth reading, especially when it comes to Bible films. I wanted to wait to read his review of The Nativity Story until I had written my own and with mine finished yesterday (a new one, based on my earlier blog post, to be published soon), I took the opportunity to read his today. It is on Christianity Today Movies:

The Nativity Story
Peter T. Chattaway

For me, he gets it about right, and he articulates something very well that had been worrying me:
There is also a tension of sorts in Mike Rich's screenplay, which oscillates between the need to be faithful to the biblical text, on the one hand, and the freedom to create dramatically compelling characters and scenes, on the other. While Rich trims out some of the dialogue that appears in the Bible, the parts that he keeps are presented almost exactly as written, yet these sections of the film—especially the Annunciation and the restoration of speech to Zechariah—feel rushed and anticlimactic, and are never quite woven into the rest of the drama. Compare the first scene between Mary and Elizabeth, which is straight out of the Gospel of Luke (minus the Magnificat), with their later conversations; it's a little like watching Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, in which the heroes use modern English until they wander into a scene from Hamlet and start talking all Shakespearean.
This is exactly right. I thought the worst parts of the film were when they were quoting scripture -- each time they went straight into reading-in-church mode, a shame given the film's strengths, e.g. in allowing us to listen in to Mary's thoughts.

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