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The Nativity Story is a bearably dull Christmas worship service, fully supernatural in its vision (the voice of God, a luminous Messenger, an avian Holy Spirit), yet full of luxuriously tactile costumes, solid sets, atmospheric locales, and earthy Mediterranean faces. (The half-Maori Keisha Castle-Hughes, though harmoniously olive in complexion, seems a bit overwhelmed in the role of the Virgin. Understandably.) The treatment hits all the essential points of the story without pulverizing them into mush: the three Magi on camels, Mary on a donkey and Joseph on foot, the sheep in the stable, the spotlighting star, the swell of orchestra and chorus in the epic mode of Miklos Rozsa. After the adolescent drug problems of Thirteen and the pace-setting skateboards of Lords of Dogtown, this makes an odd project for director Catherine Hardwicke, who hereby renounces trendiness and embraces tradition. Although her focus quite reasonably is on the plight of a pregnant teen, the filmmaker has made no attempt to "reimagine" the character for a new age, simply to imagine her as she might have been, a treacherous assignment carried out with unforeseen taste and composure. Mel Gibson, it goes without saying, would have made a good deal more of Herod's elimination of his competition.

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