I, myself, am a big fan of LDS movies. Although I do have to say a I didn't think too much about a few of them. This is not an LDS movie. It's done by LDS people, based on an LDS missionary, and seemed very LDS but it is NOT an LDS movie. Just to clear that up for some. This is from the same company who brought us God's Army, and also Brigham City, which are also NOT LDS movies. I really enjoyed this movie to pieces. The story is very well told, the acting is one-of-a-kind, and the message and feelings it brings are incredible.
This is love story, a long-distance love story, of a young LDS man (his name is John H. Groberg) who embarks on a mission to Tonga. He has two objectives: learn the language, build the kingdom (meaning convert people). This tells the story of his adventures and mishaps there while making sure his girl at home is safe, and keeps her up on his adventures. Through the movie it shows him thinking of her on the beach. Anyway, that's the main story, I don't want to ruin anything.
As I said, this is one heck of a movie. I loved every minute of it. It was funny, sad, adventurous, the best of both worlds. I recommend this to everyone, whether LDS or not, you can relate to his experiences sometimes and experience this great film.
**** [out of 4]
The Other Side of Heaven is rated PG for violence, brief gore, and thematic elements.
LDS Cinema marches on, again.
A genre that scarcely existed two years ago, when Richard Dutcher's "God's Army" hit Utah screens and spread across the country, now is popping up everywhere...
But in the evolution of any movie niche -- whether it's African-American films, Latino films, gay films or LDS cinema -- there comes a crucial point where "we're making a movie about us!" doesn't cut it anymore. The novelty has worn off, and audiences who flocked to "God's Army" and "The Other Side of Heaven" will start expecting more.
LDS filmmakers will have to learn to grow on the job. Here is a little unsolicited advice, in 10 easy steps:..
Step 3: Think digitally. If you have a limited budget (and everybody who ever made a movie had a limited budget), the new high-tech cameras may help you spend it more wisely. Think about this: If the bulk of your revenue will come from video sales, and digital-to-film transfers are cheap, why spend a lot of money on pricey 35mm film?
Step 4: Think cinematically. On the other hand, if you're shooting in the South Pacific (like "The Other Side of Heaven") or a historic epic (like Dutcher's in-the-works Joseph Smith biopic), only film will do.
Jeff Simpson, president of the small but flourishing film and music distributor Excel, knows the best way to cross over to a broad audience is to first serve -- extremely well -- a niche audience.
Excel, which began its foray into film distribution in 2000, found broad audience appeal for its independent films... targeted to a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints audience... The entertainment weekly Variety recently rated Excel among the nation's top 10 limited-release -- or "niche" -- film distributors. Niche distributors deal in films playing in less than 600 markets nationwide.
Miramax topped the list with nearly 34 percent of the niche market. But eighth on the list -- just behind Sony Classics and ahead of Fine Line -- was Simpson's Excel, which had grossed $8 million on its films.
The company entered the market two years ago with the God's Army, which followed the lives of a group of LDS missionaries. Excel followed with an even bigger crossover success in the murder mystery Brigham City.
Excel also found a nationwide audience for The Other Side of Heaven which has grossed over $4.4 million.
Up to this point, the only cinematic voice for the Mormon Church was Richard Dutcher, who made such films as God's Army and Brigham City. Although simplistic and generally less than mediocre, these films were earnest in their intentions and better than their evangelical Christian contemporaries, which were awful. Mitch Davis is the new Mormon voice in film, directing his adaptation of John H. Groberg's memoir In the Eye of the Storm as The Other Side of Heaven. The Other Side of Heaven recounts Grohberg's mission to Tonga in the 1950s. As a movie, it doesn't really do much except prove that Davis can make a film just as bad as Dutcher can (although better in some ways, worse in others). Grohberg (Christopher Gorham, Dean Quixote, A Life Less Ordinary) narrates through a series of letters to Jean (Anne Hathaway, The Princess Diaries), his college girlfriend and, hopefully, his wife.
