TWIN FALLS -- "The Book of Mormon Movie: Volume I, The Journey" is coming to a theater near you, thanks in part to a Jerome businessman who provided financial backing for the movie.
Kurt Thompson, owner and operator of Jerome Homes, also served as one of the movie's executive producers.
"(LDS) President Kimball's challenge to use film in helping to 'cover every part of the globe' with the Book of Mormon has definitely struck me," said Thompson, who was the largest financial contributor to the $2 million-dollar venture. "I am convinced everyone involved with this movie is devoting their best effort to accomplish this."
It's a movie that tells the story of people who traveled from Jerusalem to the Americas in 600 B.C. The Book of Mormon covers about 1,000 years of this history. The movie's Volume I focuses on Lehi's journey through the Arab desert across the great ocean to the promised land and the early years in the new world.
Filmwriter/director Gary Rogers said he was inspired by Cecil B. DeMille's 1956 movie "The Ten Commandments."
Ever since I saw 'The Ten Commandments' nearly 48 years ago, I have wanted to make 'The Book of Mormon Movie,'" Rogers said.
The movie was filmed on location in Ogden, Utah, in the southern Utah desert, on the island of Kauai in Hawaii and at Universal Studios in Hollywood. The musical score was written and conducted by Robert C. Bowdin, former associate conductor of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and performed by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra.
Rogers approached Kurt Thompson a little over a year ago and asked him to invest in the movie. Thompson was interested and, two days later, a deal was struck. Thompson declined to give the exact amount of his investment.
"Producing a movie is not much different from investing in a large industrial construction project or any other investment." he said. "I'm a country boy. My grandfather settled in Jerome in 1909 and cleared sagebrush from his land. It is exciting to think about moving from that sagebrush background to helping make a film for all the world to see."
Thompson's son, Brett, who works with him at Jerome Homes, was an extra in the movie. As were Brett's wife, Vibecke; their daughter, Kenya; Kurt's son, Chad; and his wife, Emily.
Brett Thompson is also doing some marketing for the movie.
"Anyone anywhere in the world can get the movie," he explained. "If they will provide for 1,000 pre-sold tickets on-line at www.bookofmormon.com, the movie will be scheduled at a theater near them."
The movie is scheduled to be released next week on four screens in Nevada, one screen in Oregon and eight screens in Idaho, including a Friday premiere at the Burley Theater. It was released on 28 screens in Utah this week.
According to the movie Web site, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not sponsoring the film nor endorsing it, because it is an independent commercial production. However, 12 million Mormons worldwide comprise a ready-made audience, Rogers said, and the film is also designed to appeal to more than just members of the LDS Church.
"We hope the folks go home after seeing the film and want to read the Book of Mormon," Brett Thompson said.
Kurt Thompson said the film took 11 months to complete, from casting call to opening night.
Rogers said he wants to produce eight or nine films, one a year, depending on how well the first film is received.
"The Book of Mormon Movie: Volume I, The Journey"
Twin Falls premiere: 7 and 9:30 p.m. Thursday at Cinema 12
Cost: $7.50, advance tickets available
Noah Danby portrays Nephi in 'The Book of Mormon Movie,' opening next week in Twin Falls and Burley.
Making movies from religious books of scripture is a difficult business. It requires obscene amounts of money, world class writers and directors, top talent, and the experience necessary to make an epic film.
The folks at The Book of Mormon Movie didn't necessarily have all that. They built the film on a 2 million dollar budget, bringing in what expertise they could find nearby, and praying (literally) that it would come together.
What they lacked they made up for in sincerity and a palpable desire to do the book justice and bring a spiritual message not only to it's captive audience of LDS Church members, but to others who might not already know what the faith builds their beliefs on.
Those who hold LDS religious beliefs dear will be forgiving of the film's considerable flaws, especially given the film's moments of wholesome, touching sincerity. They may even overlook the unforgivably bad costuming and makeup.
But those who don't are in danger of finding it a dull, distracted, and almost sloppy rendition of scriptural accounts. Good intentions alone do not constitute a worthy film.
The film's lead, Noah Danby as Nephi shows promise in his role as the persecuted younger brother whose faith in God carries him through a lifetime of trial and tribulation. And Kirby Heyborne, one the budding LDS film genre's rising stars, turns in his usual standout performance as well.
But even they can't save a film that's destined to be replaced with a more worthy version within the decade. We will be looking forward to it.
