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"The Other Side of Heaven"
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Revisiting The Other Side of Heaven

By: Thomas C. Baggaley
Date: 1 May 2003
Source: Meridian Magazine

With the long-awaited release of The Other Side of Heaven on video and DVD at the beginning of this month, I thought it fitting to revisit the film and see how the perspective of a little time has affected my opinion of it. Kieth Merrill, of course, wrote a review for Meridian almost exactly two years ago, in which he positively gushed about the film. (You can read Kieth's review here).

At the time it was released, The Other Side of Heaven was only the third of the string of LDS-themed feature-length films to hit theaters since God's Army showed that it was possible for a film about Mormons by Mormons to make a profit. Now there have been eight such films, with a large number of others in various stages of production. Still, The Other Side of Heaven has had the largest production budget of any LDS-themed feature film, a reported $7 million. It also received the widest distribution of any LDS-themed feature film to date, grossing over $4.7 million (the highest box office gross for any LDS cinema film to date). In one weekend, it played in as many as 306 theaters nationwide taking in $688,762, more than half of what The Singles Ward, one of the more financially successful LDS genre films, grossed in its entire theatrical run.

These are still tiny numbers compared to the big budgets and the distribution power of the Hollywood studios, and they don't even match up to independent blockbusters like My Big Fat Greek Wedding or The Blair Witch Project, but among LDS genre films, The Other Side of Heaven is a special film, and its high quality production values, nationwide distribution and audiences drawn from both Mormons and non-Mormons alike helped to set the bar a little higher for those films that followed.

With this video and DVD release, you can set that bar even a little bit higher. The reason? The filmmakers have managed to get The Other Side of Heaven distributed by Disney. In many ways, the most efficient of the media conglomerates, Disney has become a promotional giant in its own right. Owners of ABC, ESPN, the Disney Channel and Toon Disney - not to mention the large share of the family entertainment business in the form of video/DVD sales and animated theatrical releases - Disney takes full advantage of all of these outlets to promote their upcoming and recent releases. What this means is that people - especially families - WILL hear about The Other Side of Heaven, and you can bet video sales will follow. Record video sales - at least for LDS cinema.

But what about the film itself? It is well documented that a film's financial success does not guarantee that it is a great film. Likewise, there are excellent films that for one reason or another have not performed well financially. To be honest, I don't think The Other Side of Heaven was truly appreciated when it came out. Well, some people appreciated it. Obviously, Kieth Merrill did. Audiences did. But when the film originally was released, it received lukewarm reviews from many of the local Utah reviewers. I think it would be better received today.

I think, in part, this is because when it came out, the only two LDS cinema films that had been released were God's Army and Brigham City - both written and directed by Richard Dutcher. Yet, especially against the rest of the genre, the The Other Side of Heaven really stands out.

The Other Side of Heaven is really the only of the LDS genre films, including both of Dutcher's films, in which the filmmakers had the benefit of many years of experience in Hollywood to draw from (not to mention a big enough budget to do the film right). Jerry Molen, one of the film's producers, has had a key role in producing some of the most influential and successful movies of all time as one of famed director Steven Spielberg's primary collaborators. He received the Best Picture Academy Award for Schindler's List in 1993. Other films he has produced include Lost World: The Jurassic Park (1997), Jurassic Park (1993), Rain Man (1988), Twister (1996) and Hook (1991).

The co-producer of The Other Side of Heaven was Hollywood veteran John Garbett. Garbett produced Shrek for Dreamworks SKG and Pet People for Amblin. He also worked on Alive!, Three Men and a Little Lady, The Frighteners and Father of the Bride (the Steve Martin remake). Molen and Garbett are currently producing another film with a story familiar to LDS audiences, The Legend of Johnny Lingo, currently in post production.

Although The Other Side of Heaven marked Mitch Davis's feature film directing debut, he also was not a newcomer to feature filmmaking. His previous work included writing and directing Windrunner for the Disney Channel and work on Dead Poet's Society, White Fang, Rocketeer, Shipwrecked and Newsies, having worked at Disney for a number of years.

