Spoiler alert: It's a boy! The Nativity Story focuses Director Catherine Hardwicke's trademark empathy for teen girls on the most famous teen mother story of all time. Despite being a theatrical new release title released in the midst of the Blu-ray/HD-DVD format war, New Line Home Video only released it as an SD DVD in 2007, and this constitutes the first appearance of the title in high definition on an optical disc format.
Studio: Warner Brothers
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA, Spanish 2.0 DD
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Run Time: 1 Hr. 41 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, DVDin a standard ELITE Blu-ray case with hubs on each of the inner covers.
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 03/05/2013
Directed by: Catherine Hardwicke
The Production Rating: 3.5/5
Starring: Keisha Castle-Hughes, Oscar Isaac, Hiam Abbass, Shaun Toub, Ciarán Hinds, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Stanley Townsend, and Alexander Siddig
The Nativity Story relates the tale of the birth of Jesus Christ through three narratives that converge with the blessed event on Christmas. The primary narrative follows a teenage Mary (Castle-Hughes) as she is visited by the Angel Gabriel (Siddig) and told that she will bear The Lord's child. This miraculous conception is followed by an extended stay with her cousins Elizabeth (Aghdashloo) and Zachariah (Townsend), who are inclined to believe Mary's story since they too are in the midst of a miraculous pregnancy. When Mary returns home, her parents Anna (Abbass) and Joaquim (Toub), are troubled by the inexplicable pregnancy, as is Mary's fiance, Jospeh (Isaac). Joseph is as concerned over the possibility of Mary being stoned as he is by the pregnancy of his betrothed, but after a dream in which he too is visited by an angel , accepts Mary as his wife and the child as his own. The second narrative follows Herod (Hinds) as he frets over prophecies of a coming Messiah, fearful that he will usurp his power as the Roman-appointed king of his people. Knowing that the Messiah is to be a descendant of King David, he exploits a Roman desire for a census by requiring everyone to return to their ancestral homes reasoning that he will root out the usurper by monitoring traffic into Bethlehem. The third narrative follows three wise but contentious Magi in Persia who are monitoring astrological signs and, after much discussion, decide to set out on a journey to Bethlehem to arrive in time for an unusual celestial alignment.
Any narrative adaptation of The Nativity must contend with the issue of over-familiarity with the details of the story. Viewers inclined to buy a ticket for such a film are bound to know the details of its plot if not from Biblical study, than certainly from any number of Christmas pageants and reenactments that occur every Advent season. This can be handled by creating independent fictional narratives around the familiar details of the event (such as the travails of little drummer boys), but Catherine Hardwicke and the producers of The Nativity Story, perhaps spurred by the enormous commercial success of 2004's The Passion of the Christ, chose to focus on an empathetic immersion in the world and personal journey of Mary.
While the plot details of the film are still largely drawn from the Biblical accounts of Matthew and Luke as well as familiar Christian traditions associated with them, a lot of emphasis was placed on period and cultural details that result in a Nativity that feels a bit earthier than typical variations on the story. The casting of actual teenager Keisha Castle-Hughes also helps to ground the film in the realities and potential anxieties of an expectant young mother, putting Mary's decisions in a relatable context for viewers.
While the emphasis on historical context and a relatable Mary certainly help, the film does not entirely overcome the over-familiarity issue, and drags in spots. Once the journey to Bethlehem begins, the film includes a lot of footage illustrating the difficulties of traipsing across harsh terrain in sequences that provide little suspense to an audience who know how this has to end. At least the scenery (shot on location in Italy and Morocco) and music (composed by Mychael Danna) offer some eye and ear candy. The occasional intercut to the Magi as they bicker amusingly before embarking on their ambitious journey also provides some brief moments of levity that help to throw the seriousness of the other plot lines into relief.
The film's original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.4:1 is replicated faithfully in this AVC encoded 1080p presentation. The stylish cinematography, which featured heavy manipulation of color and contrast through a digital intermediate process, translates well to home video although a few second unit shots are of noticeably lower quality than the rest of the film with markedly heavier grain.
Video Rating: 4/5 3D Rating: NA
The film's original soundtrack is presented via a lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 track that was a lot more immersive and involving than I expected. The primary beneficiary of the lossless encoding is the film's score which is rendered with outstanding fidelity. The surround field is not used constantly, but during certain key sequences, the mix makes effective use of all channels as well as the LFE to create a very dynamic listening experience. A Spanish language dub is also available as a Dolby Digital 2.0 track.
Audio Rating: 4/5
The Blu-ray betters the sparse extras of the previous DVD release by adding a making of featurette and upgrading the two trailers for the film to high definition. Details and specs are as follow:
Special Features Rating: 2/5
A Director's Journey: The Making of The Nativity Story: (23:13 - AVC encoded 4:3 480i Letterboxed video - Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound) is a making of featurette directed by Suzanne McCaferty and narrated by Matt Wright. While it falls short of comprehensive, it is more informative than most promotional electronic press kit featurettes. It includes a mix of talking head interviews, film clips, and behind the scenes footage. Topics covered include the selection of Hardwicke as director, casting, research and authenticity, locations in Italy and Morocco, sets, training of the actors in the ways of Nazarean life, costumes, hair, and working with animals. On camera comments come from Director Catherine Hardwicke, Keisha Castle-Hughes ("Mary"), Oscar Isaac ("Joseph"), Theology and Aramaic Consultant Professor William Fulco, Writer Mike Rich, Producer Wyck Godfrey, Producer Marty Bowen, Shohreh Agdashloo ("Elizabeth"), Ciarán Hinds ("Herod"), Shaun Tomb ("Joaquin"), Hiam Abbas ("Anna"), Shadow Mountain Church Senior Pastor Dr. David Jeremiah, Dallas Theological Seminary Professor Darrell L. Bock, and Production Designer Stefano Maria Ortolani
Trailer #1 (2:34 - 1080p - DD5.1) Covers nearly every plot detail in the film. It is almost like watching in fast motion.
Teaser Trailer (1:16 - 1080p - DD5.1) Is a more atmospheric introduction to the film.
DVD Copy - The included DVD copy is the same disc that accompanied the original home video release of the film from March of 2007. Extras include the same trailers described above as well as Interactual DVD-ROM features that will likely not work for anyone anymore. When the disc is first played, the viewer is greeted with the following series if promos. All are presented in 16:9 enhanced video with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound unless otherwise indicated:
- The Last Mimzy Theatrical Trailer (1:33 - Dolby Digital 5.1 sound)
- How to Eat Fried Worms DVDTrailer (1:24)
- The Notebook DVD Trailer (2:14)
- The New World DVD Trailer (:33 - 4:3 letterboxed video)
- Happy Feet DVD Trailer (:31 - 4:3 letterboxed video)
- The Nativity Story Sacred Songs - Christmas Favorites Inspired by the Film CD Promo (:32 - 4:3 letterboxed video)
The high definition debut of Catherine Hardwicke's The Nativity Story presents a capable audio/video rendering of the film with a modest improvement in special features over the previous SD DVD release of the film. While it does not necessarily earn a place in the pantheon of biblical epics, it provides a solid and empathetic telling of a very familiar story. Always looking to stay a step ahead of the competition, Warner/New Line released this Blu-ray with a comfortable 295 shopping days left before Christmas.
Overall Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewed By: Ken_McAlinden
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