...It is not only rich people who invest. The investors for Gary Rogers, producer, director and writer of "The Book of Mormon Movie," are wealthy, but not rich. They are normal people with a little bit of discretionary money who would be hurt if they lost the money, Rogers said.
Investors sometimes come in the form of friends who believe in the producer's work. A few of Jones's friends from Los Angeles helped fund his project. He got $25,000 from one friend to allow him to shoot it on film and make it into a real production. He received varying amounts of money from other friends and he slowly got enough to fund the film...
...Production costs vary. Rogers spent $2 million on "The Book of Mormon Movie," "The Other Side of Heaven" cost $7 million to produce, and Ryan Little made "Saints and Soldiers" with $700,000. A reasonable budget for an LDS film is about $400,000, said Thomas Baggely, co-webmaster of ldsfilm.com.
Some production costs could have been a lot more if it weren't for the support of people who believe in the projects.
Little received free authentic military uniforms and vehicles for his World War 2 film from a war veteran who had helped him with a war movie he had directed while attending BYU. The only exchange was that the man and his buddies could be in the film.
The actors in "Saints and Soldiers" were out of Little's budget range because most of them had been in Hollywood movies, sitcoms or LDS movies. Corbin Allred starred in "Teen Angel" on ABC and Kirby Heybourne starred in "The RM" and has also been in "The Singles Ward" and other up-coming LDS films. The LDS cast members wanted to do the project because it had the potential to reach further than just the LDS culture. They were willing to be paid at a discounted rate because they were excited about the project, Little said.
The set designer for "The Book of Mormon Movie" is a member of the church who has created sets for major Hollywood movies such as "Titanic" and "Independence Day." When he came to Rogers and wanted to help, Rogers knew he could never afford him, but the designer made his services affordable because he believed in the project, Rogers said.
Once production is done, the true test comes as LDS films enter theaters. Most of them have opened in Utah theaters and later released in the "jell-o belt" -- Utah, Idaho, California, Nevada and surrounding states, where there are large clusters of members...
...Ivie said musicians have a creative license to re-make hymns. He said he feels the same creative license does not apply to projects like the upcoming "The Book of Mormon Movie."
"I think it's a bit different when you start touching the scriptures," Ivie said...
Do not see the Book of Mormon Movie. I walked out of a Friday showing of this dreadful excuse for a film -- it was one of the grandest artistic tragedies of the last decade. The tragedy would only be compounded if people paid to see it, it made money, and they made another one.
This movie is, without a doubt, the worst LDS movie ever -- and that includes such campy wonders as the original "Johnny Lingo" and "Saturday's Warrior." I don't know who paid the reported $1 million to make this, but they should ask for a refund.
This movie was reported in advance to be at the level of a seminary video. It is not. It is at the level of a ward talent show, barely.
Everything about this movie, from top to bottom, is laughable. The writer/director/producer and all that participated in this film deserve to lose all the money they put into it. They deserve to go bankrupt because of this monstrous display of incompetence and grotesque imbecility. If you want to see a good Book of Mormon Movie, go see "The Testaments" at Temple Square. It's good, and it's free.
I walked out of a Friday showing of "The Book of Mormon Movie."
This is one of the grandest artistic tragedies in the last decade. The only tragedy that could be larger would be if people paid to see it, it made money and they made another one.
This movie is, without a doubt, the worst LDS movie ever -- and that includes such campy wonders as the original "Johnny Lingo" and "Saturday's Warrior." This is, hands down, one of the five worst movies ever released on the big screen.
I don't know who paid the reported $1 million to make this, but they should ask for a refund.
This movie was reported in advance to be at the level of a seminary video. It is not. It is far below that. It is at the level of a ward talent show. Barely.
Everything about this movie, from top to bottom, is laughable. Writing, directing, acting, sets, costumes, lighting, music, special effect, makeup, wigs, humor -- every bit of it is cheap and stupid.
The writer/director/producer and all that participated in this film deserve to lose all the money they put into it. They must not be allowed to continue their shoddy work.
If you want to see a good Book of Mormon movie, go see "The Testaments" at Temple Square. It's good, and it's free.
