Review: The Nativity Story (dir. Catherine Hardwicke, 2006)

The Passion of The Christ was an independent movie, paid for entirely out of Mel Gibson’s pocket. The Prince of Egypt was an animated film that emphasized the common ground between Jews, Christians and Muslims. The Last Temptation of Christ was a low-budget art-house flick based on a heretical novel.

You would have to go back at least as far as King David, the mid-1980s box-office flop starring Richard Gere, to find another live-action movie produced by a major Hollywood studio and based directly on the Bible. And you would have to go back even further — to the bathrobe epics of the 1960s, at least — to find a mainstream biblical movie that was as blatantly Christian as The Nativity Story.

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The Passion of the Christ — a box-office report

THE MOVIE that everyone said was too risky is now on course to become one of the biggest box-office hits of all time.

Mel Gibson’s graphic and controversial The Passion of the Christ surprised everyone — including its own distributor — when it opened last Wednesday. Newmarket, the company that released the film in the United States, predicted that afternoon that the film would gross about $20 million; instead, it made $23.6 million for the day, or $26.6 million once the church previews on Monday and Tuesday are taken into account.

And on Sunday, Newmarket predicted a weekend gross of $76.2 million; like all distributors, they estimated the film’s Sunday take based on the totals for Friday and Saturday. But Gibson’s death-of-Jesus film apparently attracted a much higher percentage of its followers on the Sabbath than most movies do — bringing its weekend gross to $83.8 million.

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Fantasies and fairy tales speak to our spiritual needs

MAGIC is everywhere you look these days. From bookstores to movie theatres, stories about wizards, witches and mythological beasts are all the rage; and for a person like me, who grew up with hobbits, aliens, flying horses and Jedi Knights, the current fantasy craze — and the various Christian responses to it — bring back a lot of memories.

How popular is fantasy right now? The most successful movie of the year (so far) is Shrek, a cheeky parody of the fairy tale genre that turns conventional wisdom about ogres, dragons and beautiful princesses on its head. That film’s box office performance could be surpassed in a few weeks by Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first film based on J.K. Rowling’s phenomenally popular novels about a young orphan and his classmates at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

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Is Harry Potter a menace to our children’s souls?

Richard Abanes: Harry Potter and the Bible: The Menace Behind the Magick, Horizon, 2001.
Connie Neal: What’s a Christian to Do With Harry Potter?, WaterBrook, 2001.

YEARS AGO, as a teen, I heard a man at a church speak on the evils of popular culture. I expected him to rail against the usual suspects — rock and roll, Star Wars, Disney cartoons with grey-bearded magicians in pointed hats — but I was entirely unprepared for when he turned his attention to My Little Pony. Some of these seemingly innocuous toys, he noted, had wings or horns, like the unicorns and flying steeds of Greek myth, and this, he said, was not good. “There’s nothing wrong with ponies,” he said with utter conviction. “God made ponies. But God didn’t make little unicorns.”

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