HOLLYWOOD, Calif., Nov. 16 /Christian Newswire/ -- "With the release of 'The Nativity Story,' Hollywood is finally putting Jesus Christ back into Christmas," Dr. Ted Baehr, chairman of the Christian Film & Television Commission, said today. The film, which has been called a prequel to "The Passion of the Christ," heads to more than 3,000 of the nation's movie theaters on Dec. 1.
"Hollywood has recognized there's a gigantic part of the population that goes to church each week," Baehr said. "Go see 'The Nativity Story,' and tell your family and friends to do the same."
From New Line Cinema, "The Nativity Story" has been called the best movie about the birth of Jesus since nativity movies were first produced in the 1890s. The movie tells the story of the birth of Jesus "in a compelling, captivating, entertaining and inspiring matter that shatters expectations," according to Baehr, who has reviewed the film. "'The Nativity Story' is refreshingly dramatic, so much so that the movie will elicit tears at points," he wrote.
Baehr, a renowned critic, educator, lecturer and media pundit, is the founder and publisher of Movieguide.
Baehr's assessment of changes in Hollywood track with similar trends in America. After years of "holidays" being used to describe the Christmas season, some cracks in the politically correct dam have begun to open, as retailers like Wal-Mart, Kohl's Corp. and Macy's are beginning to use the term "Merry Christmas."
The moves respond to mounting criticism from religious groups that staged boycotts against Wal- Mart and other merchants after they eliminated or de- emphasized "Christmas" in their advertising.
"We learned a lesson from that 'Merry Christmas' is now part of the vocabulary here at Wal-Mart," said Linda Blakley, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman.
"The Nativity Story" is drawing raves from many quarters.
"...'The Nativity Story' is biblically accurate, historically authentic, and visually stunning. Written with heart... it's destined to become a beloved Christmas classic," said Anne Graham Lotz, founder of AnGeL Ministries and daughter of evangelist Billy Graham.
"The Nativity Story," which was produced by the same company that produced the Oscar- winning "The Lord of the Rings," will make its world premiere at the Vatican Nov. 26. It is believed this is the first time a feature film will premiere there.
The film stars Academy Award nominee Keisha Castle- Hughes ("Whale Rider") as Mary, Oscar Isaac ("Guerrilla") as Joseph and Academy Award nominee Shohreh Aghdashloo ("House of San and Fog") as Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. It is directed by Catherine Hardwicke (the teen drama "Thirteen") from a screenplay by Mike Rich ("Finding Forrester," "The Rookie," "Radio"), himself a devout Christian.
"The Nativity Story" was filmed in Matera, Italy, also used as a location for "The Passion of the Christ," because it is more authentic than the actual sites now. "Nazareth is a modern town and Jerusalem is a very modern town, "said Rich. Shots involving Herod's castle and the temple in Jerusalem were shot in Ouarzazate, Mexico, also used in "The Gladiator' and "Kingdom of Heaven" movies.
Joseph and Mary are portrayed as very human, very Jewish and very much in love. In fact, in one scene, says Baehr, Mary "has an attitude," which is brief and natural for a teenager, but quickly she re-affirms her trustworthy commitment to loyalty, honor and trust."
Costuming and the settings are authentic in the minutest detail. Yet the movie avoids gruesome, graphic violence.
"It is a near perfect movie," Baehr said. "It testifies in every way to Jesus the Messiah and is clearly and consciously evangelistic."
The cast attended Nazareth "boot camp" to learn how people in Biblical times would have done household chores such as press olives and grapes, make cheese and bread and milk goats.
The compelling movie, in extraordinary, vivid color, chronicles the arduous 110-mile journey of Mary and Joseph, a miraculous pregnancy and the history- defining birth of Jesus Christ, Baehr said. It shows the intensely paranoid King Herod, who sets out to kill all the innocents in Bethlehem and destroy the prophecy of the King of Kings.
An angel appears before Mary to tell her she is to be the mother of God's child, born of the Holy Spirit. Joseph decides to continue in the marriage after an angel appears to him in a dream. They set off to Bethlehem to register for the Roman census. There, the prophecies are fulfilled.
The film has new insights into the emotions and faith of the three Maji. In perhaps the most compelling scene of the movie, the Maji witness Mary with her newborn babe, and one of the Wisemen faithfully says, "Truly, this is God made flesh."
Evangelicals are trumpeting the movie as one to take one's family and friends to. Every Christian will want to see it, and every non-Christian should see it, they say.
"It is kind of a contrast to the usually funny holiday fare and the other more violent movies you get around the holidays," said Hardwicke. "Maybe it'll be an antidote. It is not a cynical approach. It's really quite pure in a way.
"It does eventually take you to a spiritual place, a sacred place, by the end of the movie," she said.
Many resources, including sermons and discussion guides for families, small groups and youth, are at the website, www.movieguide.org/nativitystory
Ticket discounts will be available to churches. For group pricing, call 877-277-8679.
View movie trailer at http://www.movieguide.org/nativitystory/ev.avi
To interview Dr. Ted Baehr regarding "The Nativity Story," contact Matti Stevenson, LegacyRoad Group Publicity, at 719-388-1603 or [email protected]