Tim Jones, Provo
We stand neck-deep in sewage while watching regular television, so anyone who regards themselves as Mormon or Christian, try on the "Book of Mormon Movie" for size. This movie is great on the big screen. Why should we allow the world to dictate our flavor of "good" movies? This movie has no sex, no vulgar language, no drugs, no profanity, no Arnold Schwarzenegger, no Jackie Chan. It does offer fabulous music, real words for real people, and it is well-paced. Salt Lake "locals" are some of the finest actors around. Anyone worth being called "the salt of the Earth" should attend. It is unfortunate some of my intellectual Mormon friends and relatives said they will not attend due to poor reviews. They simply allow world standards to dictate their taste.
Tedi Tuttle Wixom
West Valley City
Regarding "The Book of Mormon Movie": An ascetic lifestyle is not unusual. Nuns have been doing it for centuries, with vows of silence, chastity, servitude, etc. Sister Wixom (Readers' Forum, Sept. 20) has simply chosen a different vow, that of avoiding the R-rated movies. She inflicts "The Book of Mormon Movie" upon herself.
Like all these meaningless vows, settling for such a sterile imitation of life is hard to understand. Why settle for the crumbs that fall from the table while there is a great big cake out there?
Salt Lake City
It wasn't that Director/Producer/Writer Gary Rogers dream of bringing the Book of Mormon to life after being inspired nearly 50 years ago by the biblical epic "The Ten Commandments" was wayward or in any way ill advised. The problem, which becomes immediately apparent while viewing the realization of his dream "The Book of Mormon Movie Volume 1: The Journey," is that Rogers underestimated the challenge of making a movie based on scripture that would equal the spectacle and grandeur of Cecil B. DeMille's stunning masterpiece that has endured the generations.
The "Ten Commandments" made back in 1956 was DeMille's crowning achievement which he produced at the twilight of his career after years in Hollywood where among other things he developed a reputation as a master showman whose works won Oscars and were highly successful. "The Ten Commandments" was made for the unheavenly sum of over 13 million dollars, included a cast of over 14,000, and starred actors, most notably Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner who would become legendary superstars. DeMille went to fanatical great lengths to build stunning sets and use the latest technology (the still impressive parting of the Red Sea scene) to breathtaking effect. Though the budget seemed absurd at the time, the film went on to become the biggest grossing movie for decades.
Contrast this with neophtye Mr. Rogers' overly modest interpretation of the Book of Mormon. On a shoestring budget of $2 million dollars the production looks amateurish in every detail from the inauthentic costumes to the sparse sets to the camera work that rarely reveals anything other than close-ups. Some of the technology, most notably in the "Lehi's vision" sequence looks patterned after a Rod Serling "Twilight Zone" complete with black background and heavy fog.
Lest anyone feel these comparisons are off base, consider that both canons of scripture that form the source material are considered sacred by their faithful devotees and are the two most widely read books in the Christian litany.
The lead actors in "The Book of Mormon..' do admirable with the unimaginative, and excessively literal script they are given. Most notably Noah Danby as Nephi, a non-Mormon who looks every bit the part, veteran actor Bryce Chamberlain who does a very credible Lehi as does local actress Jan Broberg Felt as his wife Sariah.
The majority of the cast, looks, too, well, "Mormon." The dyed hair and dark make-up can't hide their lack of credible ethnicity. Most distracting of all is the lack of creativity applied to the sumptuous story lines already available in the Book of Mormon.
Though replete with plenty of passages the could provoke exhilarating action scenes, "The Book of Mormon Movie.." is practically devoid of suspense. Witness the moment when Laman escapes from Laban's house after an unsuccessful attempt to retrieve the plates of brass. Instead of a thrilling chase scene, (Think "Aladdin or "Indiana Jones") the sequence shows Laman hiding behind a small wall while the soldiers run off in a different direction.
"The Book of Mormon Movie Volume 1: The Journey" begins with a disclaimer that some creative license was taken in the production. That's where the movie suffers most. Audiences will forgive lots of liberties, even with sacred texts, if the films are exciting and imaginative.
The 12 million faithful who consider the Book of Mormon the word of God deserve an epic depiction of their revered scripture. It might require 200 million to do it justice. Have any missionaries in New Zealand knocked on director Peter Jackson's door recently? He should be free now that his "Lord of the Rings" trilogy is wrapped.
Mad About Movies grade: 1 and 1/2 star [out of 4]
The Work and the Glory, the best-selling series of books about the early history of the LDS Church and the pioneer migration to Utah, is hitting the big screen.
