[This story was carried by the Associated Press (AP).]
SANDY -- Gary Rogers wept as he thanked all the people sitting in the Megaplex 17 theater at Jordan Commons who helped make his five-year dream, "The Book of Mormon Movie," come true.
As he introduced cast, crew and investors Wednesday night at the movie's world premiere, Rogers said, "Their second goal was to see their money back. Their first goal was to see a movie that would touch people."
About 850 people attended the screening, which filled two theaters of the Sandy multiplex. Some won their tickets through media outlets; others were friends and family of the cast and crew.
"You're sharing with me the best experience of my entire life," said Noah Danby, the Canadian actor who portrays Nephi, the Mormon hero who leads his people to the New World.
Danby shared the moment via cell phone with his mother, having the audience shout "Hi, Mom" to her at one point.
Rogers, director and producer of the film, sold his video production company to help finance the movie and spent five years bringing it to the screen. However, he said a movie based on the Book of Mormon "was really a dream in my mind in 1956, when I walked out of 'The Ten Commandments.' "
The movie -- the most ambitious project so far in the Mormon Cinema genre -- opens in 30 Utah theaters Friday, and rolls out into other Western states in the next few weeks. Rogers is marketing the film outside traditional Mormon communities with a unique approach: selling tickets over a Web site and then booking the movie in cities where sufficient tickets are sold.
"We will go anywhere in the world as long as they have a base of 1,000 tickets sold," Rogers said. So far, he said, the response is international. "We'll be in Sydney, Australia, before we're in Denver, Colo. . . . We're all ready to go into Toronto," which is Danby's hometown.
Rogers stretched his $2 million budget relying on LDS crew members who volunteered their services. The movie was filmed in Green River, Ogden, Hawaii and a Hollywood soundstage.
He stressed that the movie is not endorsed or sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but said some general authorities were in the audience Wednesday. However, he joked, if any told him that they liked the movie, "I wouldn't tell you that they said it."
Rogers faces a major hurdle in marketing his movie to Mormons: a PG-13 rating, earned for a violent scene when Nephi kills Laban, the evil ruler of Jerusalem.
"You cannot do justice to the book without putting in the emotion that would get you a PG-13," Rogers explained.
Wednesday's audience gave the movie a respectful ovation at the close, and some waited outside the theater to collect autographs from the cast and filmmakers.
The movie concludes at the fifth chapter of the second book of Nephi, and Rogers plans eight more movies to tell the whole tale.
That will depend, he said, on this movie making back its money, adding, "If Volume 1 is not successful, the Book of Mormon will end with Nephi."
Noah Danby, who plays Nephi in "The Book of Mormon Movie," at the movie's premiere at Jordan Commons in Sandy on Wednesday.
Editors note: Filmmakers have chosen not to screen "The Book of Mormon Movie, Vol 1: The Journey," in advance for critics. The following article is a preview -- and not an analysis -- of the film.
[Webmaster note: The accuracy of the above note might be considered in light of the following facts: Utah newspapers and movie reviewers were invited to an early screening of "The Book of Mormon Movie, Vol. 1." Utah newspapers such as the Salt Lake Tribune, Deseret News, Ogden Standard-Examiner, and Salt Lake City Weekly all had reviewers who saw the movie before its general premiere and wrote reviews that appeared when the movie was released. At the time that this movie premiered, The Daily Herald had recently fired its movie reviewer, and the status of this position was in flux.]
The way director-producer Gary Rogers sees it, heavenly forces played a role in the production of the "The Book of Mormon Movie, Vol 1: The Journey," a silver-screen adaptation of a key scriptural work of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
On the first day of filming in Southeastern Utah, torrential rain and snow halted outdoor production. Then, a local resident who met cast and crew members in a local hotel offered the use of his barn for a day. Subsequent shooting went forward when the rain and snow halted, defying weather predictions.
"Now you can call that a coincidence," said the 61-year-old Sandy filmmaker, whose movie opens this weekend in local theaters. "I call that a miracle."
Actually, adapting an epic scriptural work on a $2-million budget has been "an enormous single miracle," Rogers said.
He first conceived the idea of a Book of Mormon movie after viewing the 1956 Cecil B. DeMille movie "The Ten Commandments" as a child.
Nearly half a century later, as Mormon cinema -- Mollywood, some call it -- grows in prestige and ticket sales, perhaps no LDS-themed film project is as ambitious as an adaptation of the first two books of the Book of Mormon.
The LDS Church did not sponsor the film, but Rogers said he felt a responsibility to stick closely to the text of the First and Second books of Nephi.