The film also features some excellent, professional-quality acting. Anne Hathaway, of course, went from production of The Other Side of Heaven to star in the hit Disney film The Princess Diaries. Christopher Gorham is also a true professional, having a number of guest appearances on television shows like Felicity and Party of Five, and both deliver excellent performances in their featured roles. But one thing that really sets The Other Side of Heaven apart from other LDS-genre films is the performances of the Polynesian supporting actors. They really throw themselves into the roles, and every one of them does an excellent job.

Filmed on the Cook Islands and in New Zealand, the cinematography of the islands is spectacular. Bolstered by a budget that made it possible, the film features Hollywood-quality special effects and a beautiful orchestral score (recorded in Prague, Czechoslovakia) that expose the paltry budgets of other LDS-themed films to audiences. If there is one noticeable weakness to the film, it is in the script, where speaking from a storytelling point-of-view, the episodic nature of the script leads to an uneven story arc in which some of the events, although dramatic and cinematically pleasing, do not clearly advance the underlying storyline (that of John Groberg's relationship with the people of Tonga). In fact, at times the film seems to lose track of what the main storyline is, and much of the drama of that storyline appears to be resolved while there is still a lot of film left - including one of the most cinematic and exciting scenes of the film.

After viewing the film and hearing the filmmakers' comments about it, including the voiceover comments by Mitch Davis on the DVD, I think this weakness is mostly due to the filmmakers' determination to stay as close to the actual events as possible, which is also one of the film's strengths. Obviously, in making a film, they had to make some concessions, omit events and combine characters. But, speaking strictly from a storytelling point of view, it would have been nice if they could have changed more, perhaps even reordered some of the events so that the dramatic structure of the main storyline would have extended across the film better or rewritten a couple of scenes to continue the story arc and develop Groberg's character further. However, you have to credit Davis and company for trying to stay as close as they could to the actual events, so in the case it's a tradeoff - storytelling vs. true-to-life accuracy - and they chose to lean toward accuracy.

The only other element of the film that I found slightly disturbing was that you are never really clearly shown what Groberg is doing on the island. You know he's teaching, but that's about it. You don't know what or even why he's teaching (although a little bit of doctrine does get slipped into the film - specifically during a prayer Groberg offers while visiting some investigators). In some of the nationwide reviews, this has led some reviewers to make the mistaken comparison of this film with The Mission, complaining that this film should have at least acknowledged that here was another white man coming to tell a dark-skinned culture that everything about their culture is all wrong. At the same time, there are things that happen in the film which I realize I am only understanding because of my LDS background and my own experience as a missionary, and I realize that non-LDS audiences would, of necessity, interpret those things differently than I do, because they do not have the context for understanding it that I have.

This is a result of the careful way in which the filmmakers have worked to give the film as wide an appeal as possible. Not once does it say in the film outright that Groberg is a missionary from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Yet at the same time, there are uses of phrases which are common among Latter-day saints, and I'm not sure they mean the same thing to those outside the church. In fact, even the idea of being a missionary and what a missionary does is different to those outside the church than it is to those who are members.

I do not think that a little more specificity would have hurt the film or its appeal to nonmembers. In fact, I would argue that one of the strengths of films like My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Fiddler on the Roof is the cultural specificity that is a part of each film, yet explained in a way that is understandable to the uninitiated. The film is delightfully specific about the Polynesian culture. It would not have hurt to be more specific about LDS culture as well.

But these are minor weaknesses, and I've probably spent more time on them in this review than they are worth. All in all, The Other Side of Heaven is a fun ride, and gives us a peek at what the LDS film genre can become as Mormon filmmakers gain experience and the budgets for the films grow.

The Other Side of Heaven is now available on DVD and video from Walt Disney Home Entertainment. Special features on the DVD include a behind-the-scenes featurette about the making of the film, an audio commentary by director Mitch Davis and a still gallery with pictures both from the film itself and of the production.