The main thing noticeable is the lack of religion in the movie. Davis keeps the preaching to a minimum, only letting a vaguely Christian message emerge. He doesn't show how the teachings differ from Christianity, probably out of the desire not to alienate potential audiences. The Other Side of Heaven is a film for Mormons. They can and will easily relate to everything in the film, while everybody else will remain slightly bored. Grohberg must learn the Tongan language, earn the trust of the locals, minister and preach, and fend for himself. His companion is Feki (Joe Falau, The Whole of the Moon), a genial local who teaches Grohberg how to get around.
Otherwise, The Other Side of Heaven plays like a simplistic travelogue, beautifully shot but emotionally empty. Grohberg does go through a lot on the island, but this never comes through on film. It seems like a bunch of mini problems that he solves, quickly and efficiently. He saves children, fends off temptation, makes peace with rivals and builds his flock. There is no sense of growth for Grohberg, both spiritually in the film and as a character. At the end of the film, Davis does not make anybody believe that Grohberg is any different from when he appeared on the island. The portrayal of some of the islanders is also borderline offensive in its simplicity.
Davis' worst choice is a constant voice over narration by Hathaway and Grohberg. They are writing letters to each other, and the contents of these letters are melodramatic Harlequin romance type musings with some bad jokes thrown in for flavor. Hathaway (who actually filmed The Princess Diaries after this) has the thankless task of doing nothing. Gorham looks like a younger, more confused Ethan Hawke (if that's possible) and does not have the ability to carry the movie.
Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Bad.
As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Mormons are building a culture that reflects their gospel convictions. They don't drink alcohol or coffee, they refrain from cigarette use, and they generally don't spend money on Sundays. Their males flaunt mostly clean-shaven faces, most of their women don't wear mini-skirts or sleeveless tank-tops, and a good portion of them give up 18 months to two years off preaching somewhere, often in foreign tongues.
In recent years, however, it may be observed that Mormonism has become increasingly commercialized. Their gospel has been pulled from its hallowed place on the Pedestal of Inviolability and placed in assorted shapes and sizes in bookstores, cd shops, and on Web sites.
Ever seen the t-shirts that take a Nike swoop and turn it into Moroni blowing his trumpet? Or heard Jericho Road wail out their squeaky cleanness against a backdrop of LDS themes? How about the little Book of Mormon action figures (of which Nephi seems to be the favorite)? Then there's "Charly", "Handcart", "God's Army", "Brigham City", "The Other Side of Heaven", and the soon-to-be-released remake of Johnny Lingo. View Photos of LDS Singles at ldsmingle.com, or name your Utah baby at geocities.com/Heartland/3450/, or adopt a curelom at mormonzone.com.
There's Mormon fiction (e.g. The Work and the Glory), Mormon music (i.e. Julie de Azevedo), Mormon movies (ex. Singles Ward), Mormon art (see Greg Olsen), and Mormon software (re: 'LDS Temples' screensaver).
There are entire stores devoted solely to Mormon missionary products.
Latter-day Saints enjoy CTR rings, Young Women's values bracelets, Child of God lockets, Nauvoo Sun charms, necklaces, key rings, and dog tags.
You name it, the Mormons make it.
Church history buff? Try the Kirtland Temple Interactive CD-ROM.
Want to spice up a handout for Sunday school? No problem -- sample one of the almost sixty LDS clipart programs at Deseret Book.
Looking for ways to find an eternal mate? There are almost 140 Mormon romance titles available online.
But in the middle of this LDS shopper's dream, one must face the question: when is it going too far?
How about when it is shocking to discover that a member of the Church, baptized at age 8, never (don't say it!) owned (please, no!) a CTR (stop, stop!) ring (gasp!)?
Or when someone has never heard of Gerald Lund and people say, Seriously? No way!
Or when people put off regular scripture study because they're reading other "church books" (i.e. The Porter Rockwell Chronicles)?
The moment Latter-day Saints begin to equate church membership or standing or doctrine with Mormon products is the moment the gospel has become lost behind a pile of CDs, cassettes, posters, books, jewelry, t-shirts, and Nephite action figures.
