Mitch Davis doesn't really think of "The Other Side of Heaven" as a "Mormon movie," and he hopes the rest of the world will feel the same way. It's a film with universal themes, Davis says -- themes that reach out to a wider audience.
The characters in the film just happen to be Mormons.
That would also seem to be the feeling of Walt Disney Home Entertainment, which is distributing "Heaven" on DVD and videotape next Tuesday, April 1. And that's no April Fool's joke.
"It will be in every Wal-Mart and Blockbuster and Hollywood Video (across the country)," Davis said during an interview from Southern California on his cell phone.
What's more, it's going out under the "Walt Disney" label! "Outside of the movie business, people may not realize what that means," Davis said, referring to how the company is extremely protective of the Disney name, and often releases its many video titles under other labels, such as Buena Vista Home Entertainment. "The folks in the home-video department said, 'This is pretty amazing.' They were shocked and pleasantly surprised."
It's quite a validation for the writer-director, who put his heart and soul into the movie, which relates the LDS missionary experiences in Tonga of young John H. Groberg (now a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).
And he isn't finished yet. As the film makes its home-video debut next week, Davis is preparing to take "Heaven" out to the rest of the world -- a job that will keep him occupied for another six months to a year. "I've had a lot to do with marketing and distribution. The movie did really well at AFM (the American Film Market, where distributors gather to purchase independent movies for release all over the world).
"We're taking it worldwide theatrically and on video and on TV," Davis said. "I've been especially surprised at the number of Muslim countries that have bought the movie." Excel Entertainment's list of countries -- so far -- that have purchased "Heaven" for theatrical, video, television or other viewing rights, numbers 73, and includes Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Iran, Iraq and many others.
In May, Davis will take "Heaven" to the Cannes Film Market, at the Cannes Film Festival, which should cause that list to swell. Meanwhile, he's also developing his next film at Disney, though his "Heaven" labors will keep him from taking it into production for awhile.
Davis also did an audio commentary for the "Other Side of Heaven" DVD, which, to his surprise, turned into a rather spiritual experience. "When I went into the booth, they just showed the movie and said, 'Talk,' and every time I started, I couldn't help but recall the personal, spiritual experiences that helped make the movie. I tried to shy away from that, but when I was done, I realized I'd been bearing my testimony on the audio commentary that Disney was now going to release.
"The interesting thing was, five co-producers and engineers all said thank you. It was clear that they'd been moved by some of the things I had discussed. I mention that because I think a lot of people are looking for inspiration, for a reaffirmation of their faith. And Disney is putting out the movie, and it has this audio commentary that says there is a God, and he loves us, and he answers prayers. That's pretty amazing."
Davis also feels strongly that there is a large contingent of potential moviegoers in the world hungering for such movies. "Mormons in Utah are not the only people who really, really wish there were more well-crafted family-friendly movies out there. And, surprisingly, there are a lot of people in Hollywood who wish there were more."
He also has what he describes as a "pet peeve" about the way the LDS audience looks at movies with LDS themes. "The hardest group to convince that this is not a Mormon movie is the Mormons themselves. For us to think that only Mormons can understand our movies is like saying only Mormons can understand the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
"We've got to make movies that reach or surpass the standards of the world stage, and we've got to have the guts to pay the price to be on that stage. We should make no apologies for what we are and who we are and how we behave. If we sit on the sidelines and allow others to define who and what we are, we shouldn't be surprised when caricatures of ourselves permeate the media."
Mitch Davis gets ready to shoot a scene on the set of "The Other Side of Heaven," which is being released on DVD Tuesday.
Micah O. Young
|Narration written by||Randy Davis|
|Sound Editor||Vaughn C. Armstrong|
|Documentary footage by||EPK|
|Interviews conducted by||Nancy Willen|
|Narrated by||Mark Van Wagoner|
The Other Side of Heaven
This is the true story of John Groberg, a Mormon missionary who, at 19, went to the Kingdom of Tonga and struggled with language barriers, hurricanes and the islanders' suspicions. Made independently of the Mormon Church, the movie is a slightly awkward combination of entertainment and evangelical boosterism. Christopher Gorham is appealing as Groberg -- he's like the young Tom Hanks -- and the South Pacific photography of Brian Breheny is lovely. Rated PG. 113 minutes. -- E. Guthmann
Rating: [Man sitting alert in chair, holding hat, i.e., 2 out of 4]
Movie: One of the problems that movie buffs face is finding a good movie for whatever mood they are in at a particular point in time. If they are snuggled on the couch with their significant other, a more mature theme might be in order while if they are hanging out with a group of "sorta" friends, they'd probably want to watch something a little less daring. One of the most difficult types of movies to find is one where a diverse group of people, typically revolving around a large age range, can watch and have a good time. This would be called the "Family" movie. All too often, the term means a movie that keeps the kids happy and the adults groaning about how tortured they are at having to sit through it. In The Other Side of Heaven, Disney puts out a movie that can be enjoyed by anyone who is not overly anti-religious or otherwise fixated on blockbuster style releases that typically suffer from what has become known as the lowest common denominator syndrome.