At $7.4 million, the film will have the biggest budget of any movie in the recent spate of Mormon-themed films, including "God's Army," "Brigham City" and "The Book of Mormon Movie." "The Work and the Glory" film will be entirely financed by auto dealer magnate and Utah Jazz owner Larry H. Miller...
...It's an especially hairy gamble since movies in the recent Mormon cinema trend have failed to reach audiences outside Utah or beyond church members.
The latest, "The Book of Mormon Movie," took in only $282,000 in its first two weeks. Another film based on a popular LDS-themed book, "Charly," amassed only $813,000 its entire run...
...Most of movies in the recent Mormon cinema trend have failed to reach audiences beyond church members.
The latest, "The Book of Mormon Movie," took in only $282,000 in its first two weeks. Another film based on the book, "Charly," got only $813,000 its entire run...
...Possibly the second-best part of the film was the Book of Mormon segment -- where bloody epic battlefields were scattered with remnants of eggs. Egg soldiers fighting to the death. It was pretty funny stuff and a nice touch. Too bad the "Book of Mormon Movie" wasn't as creative...
The story is told of a man who had sons. He wanted them to learn responsibility, so he bought some cattle and had the sons care for them. One day an associate of the man, who had observed the sons as they cared for the cattle, told him, "That's no way to raise cattle." To which the man replied, "I'm not raising cattle; I'm raising sons."
I read Tribune writer Sean P. Means' review of "The Book of Mormon Movie" (Tribune, Sept. 19) and feel he, as the associate mentioned, missed the point. The makers of "The Book of Mormon Movie" are not making entertainment; they are extending an invitation. In that context, I believe it to be a work of excellence.
Kelly J. Warburton
Las Vegas, Nev.
As far as Mormon movies are concerned, it seems anyone with an acting class under his belt is the next star and nearly every member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with a few bucks (or a few million) is a producer.This doesn't guarantee a quality product, however. So why doesn't the LDS public demand more from LDS filmmakers?
While this is a topic worthy of a roundtable discussion filled with critics and philosophers in turtleneck sweaters, the Mollywood machine steams on, pistons cranking. It seems that only a disaster of Titanic proportions will slow it down. (Like, for example, if "The Singles Ward," while being shown on an Atlantic cruise to thousands of people, caused the gigantic ship to burst into flames, run into an iceberg and sink.)
In a news release from Deseret Book, Larry H. Miller recently announced his intention to back the biggest-budget Mormon theatrical release to date. "The Work and the Glory," based on a series of wildly popular, well-loved books written by Gerald N. Lund, places fictional characters in events related to LDS Church history. Its budget is estimated to be $7.4 million.
In the same news release, Miller, a successful auto dealer and owner of the Utah Jazz, said he thinks this is the perfect time for this kind of movie.
"The offer was right, the pieces were all in place," he said.
Based on its resume alone, "The Work and the Glory" may be a more successful film than "The Book of Mormon Movie: Volume I," which most critics have panned. The new film will be written and directed by Russ Holt and produced by Scott Swofford, both filmmakers with relatively impressive pedigrees.
However, the news release also mentioned that there will be at least two sequels.
"That is, of course, contingent on the first one doing well," said Gail Brown, publicist for Deseret Book.
Filmmaker Gary Rogers also gave a similar disclaimer when he announced that "The Book of Mormon Movie: Volume I" would have as many as eight sequels -- before the first movie had even opened. Call it blind faith, but it seems these local producers don't see a problem with announcing sequels before a movie's release.
One lesson we should take away from Hollywood is that, aside from the superhero or horror movie genres, few movies get approved for sequels, let alone dramas with limited distribution and audience. And unless you terrorize promiscuous teens, rarely does a character get more than one or two chances to come back in celluloid form. Four to eight sequels is A LOT. Even the most critically acclaimed feats of cinema, such as "The Godfather," stopped after a few sequels.
We just don't want to see anyone get hurt. You remember what happened to the Hindenburg, right?
...[Larry H.] Miller aids Mormon Cinema in other ways. His Megaplex theaters have booked several titles, and Jordan Commons is the preferred premiere site for LDS filmmakers. ("The Book of Mormon Movie," for one, had its gala premiere there in September.) He made a cameo in "The R.M.," and allowed that movie to shoot several scenes at Jordan Commons (that's the Mayan doubling as "Book of Mormon Burger").
Brigham Young University's musical drama, "Abinadi," has a little something for everyone.