For the most part, Mormon commercialization is okay. Indeed, it is part of creating a culture.
But the most important part of that culture -- namely, the pure and simple gospel of Jesus Christ -- must never lose its front and center place.
New in stores this week - a gorgeous hard cover photography book takes you behind the scenes and into the making of the movie "The Other Side of Heaven."
JOURNEY OF FAITH: The Making of The Other Side of Heaven
Nearly 250 breathtaking color photos from photographer Anita Schiller take you into the world on the other side of the movie cameras. Shot on location in Rarotonga in the Cook Islands and in New Zealand, Schiller's photographs give insight into the filmmaking process as well as into the journey taken by the filmmakers who brought the amazing and true story of John Groberg to the big screen.
Side by side with the behind the scenes photos are archival photos from John Groberg's own collection as well as stills from the film. Accompanying all the photos is commentary from Academy Award-winning producer Gerald R. Molen, producer John Garbett and director Mitch Davis. Additional excerpts from John Groberg's letters and journals give additional insight into his incredible adventures on the island of Tonga.
"The Other Side of Heaven" opened in movie theaters around the nation in 2002. The movie told the true story of John Groberg's mission to the Kingdom of Tonga in the 1950's. It grossed over $4.7 million, becoming the highest-grossing LDS-themed film to date.
For additonal information and to view sample pages, please visit the website www.vantagepointpress.com.
Lee Benson hated Charly.
Charly is a movie, based on the book by Jack Weyland.
Benson is a columnist for the Deseret News.
"Richard Dutcher opened the floodgates with God's Army. Then came Brigham City and Mitch Davis' The Other Side of Heaven... you knew it would eventually come to this. You knew they would get around to making the Mormon pop culture book Charly into a movie. It gets worse. They didn't change the book." ...After bashing Charly, Benson lamented:
"What's next? Johnny Lingo in its expanded, big-screen version? Will they move The Testaments to the 16-plex? Will Mr. Krueger's Christmas be coming soon to a theater near you?"
Hold on to your laptop Lee. Johnny Lingo is on its way to the silver screen. It was re-tooled as a feature film and shot this summer in the South Pacific by producers John Garbet and Jerry Molen with Other Side of Heaven editor, Steve Ramirez at the helm. The same people who loved Charly can't wait.
...I am enthusiastic about what is happening. The number of LDS filmmakers leaping into the forbidden arena excites me. Not all their offerings are equal by any means. It is unfortunate for example that Other Side of Heaven and Singles Ward are so easily lumped into the same conversation, or that the recently announced Book of Mormon Movie , Volume I -- exciting as it may be -- is front and center in the media while another much bigger and more expensive epic on the Book of Mormon is being prepared by seasoned filmmakers, Steve Devore, Peter Johnson, Scott Swofford and Reed Smoot.
...My final point is one I've made before. If you fail to support the movies by LDS film makers who struggle to make a difference and who want to create family friendly films that run counter to popular culture -- however imperfect and flawed their early attempts -- then you forever forfeit your right to complain about Hollywood and the steady decline of popular culture.
SALT LAKE CITY -- Odds are long that any of the LDS-themed movies flooding Utah screens will duplicate the small-budget, big-return success of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," a $5 million movie that's earned more than $185 million -- so far -- at the box office.
LDS moviemakers may be holding out for crossover appeal. But even if they don't make $100 million, a market filled with the state's religious majority is sure to keep cameras rolling.
But critics are complaining, and some of the genre's own directors fear quality is succumbing to quantity.
Richard Dutcher, known among the denomination's cinema aficionados as the "Mormon Spielberg," is unhappy with the small movie trend he started with the film "God's Army," a tale about missionaries working in Los Angeles which cost $240,000 but netted $2.6 million.
"I wanted it to bring all these LDS filmmakers and writers out of the woodwork. But now that I see how it's gone, however, I'd like some of them to go back into the woodwork," Dutcher said.