The movie follows two families as they depart Jerusalem and head for the Promised Land. An intense scene with a sword, where the lead character, Nephi, is commanded by the spirit to behead someone, earned the film a PG-13 rating by the Motion Picture Association of America.
The movie will open in limited release in several Western states and Texas. In an interesting bit of pre-movie hoopla, Wednesday night's grand premiere at Jordan Commons involved, among other things, a group of camels.
Rogers said he would like to screen the film throughout the United States and the world through a creative -- if unusual -- distribution method in which movie makers decide which additional locations to visit based on tickets pre-purchased via the Internet.
Already the film's Web site, www.bookofmormonmovie.com, had some 3 million hits last month alone, Rogers said.
"I think the Mormon audience is going to eat this up. People have been waiting for it, there is a lot of buzz about it," said Kirby Heyborne, who plays the role of Nephi's brother, Sam. "I think they are just going to be standing in line waiting to see it."
Heyborne said that because very few verses in the Book of Mormon specifically refer to Sam, he had more liberty with his role than some other characters.
Rogers, himself, has worried that people's preconceived notions about the movie's characters may hurt the film's chances of success.
"I've had people tell me this is a director-producer's suicide -- you are crazy to do this because the members of the church have seen this movie dozens and dozens of times in their minds."
Another hitch: When making a movie about a work millions consider sacred, do the film's actors have to be, themselves, heavenly?
Some have already raised objection to Noah Danby's (Nephi) previous work on Showtime's series "Queer as Folk." Danby's small parts on the gay-themed cable-TV series included scenes with nudity -- roles that many feel are at odds with the conservative values of the LDS Church.
Rogers said he knew of Danby's role in "Queer as Folk" when he cast him as the lead, and that Danby, a "gentle giant," is a man of integrity fitting to play one of the Book of Mormon's central characters.
Danby, a 6-foot 3-inch Canadian actor, who is not LDS, said he hopes people will judge the film by its message and not his resume.
"I hope ... they judge the movie from the movie, and the hard work and the blood, sweat and tears that went into it," he said.
If the first installment of the Book of Mormon Movie succeeds, filmmakers plan a total of eight volumes, covering the entire book of scripture. Rogers said he thinks that people of all faiths will be drawn to the movie's drama, romance and intrigue.
"That's the No. 1 goal, to bring the stories to life, to make them real," he said, "And hopefully, to drive people to the book, either to re-read it with new meaning, or to read it for the first time."
THE BOOK OF MORMON MOVIE, VOLUME 1: THE JOURNEY - ** [2 stars out of 4] - Noah Danby, Jacque Gray, Mark Gollaher, Kirby Heyborne, Bryce Chamberlain, Jan Broberg Felt, Cragun Foulger, Michael Flynn; rated PG-13 (violence, brief gore); see "Playing at local movie theaters" for theater listings.
Despite its PG-13 rating, "The Book of Mormon Movie, Volume 1: The Journey" is nearly bloodless. In more ways than one, actually . . .
And yes, that can be interpreted to mean that this live-action feature -- the first of as many as nine films based on Mormon canon -- is fairly clean, contentwise, when compared to the vast majority of today's big-screen fare. (Still, the film does contain one scene of violence -- which occurs off-screen, for the most part -- that earns that PG-13 rating.)
But at the same time, that's also an indication of the movie's biggest failing: It's so slowly paced, so flat-footed that it fails to engage on any level. Even for all but the most eager-to-please of audiences.
This film "volume" is an adaptation of nearly the first two Books of Nephi. Actor Noah Danby plays Nephi, the faithful son of Lehi (Bryce Chamberlain). Unfortunately for Nephi and his family, his father's prophesies of doom for Jerusalem haven't made him too popular.
So Lehi plans to take his family out of Jerusalem and into the desert -- with the hope of finding the prophesied Promised Land. But before they do, he sends Nephi and his brothers (Mark Gollaher, Kirby Heyborne and Cragun Foulger) back to the city to retrieve brass plates containing their people's history -- a task that's easier said than done.
In adapting this material, co-screenwriters Craig Clyde and Gary Rogers (who also produced and directed the film) had to take certain liberties, adding things and deleting things to move the story along -- the wrap-around sequences featuring church organizer Joseph Smith are effective enough, but the attempts at humor are ill-advised.
But you do have to credit Rogers for making the film look as good as it does. For a movie that cost roughly $1.5 million, it does look like, well, a million bucks.
