Help From 'Heaven': Two Utah-based education charities will reap the benefits from the gala premiere of "The Other Side of Heaven," Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the Megaplex 17 at Jordan Commons, 9335 S. State in Sandy.
The movie depicts young John H. Groberg (Christopher Gorham), who leaves Brigham Young University and his girlfriend Jean (Anne Hathaway, the star of "The Princess Diaries") in 1953 to serve a three-year mission in Tonga. Writer/director Mitch Davis adapted the book In the Eye of the Storm, a memoir written by Groberg, who is now a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Groberg, Gorham and Davis will attend the premiere, as will producers Gerald R. Molen (who produced "Schindler's List") and John Garbett. New Zealand-based actors Joe Folau and Miriama Smith, who play Tongans in the movie, also will attend.
Proceeds go to two charities: The Legacy Foundation, based in Orem, provides educational resources and training to families, schools and communities; and the Liahona Alumni Association awards scholarships to children of Polynesian descent.
Tickets are $20, and a few are available through the Legacy Foundation and the Liahona Alumni Association.
December 6, 2001
Contact: Mary Jane Jones
Excel Entertainment Group
HOLLYWOOD CELEBRITIES TO PRESENT FREE Q&A AT UVSC
Orem, UT -- Three stars of the upcoming motion picture THE OTHER SIDE OF HEAVEN will be in Orem Tuesday night to present a free Q&A session about their experiences during the making of the movie.
Christopher Gorham, Joe Folau and Miriama Smith will also be joined by writer / director Mitch Davis and producer John Garbett. The Q&A will take place on Tuesday, December 11 at 7 p.m. UVSC's TRIO Student Support Services is sponsoring the event, which will be held at the UVSC Institute (adjacent to the Student Services building on campus). The Institute houses the largest room available on campus that evening. The actors will be welcomed with a Tongan traditional dance from the UVSC Polynesian Legacy Promo Team, a talented group of Polynesian dancers. The team will also perform a Tahitian dance to close the event, and will present traditional leis to the panel.
THE OTHER SIDE OF HEAVEN is a major motion picture chronicling the true story of a young boy's adventures in the Kingdom of Tonga in the 1950's. The movie opens in Wasatch Front theaters on Dec 14.
Christopher Gorham stars in the film as John Groberg, a young Idaho farm boy sent as a missionary to Tonga. Gorham is well known to television audiences for his role as Harrison on the hit series "Popular." He has also made memorable guest appearances on shows like "Party of Five" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Gorham made his feature film debut in the movie A Life Less Ordinary.
Joe Folau, a native Tongan, is making his American film debut in THE OTHER SIDE OF HEAVEN. He plays Feki, Groberg's cheerful and resourceful guide and friend. He is a regular on several popular television shows in New Zealand, and made his feature film debut in the highly acclaimed NZ film The Whole of the Moon.
Miriama Smith, who plays Lavania, has been making regular appearances on New Zealand television since 1991. In the past few years she has become a familiar face as a core cast member of programs like "Mercy Peak" and "Atlantis High." She has also made notable guest appearances on such shows as "Xena: Warrior Princess" and "Young Hercules: The Series."
Mitch Davis and John Garbett first met at Disney Studios while Davis was an intern. Garbett was an LA-based producer for Shrek, and spent eight years as an executive for the Walt Disney Company supervising the production of pictures such as Father of the Bride, Oscar, Three Men and A Little Lady, and Alive. This is Davis' first major film. He has a Masters Degree in film from USC.
A new film about life and cultural change follows the experiences of an Idaho farm boy in Tonga.
The Other Side of Heaven tells the story of Elder John Groberg, a General Authority for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, during his mission in Tonga in the 1950s.
First-time writer/director Mitch Davis said the story for the film has a lot of meaning.
"The story is deep and often poignant. It is a classic fish out of water story where a boy is forced to sink or swim," Davis said.
According to a release from Excel Entertainment Group, the story for the film is based on the published memoirs of Groberg titled In the Eye of the Storm.
The release said Davis, a Brigham Young University graduate, went on to film school at USC Film School to study directing. After completing his degree he was hired to work by the Walt Disney Company.
The film tells of the experiences of a young Idaho farm boy (Groberg), played by Christopher Gorham, who is taken out of his element and called to serve as a missionary on an island in the South Pacific.
To serve his mission, he left behind his family and true love of his life, Jean Sabin, played by Anne Hathaway (The Princess Diaries). Through letters shared with each other, John writes about his extraordinary adventures in Tonga while she helps buoy up his spirits during the difficult times.
Davis said the story is especially interesting because Groberg had some unusual experiences as a missionary.