Seven LDS-themed films have popped up on local screens since 2000, and the trend of independent movies about and for members of the faith is building momentum.
The films have a 1950s sensibility about them, unsurprising given that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are discouraged from watching R-rated films. Sex, swearing and graphic violence are all absent.
Recent works have included an earnest film about LDS missionaries, a murder-mystery and a romantic-comedy. Five more films are expected to open here this spring.
"The Singles Ward," a guy-meets-girl romantic comedy, is essentially a series of inside jokes about Mormons, from the scrap-booking opening credits (Mormons love scrap-booking) to good-natured jabs at the church's polygamist past.
For example, at one point the romantic lead turns to the camera and complains about the reaction from fellow church members to being dumped by his wife: "Our ancestors were able to handle four or five wives and you can't handle one? What's the deal?"
Dutcher had hoped the success of his movie would draw out the faithful within the entertainment business. Instead, he says, it spawned a series of poorly made movies with an LDS stamp.
Sean Means, movie reviewer for the state's largest newspaper, The Salt Lake Tribune, says films like "The Singles Ward," "Handcart" and "Charly" mark a sophomore slump for LDS cinema. They're plagued by bad scripts and boring plots, he says.
[Archivist's note: By implication, Means seems to suggest that "The Other Side of Heaven" is NOT part of this "sophomore slump."]
Because they aren't good enough to succeed elsewhere, Means says, they end up being marketed squarely at locals. And there's enough of an audience here to pull down a profit; the church claims 70 percent of Utah residents.
"The Singles Ward" was made for $400,000 and made almost $1.5 million, said director and producer Kurt Hale. Now there are 200,000 copies at video stores.
Fifteen-year-old Jennifer Eggett's family is a perfect example of what moviemakers have in mind when they eye an LDS audience.
When "The Other Side of Heaven" -- the story of a farm kid who becomes a missionary in the remote Tongan islands -- hit theaters, Jennifer's grandmother declared it a family movie night for all 36 members of the clan.
Jennifer said she liked the movie. "It made me cry. It's good for people to know the real truth about Mormons."
But critics will be critics.
"At the moment the mindset is: It's a movie about Mormons, let's go see it," Means said. "But a few more movies of questionable quality and they'll get over it."
Thomas Baggaley, who runs the Web site www.ldsfilms.com [sic: the actual URL, presented correctly in the "On the Net" section after the article, is "ldsfilm.com"], agrees that too many LDS directors are banking on a guaranteed LDS audience.
"They weren't saying come watch the film because it's a good film, they were saying come see this film so there can be more of these films. I don't think that argument is going to work for very long," Baggaley said.
"Now we have more films about us and it's not such a novelty. And that's a good thing. That will force the films to become better," he predicted.
Hale will release two more Mormon-themed comedies. The first -- "The R.M.," about a return missionary -- will hit Utah in January. The other -- "Church Ball," about church basketball leagues -- will be out in January 2004.
There's no shortage of material, or self-deprecating humor, Hale said. "We can make 50 movies based on how strange we are."
On the Net:
Richard Dutcher's production site: http//:www.zionfilms.com
Kurt Hale's production site: http://www.halestormentertainment.com
Based on a true story, this schlocky little film with some big special effects at times feels more like a series of strung-together religious lessons than an actual story, but for its wholesome, PG-rated tale of an Idaho-born farm kid who becomes a missionary in the South Pacific, The Other Side of Heaven at least has a built-in audience outwardly, anyone who subscribes to the Mormon faith.
Christopher Gorham (of A Life Less Ordinary and TVs Popular) plays the young John Groberg, a 1950s-era high schooler nearing graduation and his mission duty, who, one night takes his girlfriend Jean (Anne Hathaway of The Princess Diaries) to a swing set under a giganticand very fakemoon. There, he tells her that no matter where he ends up in the next few years, the two will always be below that same glowing orb. Its not long after this, that the young man says goodbye to his little town to begin the long and circuitous journey to his assignment in Tonga. Upon finally reaching the tropical isle, he is given two objectives by his church leader: learn the local language and build the church. And with this, Groberg begins his true mission.