About the Author:
Film composer Thomas C. Baggaley received a master's degree in music from UCLA, where he studied film scoring with highly regarded composer, Jerry Goldsmith. He recently released a CD of inspirational music titled "Spirit of the Sabbath", which is available at Deseret Book and Thomas is also the co-webmaster of, a research web site about LDS films and filmmakers. Thomas recently finished writing the music for Unfolding, another short film by award-winning LDS filmmaker Christian Vuissa. He is also slated to score The Land of Nephi, a documentary produced by the Book of Mormon Archaeological Foundation starring Sharlene Wells Hawkes about discoveries in Southern Mexico and Guatemala that date to Book of Mormon times. He is a husband and father to three wonderful children and serves as the teacher development coordinator in his ward.

"The Other Side of Heaven" on Disney DVD
An Interview with Director Mitch Davis

By: Matthew S. McBride
Date: April 2003
Source: "Mormon Life" forum at

Last year, producer Gerald Molen and writer/director Mitch Davis treated audiences around the United States to The Other Side of Heaven. Sixteen months and one million viewers later, The Other Side of Heaven is scheduled to be released on April 1 in VHS and DVD formats by none other than Walt Disney Home Entertainment.

How did a film on a Mormon subject catch the attention of Disney Studios? Mitch Davis explained, "I worked at Disney some time ago and during my tenure there, I met a man by the name of Dick Cook, who has since become the Chairman of Disney Studios. After the movie was completed I contacted him and said, 'Hey, remember me?' I don't know if he did -- it had been 15+ years since I worked there -- but he said he did. Dick agreed to watch the movie so we sent him a copy and he really loved it, was really passionate about it. He became a big fan and friend. He said he wanted Disney to distribute the movie on video and DVD."

Davis added, "Of course, it didn't hurt that Ann Hathaway (co-star of The Other Side of Heaven) had starred in The Princess Diaries and had been a star for Disney Studios in that film."

Disney's Dick Cook raved, "This is a wonderful family film that we at Disney are extremely excited and proud to present. It takes you to an amazing locale and tells a story that touches everyone, young or old."

Davis is thrilled to have Disney involved in distributing The Other Side of Heaven. One of his main objectives is to give the film a larger non-Mormon audience. "With the release of the video and DVD, we're optimistic that many more non-LDS people will get to see the movie on video than did in theatres. Out of the million or so people that saw the theatrical release of the movie, we estimate that 20%-30% were non-Mormons. With the video and DVD release we hope to raise that figure to between 50% and 70%. Eventually when it is televised, we hope to see that figure jump 95%."

What has the non-Mormon reaction to the film been like? "We've done a lot of exit polls with non-Mormons," Davis continued. "By and large, non-Mormons liked the movie just as much if not a little bit more than Mormons. We found however that we needed to spend more money in advertising to get a non-Mormon to come out to the theatre to see it. With the Mormon audience we could rely on word of mouth and grass roots contacts."

After the DVD release, Davis will shift his attention to foreign distribution (73 countries already signed-up!) and finally to televising the movie in the United States. "We've got people standing in line to televise it," he said.

One of the first major motion pictures dealing with a Mormon subject, The Other Side of Heaven is an adaptation of Elder John H. Groberg's memoirs of his mission to Tonga in 1954. Shot in spectacular locations around the Cook Islands and New Zealand, it used many of the same key technical crew members that worked on The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

It stars Christopher Gorham (TV's Felicity; A Life Less Ordinary) as Groberg and Anne Hathaway (The Princess Diaries, Nicholas Nickleby), was directed and written by Mitch Davis and produced by Academy Award-winning producer Gerald R. Molen (Schindler's List, Jurassic Park, Minority Report).

Those who have already seen The Other Side of Heaven in theatres will want to be sure to see the Disney DVD version as well. Special features on the DVD include a "The Making Of The Other Side of Heaven" featurette, audio commentary by Davis, and a still gallery.

What about Charly?

By: Thomas C. Baggaley
Date: 20 May 2003
Source: Meridian Magazine


...Aaron Merrill has also done a nice job with the film's music. Gratefully, money was put aside for the film to have a fully orchestral score - something that is sadly missing from many films with similar budgets. Merrill recorded much of the music with the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra - the same orchestra that recorded the soundtrack for The Other Side of Heaven - and the results were worth traveling halfway around the world to get. There are also a number of well-done pop-style songs as well.