He's saddled with a cast of mostly local actors who look far too contemporary, though Utah stage veteran Gollaher and LDS cinema stalwart Heyborne do give it a game try.
Unfortunately, the beefy, gravelly-voiced Danby doesn't make the most convincing of heroes. Same goes for Jacque Gray, who practically sleepwalks through her role as Nephi's love interest.
"The Book of Mormon Movie, Volume 1: The Journey" is rated PG-13 for scenes of violence (beatings, a back-alley brawl and a beheading), as well as some brief gore. Running time: 119 minutes.
A low-budget epic that is more monotonous than momentous.
* 1/2 [1.5 stars out of 4]
"The Book of Mormon Movie: Vol. 1 -- The Journey" begins with a disclaimer (stressing that it is not endorsed or sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints), and so must I: I have no doubt that the people who made this movie are good, decent people who put their hearts and souls into the project.
That being said, the movie they made is a poor one -- a plodding, repetitive, ham-fisted attempt to create a "Ten Commandments"-style epic without the resources or bravado required to pull it off.
Director-producer Gary Rogers depicts the first chapters of the Book of Mormon, from 1 Nephi through part of 2 Nephi. It begins with the prophecies of Lehi (Bryce Chamberlain), who urges his family to leave Jerusalem to start a new life in a promised land in the Americas. Lehi's sons are split on the idea: Laman (Mark Gollaher) and Lemuel (Cragun Foulger) think Dad is nuts, but Nephi (Noah Danby) and Sam (Kirby Heyborne) stand up for their father.
From Nephi's retrieval of the brass plates from the wicked Laban (Michael Flynn) through the boat trip to the New World, the movie falls into a recurring pattern: Laman and Lemuel whine, they try to kill Nephi, Nephi prays for divine intervention, God comes and smites his brothers, the brothers repent and vow to follow Nephi, Laman and Lemuel start grousing again, and the whole cycle starts over again -- smite, lather, repeat.
The movie suffers from tonal and technical inconsistencies. The dialogue -- the script is credited to veteran Utah filmmaker Craig Clyde -- is half in scripture-speak (lots of "thou" and "sayeth" and "so it came to pass") and half in modern colloquial English. The production is sometimes striking, as Rogers got lots of Hollywood crew members to work practically for free. But the strain of stretching a $1.5 million budget shows: Some costumes look as if they were made from bedsheets, and the storm that strikes Nephi's ship looks like two guys tossing buckets of water just outside camera range.
Fortunately, the movie seldom drops to the unintentionally funny -- though a ridiculously chaste depiction of Laman's followers getting jiggy on the crossing nearly qualifies. (Memo to Rogers: Cecil B. deMille played up the sex appeal in "The Ten Commandments," justifying it because the sexy characters went to hell. Why not follow suit? You've got a PG-13 rating anyway, for the scene where Nephi slays Laban -- if you're going to do the time, you may as well do the crime.)
Some of the performances are moving, notably Heyborne ("The R.M.") as the good-hearted Sam. Danby, as the heroic Nephi, fulfills the beefcake quotient but is often flat and uninvolving. If eight more movies are coming to tell the tale of the Book of Mormon, as Rogers plans, there is plenty of room for improvement.
OUR RATING: ** [2 stars out of 4]
Originally, I thought this was going to be an easy review to write. How could a bunch of rookie filmmakers pull off what amounts to the "second-greatest story ever told"? It couldn't be done, right?
Turns out that what "The Book of Mormon Movie: Volume 1: The Journey" lacks in technique, it makes up in heart.
Some aspects of the film were extremely professional. The movie's lighting, costuming and set design were first-rate, with special note to the score, which I would put up against any mainstream Hollywood production. It's the rousing background music that saves many a scene.
One problem here, and this is typical of many first-time filmmakers, is that the director equates the big screen with big acting. You know, the kind where the actor feels the need to reach the back row of the theater from the stage.
That works well for stage plays, but not for movies, because exactly the opposite is true. A big-screen setting is much more intimate, and so the acting needs to be toned down.
Many of the scenes involving the troublemakers Laman and Lemuel (Mark Gollaher and Cragun Foulger) were so overpowering that you almost felt the need to hiss or boo like you would at a melodrama when they appeared on screen.
Now I know it's not easy extracting bits and pieces of the plot from the Book of Mormon and making them sing, but the movie takes the easy way out too often and overuses narration to describe what's happening.
As a result, poor Nephi (Noah Danby) spends an inordinate amount of time staring off into space while the narrator catches us up on what has transpired. That is simply lazy scriptwriting -- and boring to an audience.