Of course, plenty of mishapsreluctant villagers, deaths, tropical storms, near drowningsoccur along the way. Some of these are handled by first-time writer-director Mitch Davis with a Disney-fied sense of goofy optimism: when Grobergs feet are gnawed on by rats in the middle of the night, for example, the ensuing healing process comes complete with comical music and giggling villagers.
The story is told, in part, through the epistles between John and his expected future wife Jean, who is rarely seen, but for a few glancing shots in which she cheesily frolics through a field wearing a flowing white dress, after her initial debut; so it often forsakes a natural build up for a more vignette-oriented approach. In one scene, for example, John, for no apparent reason, asks his guide Feki why he has so much faith in him. Feki replies with a story about how, when he was a child, missionaries helped he and his family. Later, another islander relates a similar story about the good church Samaritans who helped him through his dark time, making The Other Side of Heaven also feel like its trying to convert one (it doesnt help that the film takes a completely pure view of the idea of upright Christian folk trekking across the world to lead tribal sorts from their pagan ways).
And despite some decent special effects having mainly to do with frequent tropical storms, the movie tends to always come back to its main, blurry-focused focus, which seems to have something to do with how well Groberg sticks to the rules of his faith (in one scene, he refuses to take advantage of the beautiful native girl who all but throws herself at him). Sure, its refreshing in its way to see a man eschew such a thing for his strong beliefs. But this doesnt make up for the fact that film is not refreshing at all, even though it may be earnest and unapologetic in its approach. As such, its mainly only custom-made for those who are already on the same page of the Bible; and sure, for atheists and cynics who want a bit of a laugh. (3Mark, PG)
** [2 stars out of 5]
Promoted as the latest film from the Academy Award-winning producer of SCHINDLER'S LIST and JURASSIC PARK (Gerald R. Molen was once Head of Production for Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment), this slick adaptation of John H. Groberg's missionary memoir In the Eye of the Storm is also the latest feature released by Excel Entertainment Group, the thriving media outlet for all things Mormon. In 1953, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sent Groberg, then a 20-year-old Brigham Young University student, to a tiny South Pacific island to serve his three year mission building chapels, preaching the gospel and baptizing as many natives as possible. Writer, director and fellow BYU alum Mitch Davis introduces Groberg (Christopher Gorham) as he pledges his love to girlfriend Jean (Anne Hathaway), then bids her and his Idaho farm family goodbye: John's received word that he's to serve as a Mormon missionary to the people of the Kingdom of Tongo. After a tortuous 48 day journey, Groberg and his native missionary companion, Feki (Joe Falou), finally arrive at the far flung Tongan island of Niuatoputapu where Groberg immediately sets about fulfilling his two chief duties: learning the Tongan language and building a "kingdom." Letters to Jean offer insight into John's state of mind as he experiences a series of small miracles: Groberg learns the language in four days by reading the entire Bible in Polynesian, resuscitates a seriously injured boy who at first appears dead, and steers a number of wayward souls onto the true path. Groberg also endures a fair share of mishaps: Rats nibble at the soles of his feet while he's sleeping; Groberg and two members of his mission council barely survive a terrifying storm at sea; the entire island nearly dies of starvation after a sudden typhoon destroys the food supply. Not surprisingly, Groberg survives each disaster with his faith intact and stronger than ever. Lavishly shot on location in spectacularly picturesque Cook Islands, Davis's film is old-fashioned in the worst sense of the term. It's been a long time since the role of missionaries has been so unproblematically depicted, and the realities of an indigenous culture so blithely ignored; these natives have more in common with the extras of SOUTH PACIFIC than any actual South Pacific islanders. The film looks great and makes sophisticated use of digital effects, but unlike Excel's previous release, the moody and effective serial killer thriller BRIGHAM CITY, its appeal will probably limited to LDS Church members and undemanding armchair tourists.