...Still, that doesn't explain the strong negative reaction from several vocal critics of the film. In the end, I think their reactions come down to the basic sentiments of the film. This is not an action movie. It's not a comedy. It's not really even a drama. It's kind of a romantic comedy, but at the same time, it's different in a lot of ways. It's not a movie that makes you stop and think. It's a movie that makes you stop and feel. Some people don't like that. Some people do. It's unfortunate that there has been such a strong negative reaction to the film in some quarters. It might lead some to do as I did with the book and assume that, in some way, this film is amateur, that the only reason it was ever made was because of its "LDS" label without ever seeing it. This is not an amateur film. Sure, it has weaknesses. Its budget is not at the level of a Hollywood studio release or even The Other Side of Heaven. But it is still, on the whole, a well-done film. At the least, it's worth a couple of hours of your time to form your own opinion...

Mormon movies portray aspects of 'modern' Latter-day Saint lifestyles

By: Megan Byers
Date: late 2002 (?)
Source: The Scroll (Brigham Yount University - Idaho)


...The most successful of the Mormon movies are God's Army and Brigham City, according to In 2000, Dutcher began as a pioneering director of God's Army, making approximately $2,628,000 after using a $300,000 budget. This comes to a profit of about $2,328,000, showing a demand for more LDS cinema.

In contrast, The Other Side of Heaven made half as much money (about $4 million) as it took to produce. The movie cost approximately $7 million to make...

'Joseph' film hits snag -- no cash flow

By: Doug Robinson
Source: Deseret News
Date: 24 June 2003


...The irony is that Dutcher started the LDS movie genre, but others are capitalizing on it. Consider the movies that have been released since "God's Army" -- "Singles Ward," "Other Side of Heaven," "Out of Step," "Charley," "R.M." Three more are on the way.

"It's fun," Dutcher says. "I went to an LDS bookstore recently and the video section looks a lot better than it did a few years ago. There weren't just kids movies. There was some personal satisfaction in that."

Mormon movie madness

By: Nicole Warburton
Date: 15 August 2003
Source: Deseret News


...According ACNielsen EDI Inc. -- a company that compiles box-office statistics -- Excel ranked eighth in the nation for limited-release film distribution in 2002. Excel released "God's Army," "Brigham City," "The Other Side of Heaven" in fairly quick succession in 2000 and 2001, and "Charly" in 2002.

Other films, including "Out of Step," "The Singles Ward" and "Handcart" were released in 2002, followed by "The R.M." in January of this year.

Together, all those movies earned a total of $11 million, according to Jeff Simpson, president and CEO of Excel. He added that $9 million "has gone through (Excel's) doors."

Though none of the later films has quite matched the millions earned by "God's Army" and "The Other Side of Heaven," there is no question that the market for Mormon movies is booming...

LDS-themed films

Cost-to-gross earnings for LDS-themed films

* Cost includes marketing costs; gross is U.S. box-office earnings

"The Other Side of Heaven" (2001)
- Cost: $7 million
- Gross: $4.7 million
*(Played theatrically in every state but Rhode Island and West Virginia. Disney Home Video distributed on VHS and DVD.)

Variety cover ad for "Other Side of Heaven."

Film Forum - An Ethical Fender Bender
Side Dishes

By: Jeffrey Overstreet
Date: 18 April 2002
Source: Christianity Today

The Other Side of Heaven tells the story of the young Mormon John Groberg, who journeyed to the far off island of Tonga to work as a missionary.

The film is gaining critical acclaim, but religious press critics have mixed reactions. Those who focus on its artistry are impressed. But some are so offended that the story is about a Mormon that they have nothing good to say about the film as a whole.

"From a [bigoted Protestant] Christian point of view... [this] is a cultic film," writes Ted Baehr (Movieguide). "It would be more than extremely unfortunate if [non-Latter-day Saint] Christian critics... promote the false gospel of The Other Side of Heaven. Since some of them are doing just that, we pray that the movie will not lead more impressionable people astray, as John led the natives to The Other Side of Heaven - which is hell."