The movie deals with a young man who leaves his white bread world in order to convert some natives on Tonga -- a small island out in the Pacific. He leaves all the comfort and security he has grown up with in order to save others and establish a church presence. That he left behind his fiance was probably one of the only truly underdeveloped subplots of the feature. The man, played by Christopher Gorham, has to deal with everything from incompetent officials, bad weather, competition from another preacher, death, and a whole lot more. It wasn't a white wash of his coming to the island and saving them from themselves either. He learns about some of their customs, including why it's important to leave your feet covered at night (rats eat the soles of your feet), and in balance, he learned more from them than they ever learned from him about friends, family, and sacrifice.
It should be remembered that the movie was set in the 1950's which was a much simpler time too. The movie was based on the real life adventures of a man, John Groberg, who spent several years as a missionary for the Mormon church. I'm not particularly religious but I enjoyed all but the most preachy parts of the movie and those were fairly limited in number. Becoming part of an alien culture must've been quite a shock back then for someone as sheltered as John must've been. While the movie did seem to suffer from some of the same elements Lawrence of Arabia did (i.e. that John was the savior of the alien culture which had less to offer John than he did to them), even those moments were balanced off with moments he was in awe of how much they knew. In all, a family flick made for a growing number of people tired of special effects laden bombs.
Picture: The picture was presented in 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen and looked fabulous. The settings were so lush that I'd have booked a flight to Tonga (or nearby where it was actually filmed) if I could afford it. I saw no artifacts or other blemishes in the film.
Sound: The sound was in 5.1 English Dolby Stereo and sounded excellent as well. The audio commentary was in 2.0 stereo and was also clear.
Extras: My favorite extra was the audio commentary by Director Mitch Davis. In it, he described not only some of the hardships the cast and crew went through to make the movie but also some of the funny moments each of them had and how the movie was made, even in a day when such movies rarely make it into production. The making of the movie feature was also pretty fun to watch with about 24 minutes of material for movie buffs to scour for trivia and other points of interest. The last extra was a modest still gallery of pictures.
Final Thoughts: Anyone who knows me would be quick to say that this is not the type of movie that they normally associate with my viewing habits. That doesn't make it any less fun to watch if you're in the mood to watch a light, family oriented movie. The technical aspects were very well done and the theme transcended the religious angle more often than not to show that family, friends, and community are much more important than most modern society people seem to think. If you're open minded about moralistic movies such as this, I'd recommend it to you as a keeper.
Movie: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Video: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Audio: 4 out of 4 stars
Extras: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Replay: 3 out of 5 stars
The Other Side of Heaven is a movie based upon a novel, "In the Eye of the Storm", which is about the experiences of John H. Groberg, a current member of the first Quorum of the Seventy, as he served as a missionary to the islands of Tonga from 1954-1957. The film had the potential to be phenomenal, but just fell short of being good.
The movie made its theatrical debut on April 12,2002 and has just been released on video on April 1. It is rated PG.
The movie's producer, Gerald "Jerry" Molen, previously produced Schindler's List, Jurassic Park, Rainman, Tister and Days of Thunder -- proving he had the capability to create quality material. Mitch Davis, the writer/director, although not a prominent name in Hollywood by any means, has worked on such films as Dead Poet's Society, White Fang and Newsies.
The film opens with a short explanation of Groberg (Christopher Gorham) living a humdrum life while growing up in Idaho Falls and his quaint, picture perfect Latter-day Saint family opening his mission call to Tonga, a place they had no idea the location of.
You get introduced to Groberg's beautiful, but gaggingly innocent girlfriend Jean (Anne Hathaway) at BYU before the elder finally gets shipped out to the mission field.
Elder Groberg starts off his mission with a grueling two-month journey across the Pacific (with several stops along the way) and finally reaches Tonga with a lost young boy image. He is assigned to a small island 800 miles north of the main island to an area that has minimal church activity.
He receives his assignment, given simply as two things: learn the language and build the Kingdom of God. He is also given a companion, Feki (Joe Falau) a native whose former assignment was as a construction missionary who gives his new white companion the nick name "Kolipoki"- meaning "white boy with weak stomach".
As Elder Groberg and his companion arrive on their assigned island, the plot consists of them experience quick glimpses into the lives of many of the islanders, but gives no real depth to any of them, including his companion.
Elder Groberg is taught the basic ways of life on the islands by his companion and learns the language by comparing an English language Bible to a Tongan language version. The missionary experiences such things as a girl's family asking him to have a baby with their daughter, a rat chewing off the bottom's of Elder Groberg's feet, and a storm that nearly wipes out the island. The scenes are shot with great scenic potential, but fall drastically short of showing real emotion.
Just as Feki is transferred back to a construction assignment as Groberg is assigned to be an area president. He and his local counselors travel local islands to convert hundreds, build a school and church houses and start several new branches.
This missionary's story has potential to stir hearts with emotion about Christianity being brought to such a loving and beautiful people. Instead, it simply entails a story of a skinny white kid from Idaho living and preaching in Tonga for nearly three years and returning home just slightly more mature and marrying his girlfriend that's written him corny, half-hearted puppy love letters for his entire mission.
