Why did people stay away from The Nativity Story in droves?  Why did it get reviewed so poorly?  Well, because it didn’t look exciting – I mean, where’s the evil villains?  Where’s the gore and violence?  I mean, just think of how though-provoking or controversial a sex scene you could do with the immaculate conception.  The real problem, though, is that these organizations lack vision – they want to crank out low-budget family films instead of trying to create kick*ss entertainment.  And cranking out pablum for the Christian masses is not going to work.

In an essay in the monthly magazine Christianity Today, editor David
Neff gave the movie a generally good review but criticized it for
shying away from depicting the true hardship of Mary and Joseph’s era.
He wrote that "Nativity" was done with "Christmas-card sentimentality"
and glossed over the violence of the time, such as Herod’s slaughter of
the innocents.

 The LA Times discussed the Nativity movie, and some interesting points were made.

1. Nativity’s poor showing may discourage movie-makers’ investment in religious films

But Wyck Godfrey, producer of "The Nativity Story," fears that his
movie’s slow momentum at the box office will discourage others from
making large-budget, overtly Christian entertainment.

We were
relieved by how it held up. But it has struck a blow to bigger-budget
epic biblical stories," Godfrey said. "I’m not running out to do the
[life of the] Apostle Paul, and I was thinking about doing it before."

Just get Mel Gibson to do the life of Paul, instead of the guys who do after-school movies for 10 year olds.  I mean, Paul’s life had so many cool moments, so many villains, so many twists, and he had so much passion! 

2. Nativity actually didn’t perform poorly, only compared to The Passion

"The Nativity Story" did not perform well in predominately Christian
countries such as Italy or Spain or in Latin America. Domestically,
however, "Nativity" is now among the top 10 highest-grossing
faith-based or religious-themed films in recent times, according to
Media by Numbers, a box-office tracking firm.

"It’s one of
those movies that people put unrealistic expectations on because of
‘The Passion of the Christ,’ but it’s a solid performer," said Paul
Dergarabedian, president of Media by Numbers.

I guess we better not set the bar too high. 

3. Straight to video movies?  Ugh.

Other studios, such as 20th Century Fox’s FoxFaith division, are
distributing low-budget Christian films, but most of them will skip
theaters and go directly to video.

Judging by the ratings and performance of Thr3e, I’d say FoxFaith ought to stick to straight to video until they figure out that Christians are just like regular people – they don’t want to watch poorly crafted or highly sanitized entertainment.

4. Attracting Christian minorities

New Line was hoping to attract African American and Latino moviegoers in addition to white evangelicals.

That’s an interesting market to reach for, since they also have religious sentiments.  These communities may go for historical epics, but they also really go for movies that star "their people."  for example, I just saw The Fighting Temptations last week on video, and it was surprisingly good, and definitely aimed at the black church market.  And wow, can Cuba Gooding dance or what?

5. Pre-screening with Christian leaders?

"If they want to market to the Christian community, they have to
understand the value of prescreening to leaders," said Michael Catt,
senior pastor at Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga. "The church
leaders control what is promoted from the pulpit."

This is a damning, pathetic truth.  Christians don’t "trust" Hollywood to reflect their values, and so they would rather listen to Christian leaders who filter their media for them.    I can see the marketing value of getting the approval of James Dobson, but do we really need his approval?  I sure hope not.  That reminds me of these excellent lyrics from Derek Webb’s song A New Law:

don’t teach me about politics and government
just tell me who to vote for

don’t teach me about truth and beauty
just label my music

don’t teach me how to live like a free man
just give me a new law

i don’t wanna know if the answers aren’t easy
so just bring it down from the mountain to me

The truth is, there are valid reasons for checking with one of the many Christian movie review sites before seeing a movie – we are busy people, and modern media has become putrefied with an overabundance of sex, gore, profanity, liberal values, and you name it.  It’s nice to have someone else pre-screen and evaluate movies for you.  As long as you still feel free to see things that the "leaders" disapprove of. 

BTW, here’s a list of family-friendly review sites (except for the first one, which is my favorite review aggregator)

  • Rotten Tomatoes – nice aggregator of reviews
  • Plugged In Online – great design, reviews have major sections for specifically reviewing a movie’s spiritual, sexual, violent, and profanity content
  • Christianity Today Movies – I like these because they don’t always take the conservative evangelical view – much more intelligent than some other sites
  • Movie Guide – this site is interesting because it has easy to scan ratings for both quality and moral acceptability. 
  • Catholic Movie Reviews – What is interesting about these is that they try to address the central messages of movies, and evaluate things from a more Catholic point of view.  It’s thought-provoking, in both good and bad ways.