And while we're on the subject of Nephi, an obviously pivotal character to the first couple of books of the Book of Mormon, Danby was a good choice. He definitely has the sculptured look of an Arnold Friberg painting. He also held a commanding presence throughout the film, although his dialogue could have been much less stilted.
I was glad to see a slight infusion of humor in the script, rare but there nonetheless. The brothers veiling their faces to fool the evil Laban (Michael Flynn) was one. The other was Sam's (Kirby Heyborne) reluctance to take a bride.
So, the bottom line is: This would have been a tough movie to make even for someone like Steven Spielberg. Director Gary Rogers did the best he could on limited feature-film experience and a limited budget.
Still, there's much room for improvement. If Mormon audiences make an effort to see this film, Rogers has eight more episodes in mind. Otherwise, it could be awhile before we see another Book of Mormon movie.
STARRING: Noah Danby, Bryce Chamberlain, Mark Gollaher, Jan Broberg Felt, Cragun Foulger, Jacque Gray, Kirby Heyborne and Michael Flynn
BEHIND THE SCENES: Co-produced and directed by Gary Rogers. Shot on locations in Ogden and Green River, Hawaii and Universal Studios
Whether or not you believe The Book of Mormon is true -- and I should say up front that I do -- many of its stories are prime movie material, full of drama, excitement and inspiration. I suspect one day a good film will emerge that makes use of the book's events and characters.
"The Book of Mormon Movie" is not that film. Produced, written and directed by Gary Rogers, who has no prior film experience, it is obviously the work of someone, well, with no prior film experience. Its screenplay (for which Craig Clyde is co-credited) merely recreates all the events of the first 66 pages of The Book of Mormon without any regard for plotting, storytelling or character development. There is no climax, no clear narrative path. The acting is uniformly bland, as if the actors are merely reciting scripture (which they often are), rather than portraying living, breathing people. The movie is the very definition of "perfunctory," seemingly made just for the sake of making it. It is about as imaginative as if a committee of dull, suit-wearing middle-aged men got together and tried to stage a ballet.
That Rogers made it with the pure goal of bringing a beloved work of scripture to life, I do not question. But the finished product is pedestrian and mishandled. It is a classic case of a filmmaker's love for his material being much stronger than his talent for filming it.
For those unfamiliar with the text, here's the Cliff's Notes version of what the film covers (which is the books of 1 Nephi and 2 Nephi; Rogers plans another six films to tell the rest). Set in approximately 600 B.C. in Jerusalem, the story is of a prophet named Lehi (Bryce Chamberlain) who is warned by the Lord to take his family and head for the hills, lest they be a) killed by angry townspeople who don't cotton to Lehi's denouncement of them as "wicked," or b) caught up in the impending destruction by outside forces. (This destruction will come because of the aforementioned wickedness, by the way.)
So Lehi takes off with his wife Sariah (Jan Broberg Felt), his daughters, his good sons Nephi (Noah Danby) and Sam (Kirby Heybourne), and bad sons Laman (Mark Gollaher) and Lemuel (Cragun Foulger). The boys get sent back to Jerusalem twice, first to obtain important religious records from the evil, drunken Laban (Michael Flynn), then to fetch Lehi's buddy Ishmael (Ron Frederickson) and his family, especially his daughters, since wives are needed. Then they build a boat and sail to the New World.
The trouble is that what makes for a good religious document doesn't necessarily work as a film. For one thing, you need an interesting, dynamic protagonist, and Nephi is not one. He has no apparent character flaws, even slight ones, and he doesn't change, learn or grow over the course of the film. Since the record is mum on the subject of Nephi's rough edges, some fictionalization would have been needed to make him work as a movie character. I'm not saying make him a bad guy; I'm saying make him a human being. At the very least, give him an important lesson to learn. The movie version of Nephi is exactly the same at the end as he was at the beginning. And that's boring.
At the other end of the spectrum, there's Laman, Nephi's constantly backsliding brother. Readers of the text have noted that Laman is capable of seeing an angel on one page, and complaining again on the next. (It is also true, though I had not noticed it until seeing it enacted on the silver screen, that Laman's solution to everything is to tie Nephi up.) When the story is told in broad, general strokes, it seems unlikely that a real person would behave that way; obviously there are details omitted for the sake of brevity that would have explained Laman's personality and motivations. A movie is a golden opportunity to explore that -- not to make him the central character, or course, but at least to make him believable as a villain. But in Rogers' movie, Laman is as uneven and inscrutable as he is in the text. That's OK in the book, because you're not reading the scriptures to see three-dimensional characters. It's not OK in a movie.