"[Elder Groberg's] wasn't a normal mission of knocking on doors," he said. "He had to cross an ocean in an open boat, survived hurricanes, build his own hut and have many other amazing experiences."
Groberg said he is pleased with the way the movie turned out although he was apprehensive at first to let them make the film.
"Our first reaction when they asked to buy the movie rights to the book was 'No way,'" he said.
Groberg said he and his wife didn't want their lives on the big screen for everyone to see.
"As we met with the director and producer though, we found out they were good, honest people with a real vision," he said.
Groberg said he thought the production staff did a great job at portraying he and his wife, but after seeing the film his wife jokingly told him he wasn't as good of a dancer as the character in the film.
Although it is premiering primarily in Utah, The Other Side of Heaven is not necessarily geared toward audiences associated with The Church of Jesus Christ.
Anybody will be able to relate to the story, Groberg said.
According to the release, Davis wanted to tell the story of a missionary experience since he himself served a mission in Argentina.
"I never quite found a vehicle I thought would work for the general public until John Garbett and another friend both recommended I read this book by Elder John Groberg. About 30 pages in, I realized that there was a beautiful tale there -- lots of broad adventures, a beautiful romance and an experience in a foreign land that was unique, yet universal," Davis said.
Groberg said the film does a great job of helping someone understand another culture.
"By the time you get through watching the movie, you will fall in love with the Polynesian people just like I did," he said.
Davis said a primary element of the film is allowing others to see another culture in a new light.
"The book was full of colorful, unforgettable characters and I wanted the same for the movie," Davis said. "The Polynesians are wonderful people."
The Other Side of Heaven was produced by Gerald R. Molen (Schindler's List, Jurassic Park) and John Garbett (Shrek, Father of the Bride).
It will open in two locations in Salt Lake City on Dec. 14. It will be showing in more than 50 locations in Utah and Idaho by Dec. 21. The film is scheduled to be showing in theaters in Hawaii, Arizona, Nevada and California by January.
You can currently buy the original John H. Groberg In the Other Side of the Storm in hardback, or the newly-published softcover version of the same book re-titled The Other Side of Heaven with cover art based on the movie poster.
Not only that, you can buy the screenplay by Mitch Davis, in PDF format. The price is listed as $7.95. Maybe this is a new trend in movie-related merchandising, one that I simply was not aware of.
The text on the Desert Book product page reads:
After serving as a missionary in Argentina in the late 1970's, Mitch Davis returned home determined to someday make a movie about that heartfelt rite of passage.
Years later, Davis earned a Master's degree in filmmaking from the University of Southern California, then went on to work as a development executive at Disney Studios. It was there he met producer, John Garbett, who introduced him to the missionary memoirs of John H. Groberg, entitled, In the Eye of the Storm.
Davis read Groberg's memoirs and immediately realized they contained the stuff of a blockbuster movie: an epic, South Pacific journey, a beautiful love story, and swash-buckling adventure. He also realized this was the version of the missionary story that would play to all the world.
With the able assistance of Garbett and Academy Award winning producer, Gerald R. Molen, Davis adapted Groberg's memoirs into the compelling script that became The Other Side of Heaven. Starring Christopher Gorham of A Life Less Ordinary and Anne Hathaway of The Princess Diaries, this major motion picture will take you on a journey to the center of the Pacific, and into the heart of a people.
"The Other Side of Heaven," the film adaptation of Elder John H. Groberg's book, "In the Eye of the Storm," will premiere tonight at Jordan Commons in Sandy as part of a benefit event.
The event begins at 6 p.m. and tickets are $20, said Mary Jane Jones of Excel Entertainment.
Jones said some tickets will be available at the door, but most tickets have already been sold.
The proceeds made from ticket sales will go to the Legacy Foundation and the Liahona Alumni Association. Both organizations work to help children through education, she said.
The first hour of the benefit will include Polynesian dancers from the Liahona Alumni Association, as well as introductions of the cast, producers and other people involved with the movie, said Michelle Spiron of Excel Entertainment. Spiron said there will also be an autograph-signing table where people can meet the cast members.
David Fiefia, the Liahona Alumni advisor for the Salt Lake Utah Tongan South Stake, said 15 dancers from Tonga will represent several Pacific islands and their native dances.
The money raised by this event for the Liahona Alumni Association will help send low-income children from the Pacific islands to Liahona High School in Mapangiake, Tonga, he said.
Fiefia, originally from Tonga and former student at Liahona High School, said the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sponsors the school.
"I'm just glad this movie came out and that Elder Groberg is willing to support the Liahona Alumni Foundation," Fiefia said. "This fundraiser will help us a lot."
