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Thursday, June 7, 2018

The Star (2017)

The Star
The Star,
directed by Timothy Reckart, is what the Bible, and by extension Christianity and other religions, was made for. It's an adaptation of a story. It can be adapted a hundred different ways, and viewed another hundred different ways. Being, partly, a major studio film (Columbia Pictures and their subsidiary Sony Pictures Animation), The Star's target audience is everyone, so it handles religion differently than the faith-based films that have been coming out. Actually, this isn't a faith-based film as much as it is just The Nativity Story for kid. The only problem here is kids over a certain age may not find it funny.

This Nativity Story centers around Bo the donkey (Steven Yuen) wanting to do something important with his life and joining the Royal Cavalry. Instead, after breaking out of the mill he worked at, he winds up in the care of Mary (Gina Rodriguez) and Joseph (Zachary Levi), just as Joseph realizes that she's pregnant. The scene is handled great, as they carefully sidestep the term "immaculate conception," while still stating and accepting that that's what happened. Instead, Joseph instantly jumps into scared and unprepared, but excited, father-mode. If Joseph had asked for an explanation, the movie would've either become inappropriate, boring, or both, so it's best to avoid the conversation. They soon leave for Bethlehem, and the movie is only about a third of the way through and some padding is needed. 

The Star isn't a movie that should have a conventional villain, but it does, unfortunately. When King Herod (Christopher Plummer) is informed that a new king is coming, he requests a soldier and two dogs (Ving Rhames and Gabriel Iglesias) track down and kill the king. It sounds terrible because it is terrible, but it also sparks substantive conversations about religion. There are a few moments like that, such as when God appears to a flock of (literal) sheep and asks them a request. That could play incredibly negatively to a religious-minded audience, but it's done lightly in a sincere adaptation of this story, so it's not a piece of commentary by Ricky Gervais or David Cross.  If nothing else, these moments lead to some mild action, chases, and excitement for the heroes. 

Speaking of which, one of the biggest surprises of this film is the animation. Sony Pictures uses their animation/visual effects studio ImageWorks to do some eye-popping work that ranges from the most photo-realistic (The Amazing Spider-Man movies) to the most rule-breaking and cartoony (Storks and the Hotel Transylvania movies), and The Star appeared to be no exception. But it is. The reason the animation looks more restrained than the off the wall nature of Hotel Translvania and Storks is because Cinesite is the animation studio responsible, and they did great. The animation is very clean and very smooth, and the texturing on every little clay or wooden object really shows. Most importantly, many characters at least look distinctive, even if their traits don't stand out. The best of Cinesite's work in The Star is their depiction of God. He's a beautiful blend of light and particle effects, and he's given just the right amount of personality and time on screen for this movie. 

The Star is a pretty standard, harmless family movie, but that means it's one of the few harmless contemporary Christian films. It may be the start to repairing the divides between religion, Hollywood, and the people. One of the last lines the movie is "[...]he's just a boy." And if these words are just insane ramblings then that means The Star is just a movie. One that may be worth trying.