But the USCCB critic gives the film some credit: "Groberg is compelling, firm in his conviction and sincere in his efforts to reveal Jesus Christ to the people in this remote village. And Gorham plays him in an appealing manner. Yet, viewers may feel something missing from his character development: his personal insights, his insecurities, his foibles, his quiet moments of doubt about God. These revelations would have gone a long way in helping an audience make a personal connection with Groberg. Nonetheless, the sincere film, with its topnotch special effects... is fine family entertainment."

John Adair (Preview) also refrains from condemnation: "Although Preview follows [Protestant rather than Latter-day Saint] Christian orthodoxy, the positive messages in The Other Side of Heaven can be recommended. The omission of doctrinal beliefs exclusive to the Mormons makes the film more appealing to a wider audience, and avoids the appearance of proselytizing for a particular sect. Without the stigma of sectarian tenets, Elder Groberg provides an example of a man persevering in his faith, which all Christians are called to do. He demonstrates a dependence on God, on his friend and companion in the mission work, and on the people of the small island community."

The dilemma: Stick to niche, or cross over?

By: Sean P. Means
Date: 29 August 2003
Source: Salt Lake Tribune


...Garbett and his producing partner, Gerald R. Molen (who produced "Schindler's List," "Jurassic Park" and "Hook" for Steven Spielberg), came together on the biggest hit in Mormon Cinema, "The Other Side of Heaven." That missionary drama, made for $7 million, earned about $4.7 million at the box office (according to the Web site and was snapped up for video distribution by Walt Disney's Buena Vista Home Entertainment.

"We both describe ourselves as filmmakers who happen to be Mormon, rather than Mormon filmmakers," Garbett said.

"The Other Side of Heaven" represents part of the first wave of Mormon Cinema -- along with the missionary dramedy "God's Army" and the small-town murder mystery "Brigham City," the two films by pioneering LDS filmmaker Richard Dutcher...

LDS filmmakers struggle to find financing

By: Chauntelle Plewe
By: 15 Sept. 2003
Source: BYU Daily Universe / BYU NewsNet


...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

...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.

Box office sales vary. "Charly" only made $800,000 gross in 32 weeks, but "The Other Side of Heaven" made about $4 million.

The hard thing is that revenue gets distributed to so many places that even when companies do well in the box office, they don't profit from it, Baggeley said.

"The Other Side of Heaven" is one of those cases. It was a well-made movie, but because it was labeled as an LDS film, the mass audience didn't receive it even though it was nationally distributed, Baggeley said.

Only two or three LDS films have actually been profitable, which means that the production companies have actually made money from them after other expenses are taken out...

Variety REVIEW:
"The Singles Ward"

By: Scott Foundas
Date: 16 September 2003
Source: Variety


Harmless, fairly charmless romantic comedy about the perils of being young, single and Mormon, Kurt Hale's "The Singles Ward" has grossed just under $1 million after 6 months of very limited release in such Mormon-populous states as Idaho, Arizona and, naturally, Utah. Now expanding westward into California (where pic opens Sept. 13) just before a planned Oct. 8 video release, cloying effort is the latest -- but hardly the best -- exponent of the recent wave of films -- "God's Army," "Brigham City," "The Other Side of Heaven" -- made by, about, and predominately for Mormons. In the overwritten script by Hale and John Moyer -- in which many of the lines sound like rejected sitcom punchlines, overly extroverted standup comedian Jonathan (Will Swenson) recounts, via a series of grating first-person monologues delivered directly into the camera, the breakup of his one-year marriage and his subsequent re-immersion into the world of Mormon "singles wards" -- a prayer group consisting exclusively of unmarrieds which organizes dances and other social mixers...

You don't need an upgrade to interface with 'Jake 2.0'

By: Vince Horiuchi
Date: 17 September 2003
Source: Salt Lake Tribune

If only microscopic nanobots, like the ones in "Jake 2.0," were real. If they were injected into my bloodstream, I would use them to shed my unwanted fat, clear my arteries, make me love vegetables and write this or any column in 10 seconds.

