Sounds like … a film score that relies primarily on 12th-14th century European instrumentation and medieval chant, with occasional Middle Eastern flourishes to root the movie's setting
At a glance … the score lacks strong, memorable themes to sustain all 70 minutes of it, but it's a beautiful soundtrack nonetheless, offering a reverent blend of Middle Eastern sounds, European instrumentation, and traditional Christmas carols
To some extent, we're meant to look at The Nativity Story as an extension (or prequel) to The Passion of The Christ—the titles on the films are even rendered in the same font. Yet the movies are considerably different in almost every way. As good and reverent as the movie about the birth of Jesus is, it lacks the visual punch of Mel Gibson's blockbuster about his death. But it's also a far less graphic and violent film, suitable for the whole family. Even the soundtracks are strikingly dissimilar, and that's generally a good thing.
John Debney's score for The Passion more or less rehashed Peter Gabriel's music for The Last Temptation of Christ, but for The Nativity Story, Canadian composer Mychael Danna (Little Miss Sunshine, Capote) generally eschews the heavy Middle Eastern instrumentation often used to generate authenticity and drama. It's still present as would be expected, such as "The Magi" or the sad wail of "Words of the Prophet," which underscores Jeremiah's prophecy and Herod's slaughter of first-born sons.
However, most of the soundtrack juxtaposes the Middle Eastern sounds against European instrumentation that draws upon the medieval church. Lutes and woodwinds accompany the strings, and there's plenty of Gregorian chant and Latin texts sung by choirs and boy sopranos. Emphasizing the importance of Christ's birth on traditional church music, Danna's score includes snippets of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel," "Of the Father's Love Begotten," "Sing We Now of Christmas (Noel Nouvelet)," and a gorgeous arrangement of "Silent Night" that serves as a moving finale during the film's epilogue.
The score suffers from a lack of strong, memorable themes and seems a little repetitive by the end. But this is also one of the more complete soundtracks available, representing nearly 70 of the movie's 100 minutes in sequential order. Thus, The Nativity Story offers a beautiful soundtrack that recreates the experience of the film reasonably well with gentleness and reverence.
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