After the opening, unscriptural prologue, the film moves on to adapting the gospels proper. As soon as they begin it becomes obvious why the prologue was deemed necessary: opening with a genealogy would result in the dullest start to a movie of all time. As it is things are still pretty dull, despite the filmmakers attempt to liven things up by having some of Matthew's (spiritual?) grandson chip in the odd name or two. This is one of the drawbacks of doing Matthew's Gospel word for word and both filmmakers and audience breathe a sigh of relief when it's all over.
Essentially, the genealogy is the gospel's prologue, so by beginning the film by introducing Matthew we have now had two prologues; what follows will function, in many ways, as a third. Some would the historical credibility of the Nativity Story, and in a way, the film, no doubt unintentionally seems to back this up by leaving Mary and Joseph without dialogue. This is, of course, due to the dialogue in the gospel. But translating that to the screen outs these characters in a remote and unreal light.
The lack of dialogue also creates an interesting scene between Mary and Joseph. Mary communicates her pregnancy to Joseph with looks rather than words. This seems to be a nod to Pasolini's adaptation of this gospel, which opens in similar fashion. That said, in that film the possibility remains open that the two have already spoken, or that Jospeh has heard via a third party. Here however Joseph greets her with a smile, and only when he reads her looks does he learn that she is with child.
Like Jesus of Nazareth Joseph is depicted with a covered head and side curls. On the one hand, this indicator of Jesus' Jewish roots is commendable, if, perhaps, a little anachronistic. But it does raise the question as to why Jesus is not shown in such a light. We have no reason to suggest that Jesus was less devout in his religion than his father, for all his critiques of its current practice.
Perhaps the most interesting feature of this segment is that there are more than three wise men. The number doesn't seem to be completely consistent, the numbers riding on camels seem to be perhaps one or two more than the four that kneel and present gifts to the baby (rather than toddling) Jesus. Either way the filmmakers are at pains to distance themselves from the three wise men of our traditional Christmases.
Next time John the Baptist and the temptations.