Jake Foley uses them to (yawn) save the world.

However, that does make for a fast-moving UPN science fiction adventure show. In "Jake 2.0," Jake is a likable computer technician infected with tiny microscopic robots, known as nanobots, that turn him into a superhero. The show airs today at 8 p.m. on KPNZ Channel 24.

The new series owes a lot to comic book origin stories (especially "Spider-Man") by taking an ordinary, mild-mannered man and thrusting him into an extraordinary situation.

"He's not a traditional brooding, action, tough hero. He's an everyman. He's a regular guy. He's one of us," said series creator Silvio Horta. "And second of all, his powers are not just typical strength, speed. He is part computer, so he can interface with technology."

Jake is played by Christopher Gorham, whom Utahns might have seen as the lead Mormon missionary in the movie, "The Other Side of Heaven." He makes Jake an easygoing, naive man with just enough athleticism and charm to make him charismatic.

The robots give him superhuman strength and other unknown capabilities. But mostly they allow him to interact with other electronics, making him a "walking wireless remote," as producer Gina Matthews put it.

"Jake 2.0" is a brisk hour with good pacing and interesting, unique science-fiction concepts. Fortunately, TV viewers won't have to wait for an upgrade to turn this into a good show.

By: 1AsianicAngel (a young woman in Singapore)
Date: 2 November 2003
Source: 1AsianicAngel's Personal Homepage
URL: Thoughts (taken from my Xanga)
Sunday, November 2, 2003:
I watched The Other Side Of Heaven last night. I really didn't think it'd be that good of a movie at first, but I was certainly surprised (in a good way)! The movie stars Christopher Gorham and Anne Hathaway, and is based on the true story (which makes it so much better), of a young missionary who leaves his life and love behind in America to travel to Tonga for some missionary work -- and lots happens there (don't feel like writing it all out). The story starts during the Great Depression of the 1930s, but for the most part, takes place in the 1950s. It's probably one of the "purest" movies I've seen. Ok, maybe that was a bad way to put it, but that's the only way I can. It's so different from today's typical PG-13 or R-Rated movie. It's purely genuine in my eyes, and very uplifting. The movie is beautifully shot, so if you decide halfway while watching it that you really can't stand it, just enjoy the scenery!

Variety REVIEW: "The Legend of Johnny Lingo"

By: Scott Foundas
Date: 3 Dec. 2003
Source: Variety


...A 1969 short film produced by Brigham Young U. gets feature-length treatment in "The Legend of Johnny Lingo," a waterlogged seafaring adventure targeting family auds. Pic is better at conveying positive, character-building life lessons than at recapturing the grandeur of such movies as "Kidnapped" and "Treasure Island." Kids with healthy attention spans, however, ought to be engaged, while parents who blanched at the scatological content of "The Cat in the Hat" will find this far more acceptable. Pic has grossed roughly $800,000 in three months of limited nationwide release via nascent distrib Innovation. MGM has acquired worldwide video rights.

Pic reps a reunion for several of the key creative participants behind the 2001 Mormon missionary drama "The Other Side of Heaven": producers Gerald R. Molen (a regular producer of Steven Spielberg's films) and John Garbett, and editor Steven Ramirez, here taking on helmer duties as well. This pic, while retaining the earlier film's scenic Polynesian setting, is notably more secular in its approach, preaching only the gospel of taking responsibility for one's own actions and not judging a book by its cover. Like its 1969 predecessor, distributed as a secular educational film, pic is derived from the short story "Johnny Lingo's Eight Cow Wife," written by the late novelist Patricia McGerr, a Catholic...

LDS Cinema Gets Better and Gets a Bum Rating

By: Thomas C. Baggaley
Date: 20 February 2004
Source: Meridian Magazine


...The first of these is the release of a wonderful little film called The Best Two Years. No, this film isn't the second coming of It's a Wonderful Life, but as far as making a film for the LDS market, I think this film hits it right on the head. In fact, I would not hesitate to say that of all the various LDS-market theatrical release feature films (including those from Richard Dutcher and the relatively high-budget The Other Side of Heaven), I personally enjoyed watching this one most of all...