For romantics, there is love and longing between a soul-searching priest and a comely concubine. For military enthusiasts, there are soldiers who boastfully recount their conquest and slaughter.For drama junkies, there is a king so wicked that his people eventually burn him to death.
For the storyline, composer Meredith Ryan Taylor turned to the Book of Mormon, a key scriptural work of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The musical is based on a section in Mosiah that recounts the prophet Abinadi's attempt to preach repentance to a sinful nation.
Presented by BYU's School of Music, "Abinadi," opened Friday and will run through Nov. 1 in the de Jong Concert Hall.
Like most operas, the production features classical music and an entirely sung script. Supertitles above the stage display the actors' words for the audience to follow along. But Taylor stopped short of calling the work an opera: "I call it a musical drama just because I think a lot of people tend to think of opera as being in Italian and by dead people."
Shorter than most operas, "Abinadi" has a fast, approximately 1-hour, 45-minute run time and is performed in English. The production's singers will be accompanied by the BYU Philharmonic Orchestra, and the production is being taped by KBYU-TV to air at a later date.
Unlike many of the classic, well-known operas BYU students traditionally perform, "Abinadi" is a new opera premiering at BYU. Opera program director Lawrence Vincent said that, to his knowledge, this is the first time a theater has staged an opera about the life of Book of Mormon prophet Abinadi.
In the past few decades, however, several musicals have used religious icons and themes as a muse for entertainment productions. In the 1970s, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's rock opera, "Jesus Christ Superstar" either shocked, offended or delighted viewers with its combination of the sacred and the sensational. More recently, a touring production, "Mother Teresa -- The Musical," celebrated the nun's life in advance of her beatification by the Pope this month.
Riding the wave of a renaissance in Mormon cinema, several Book of Mormon-related works have premiered in the past few months. The cinematic adaptation of the scriptures, "The Book of Mormon Movie, Vol 1: The Journey," opened in September. A live-action Book of Mormon musical, "I Will Go and Do," hits shelves on DVD and video in November.
But mining scriptural tomes for entertainment fodder comes with risks. In some cases, as with "Jesus Christ Superstar," some have taken offense to what they feel is a cavalier approach to a deity. At the very least, a composer or director who taps a familiar religious text must struggle against the public's preconceived notions of the work.
When adapting stories from the Book of Mormon "it becomes almost an impossible challenge to write something that people really like," said Ted L. Earl, executive administrative assistant for the Orem Institute of Religion.
"How do you please people when it is so dear to their hearts and they've already got the impressions of the characters in their minds?" said Earl, who has taught in the Church Educational System the LDS Church for 35 years.
Taylor said he was aware of the obstacles during the five-year period he spent composing and revising "Abinadi," but, ultimately, the power of the story kept him going. At its heart, the production follows the story of Alma, a priest serving a wicked King Noah. Ultimately, Alma hears the prophet Abinadi's message, has a change of heart and becomes a religious leader for his people.
"It's about choices and it's about redemption. It's about the power of Christ to change people's lives. And I don't think anybody can find fault with that," Taylor said.
But, he added: "I think the important thing when people come to it is they realize this is my vision of how I think it might have been."
Much of the text of "Abinadi" is taken directly from the Book of Mormon, but Taylor has fleshed out the story to fill two hours. Most notably, he has added a number of female roles not specifically mentioned in the scriptural work to round out the cast.
All told, more than 50 actors have roles in "Abinadi," many of which are double-cast. Taylor plays the role of King Noah, for which he grew a 3-inch goatee that sprouts wildly from his chin.
BYU junior Andy Fernuik, who plays Alma, said portraying a revered religious figure is intimidating. "Something from the Book of Mormon, something that is so dear and well-known among the Mormon community here, it's scary to say the least," said the 22-year-old tenor. "In and of itself, I suppose it's a sacred responsibility."
Although the production has an overtly spiritual message, Taylor said he hopes the romance, drama and action of the opera will appeal to a mass audience.
Taylor "doesn't stuff doctrine down your throat. He doesn't try to make you feel something. If you want to come and see the story, you can see just that," said Jennie Litster, a 21-year-old senior who plays the role of Rosewa, a lead concubine.
Still, Vincent said he hopes that production will introduce people to Mormonism. "One of my hopes would be that those who are not familiar with the story of Abinadi, out of curiosity after seeing the piece, would want to turn to the book of Mosiah and read the original story," he said.
Conversion, redemption, death by fire and all.