So where did this movie go wrong?
For starters, the writing was terrible. The scenery of the film is a glimpse of something beautiful, but sincerely misses the mark in showing the vast beauty of Tonga. The scenery is filled with Elder Groberg experiencing a series of mini problems that solves quickly and efficiently, but without giving the audience any indication that he is actually learning something from each one.
Involved in these scenes are a few one line jokes and comedic actions (which I must admit I laughed at) but they were not enough to merit any interest is what was going to happen next. It will always be a movie that Latter-Day Saints will enjoy simply because of the film's association with Mormonism, but I think that just might be the only clinching good quality. When its all said and done, this film is worth watching just so you can be accepted in Latter-Day Saint social circles and say that you've seen it when everybody is talking about it.
"The Other Side of Heaven" is emotionally touching and it keeps your interest, in spite of the slow pacing of the action. If you include a number of "Christian" movies in your collection than this should be one of them -- right next to the "Cloud 10" productions.
It made me look at the Mormon way of life in a manner that I hadn't before and it made me think and it was entertaining. For those reasons alone this release is recommended.
"The Other Side of Heaven" is a true story and I would guess that it is fairly accurate in describing the events. It started out a little slowly, and maybe even a little cheesily at first, but it was refreshing to know it was a true story ... and remember that real life isn't always non-stop fun and excitement -- as we expect all movies to be. This movie was a reminder of what really matters in this life -- experience and relating to others.
Although "The Other Side of Heaven" is about the experiences of a Latter Day Saints (LDS) missionary, it could be about anyone dedicated to serving his Church and his fellow men. The story is interesting and the scenery is beautiful. It is a story of faith and courage and dedication to high moral principles.
"The Other Side of Heaven" portrays a missionary going to an Island that has already been largely converted to Christianity. Whether you believe The Mormon Church is a cult or a Christian religion, it does not matter.
The movie is not about the converting of non-believers nor about a specific Christian religion -- you could replace the young Mormon missionary with a Baptist, Methodist or any other denomination. I thought that the movie did a good job of avoiding preaching to make it more enjoyable for those not of the LDS faith.
"The Other Side of Heaven" is about the growth of an individual and the growth of the people around him.
The cultural things that the missionary Groberg speaks against in the movie are not actual parts of Tongan culture, but things that were brought by previous colonialist expansion. (Alcohol and bribing government officials)
Watch this release without bias and you will be rewarded with an entertaining movie. This is a movie, in general, that is suitable for people of all ages.
Joe Folau the actor who played the Tongan missionary companion to the LDS Elder, 19-year-old Groberg should have been given co-star billing rather than Hathaway. He did a great job playing a much larger and more important part than Hathaway but was ignored in the billing probably, in my opinion, because his name wouldn't help draw crowds.
The message in this movie is that life is a journey with many conflicts, small and large. But the obstacles that Groberg has to overcome are too easily overcome and there isn't much in the way of character development in the script.
I have to fault the movie for its rather simplistic view of everything. The natives accept what Groberg says as "Gospel" and accepts him as an LDS leader even though he doesn't speak the language and preaches for what their native custom is against. (Clothing, prudery, organized religion).
But even more do I have to fault the movie because the release doesn't give full justice to either Gorham or Hathaway.
Hathaway is relegated to running along a dream beach in a white gown (symbolizing ??) and does not go to the station when her betrothed is to be gone for 3 full years.
The letters seem to go back and forth with very good flow, especially since it took Groberg 84 days to get to the island -- if the replies were mailed the same day the letters arrived, Groberg would have received 6 letters from his fiancee in the 3 years he was on Tonga.
(*** out of *****)
Cast: Christopher Gorham, Anne Hathaway, Joe Folau, Miriama Smith, Nathaniel Lees, Whetu Fala, Alvin Fitisemanu, Peter Sa'ena Brown, Apii McKinley and John Sumner.
Synopsis: (Courtesy of Buena Vista Home Entertainment) "The Other Side of Heaven" is the true story of a young man's life-affirming journey to the remote island kingdom of Tonga, available at video rental stores April 1. This moving, heartfelt coming-of-age adventure stars Christopher Gorham and Anne Hathaway in an amazing voyage of discovery that will enchant the entire family.
Chairman of Walt Disney Studios, Dick Cook, said, "This is a wonderful family film that we at Disney are extremely proud to present. It takes you to an amazing locale and tells a story that touches everyone, young or old."
The "The Other Side of Heaven" is the remarkable real-life journey of 19-year-old John Groberg (Gorham) who travels to the far-off island kingdom in the 1950s to become a missionary. Through personal letters his challenging and extraordinary adventures with the Tongan islanders and their culture are shared with the love he left behind, Jean Serbian (Hathaway).
The film is based on Groberg's memoir of his epic journey, "The Other Side of Heaven," originally entitled "In the Eye of the Storm.""
DVD Special Features:
"The Making of The Other Side of Heaven" featurette.
Audio commentary with director/writer Mitch Davis
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 113 minutes.