There is no "story" in these 66 pages, at least not the kind of story that has exposition, rising action, climax and resolution. There is, rather, a series of episodes, any of which could conceivably be fleshed-out, given the just-mentioned elements of story, and turned into films. But instead, Rogers has merely propped The Book of Mormon on an easel and filmed every page, whether it's useful in telling the story of these people or not.
One of the most dramatic events is when Nephi is compelled by the Lord to kill Laban. In the text, Laban has passed out drunk and Nephi must switch clothes with him, fool a guard, and make off with the brass plates. In the film, Nephi puts Laban's clothes on -- notably a large, gaudy breastplate -- as soon as Laban is unconscious. He's not an imminent threat; why does Nephi have to kill him? Reading the scripture, I have no problem with the notion that sometimes God may command a prophet to act contrary to orthodoxy. Seeing it portrayed in the film, though, it reminds me of the insane religious zealots who do heinous things because "God told them to." It's uncomfortable.
There's more discomfort later, when Nephi uses the power of God to shock his rebellious brothers. Again, in the text, it makes sense. On the screen, it seems weird, with Nephi prefacing the punishment with a "this is going to hurt, but it's for your own good" kind of speech.
The film's dialogue is an awkward mix of King James-style scripture-talk -- often direct quotes from The Book of Mormon -- and modern language. People say "thee" and "thou" sometimes, and "I know not" instead of "I don't know," but they also say things like "Let's go" and "You're always spoiling our fun!"
(I don't know how the dialogue could have worked, frankly. Writing it all in scripture style would prevent the characters from seeming like real people, and writing it in more modern language would make them seem absurd. So this was going to be an uphill battle from the beginning.)
Sean P. Means, my friend and colleague at the Salt Lake Tribune, laid down the law in his review of "The Singles Ward." He wrote: "It's tempting to go easy on 'The Singles Ward,' since it's a local production. But when you must pay the same $7 that gets you into 'A Beautiful Mind' or 'The Lord of the Rings,' amateur hour is over."
He is exactly right. "The Book of Mormon Movie" may have honest, even noble, intentions. Its budget was comparatively low, its director/writer inexperienced, its source material difficult to transfer to the cinema without upsetting fans who would prefer that not a word be changed. (You thought Harry Potter enthusiasts were insistent!) But that doesn't matter. They're charging the same money to see this as they are to see good movies. It must be held to the same standards, at least artistically.
Whether it is spiritually moving is another issue, and not one that can be examined in a film review. Such matters are extremely personal, after all. (Did it move me? Yes, briefly, during Nephi's visit with the angel who explained Lehi's Tree of Life dream.) I can say "The Book of Mormon Movie" is "good" in the sense that it is wholesome and highlights sound principles. I cannot say, however, that it is "good" in the sense of being well-acted, well-written or well-executed.
One final note. After seeing the film, I went to The Book of Mormon to verify some details, and to compare how the movie differed from its source material. In so doing, I got caught up and read a few pages of 1 Nephi, which I hadn't done in a while. If one of Rogers' goals is to inspire people to read The Book of Mormon, then I suppose he succeeded. As a religious tract, a literal reenactment of events portrayed in scripture, the film is OK. As a film, something you watch for entertainment, enlightenment or enjoyment, it is not. I hope my readers will understand the difference and see why, for all its good intentions, "The Book of Mormon Movie" is neither a marvelous work nor a wonder.
KSL Movie Show Review:
The Book of Mormon Movie: Volume 1 (PG-13)
Doug [Wright]: ** [2 out of 4 stars]
Steve [Salles]: ** [2 out of 4 stars]
Status: New Release
Listen to Review
*.5 [1.5 stars out of 4]
It certainly follows in the tradition of Scriptural epics like The Ten Commandments -- thoroughly reverent, and so stiff you could break a pinata with it. Director Gary Rogers opens with a prologue of Moroni's appearance to Joseph Smith, then follows the prophet Lehi (Bryce Chamberlain), his devoted son Nephi (Noah Danby) and the rest of their family on the trek from Jerusalem to the American Promised Land. The heroes are solemn and say things like, "And it came to pass;" the villains sneer and say things like, "Where's your God now?" You can forgive the micro-budget production for its ever-shifting facial hair and cheesy special effects, but Rogers directs as though he would face excommunication if he ever actually moved his camera. He definitely won't offend anyone -- unless it's people who expect films, even films about God, to be made with energy and humanity as well as faith.