The first Christmas comes to the big screen


HOLLYWOOD, Calif. – "With the release of 'The Nativity Story,' Hollywood is finally putting Jesus Christ back into Christmas," said Dr. Ted Baehr, chairman of the Christian Film & Television Commission. The film, which has been called a prequel to "The Passion of the Christ," headed 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.

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.

Faith friendly films are increasing and no film is being talked about quite so much as The Nativity Story.

Biblical scholar Anne Graham Lotz, who provided consultation on the script, has seen the film and declared that "God's hand" is upon it. "I'd never really had any communication with Hollywood before this," said Lotz in Newsweek, "and my impression is that Hollywood doesn't quite get it when it comes to Christians. So I was very concerned about showing the movie to people before I'd seen it. I just didn't know what the finished product would be."

The film got a stamp of approval from Lotz who said the film is "destined to become a beloved Christmas classic."

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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 he 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.