OREM (Dec. 13) -- Just about every LDS missionary has a story to tell -- but most don't get the opportunity to tell it on the big screen.
The exception is Elder John H. Groberg, whose experiences as an Idaho farm boy sent to Tonga in the 1950s are told on the silver screen in "The Other Side of Heaven," premiering locally this week.
The two-hour movie follows Groberg's book, "In the Eye of the Storm," published by Bookcraft in 1993. Deseret Book has just published a paperback volume, retitled and featuring a cover that coordinates with the movie's release.
Groberg is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' First Quorum of Seventy and is currently serving as president of the Utah South Mission.
The movie will premiere locally Friday at the SCERA Showhouse, which will be the exclusive Utah Valley venue for a week, until the show opens in theaters nationwide Dec. 21. It is also being screened at Jordan Commons in Salt Lake City for the first week.
SCERA screenings are at 1, 3:30, 6:30 and 9 p.m. daily (closed Sundays). On Saturday (Dec. 15), the movie's lead Polynesian actors will be introduced to the audience prior to the 6:30 p.m. showing and will be available afterward to sign autographs.
The movie was filmed on location in New Zealand and the Cook Islands (Rarotonga), where Groberg served three years as an LDS missionary. Excerpts from letters exchanged between the young missionary and Jean Sabin, the girl who would become his wife, were used as narrative to connect the events illustrated by the movie.
Christopher Gorham, best known for the two seasons he portrayed "Harrison" on the WB series "Popular," plays the young Groberg. Anne Hathaway, who starred opposite Julie Andrews in "The Princess Diaries" this year, portrays Jean.
Based on Groberg's memoirs, "The Other Side of Heaven" shows how the young missionary -- called Kolipoki by the islanders -- struggles to overcome the language barrier, physical hardships and suspicion to earn the trust and love of the Tongan people he has come to serve. The film contains comedy as well as inspirational scenes, plus a lot of wisdom -- along with gorgeous tropical scenery.
Besides Gorham, actors who will appear at the SCERA screening Saturday evening include Miriama Smith, who has been appearing regularly on New Zealand television since 1991 and plays Lavania in the movie; and Joe Folau, a native Tongan whose smile is put to good use as Groberg's missionary companion in the islands. The film's producers are Gerald R. Molen and John Garbett, who first worked together in 1992 at Steve Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment. Molen, who appears briefly in "The Other Side of Heaven" as the mission president, won an Academy Award for best picture in 1993 as one of the producers of "Schindler's List." He also produced Spielberg's "Jurassic Park."
Garbett was the L.A.-based producer of "Shrek." He spent eight years as an executive for the Walt Disney Company, where he met Mitch Davis, screenwriter and director for "The Other Side of Heaven."
Captions from photos accompanying this story:
The people behind "The Other Side of Heaven," the new film based on Mormon general authority John H. Groberg's experiences as a Mormon missionary, want you to know one thing: This is not a "Mormon film."
"This is a movie made by Hollywood filmmakers, for the world, about a Mormon," said director Mitch Davis, who adapted the screenplay from Groberg's book "In the Eye of the Storm." "Out of about 600 people involved in the film, only four are Mormon."
Those four are Davis himself, two of the producers and the film editor. The cast members are not LDS. The budget was $7 million -- small by Hollywood standards, but big for an independent film, and more than the two established Mormon films, "God's Army" and "Brigham City" cost.
"I think 'God's Army' demonstrated that there is a viable Mormon niche market out there, but this movie was not made at all for that niche market," Davis said. "This movie was frankly made for a worldwide audience, which audience we hope it will find."
Indeed, though the movie follows a young Elder Groberg on his mission to Tonga in the 1950s, there are few references to LDS doctrine. Viewers need to know only what everyone knows already anyway: that young Mormon men usually go on missions.
"If there's any religion in this movie, I would hope it comes from the spirit of the Polynesian people and not from any specific dogma preached by any of the missionaries," Davis said.
The film opens today at the SCERA in Orem and Jordan Commons in Sandy. It will spread to other theaters starting next week.
Davis is careful to point out that while few Mormons were involved in the making of "The Other Side of Heaven," it was not due to any ill will on his part. "We just auditioned the very best actors that were available," he said. "I think one or two who auditioned were LDS, but that really was not a factor for or against."
The film was shot in the Cook Islands and in New Zealand, and most of the casting was done locally -- which means there weren't many Mormon actors to choose from anyway.
The star of the film, 27-year-old Christopher Gorham, agreed that it should appeal to a wide audience. "The movie deals with far more universal themes, like love, relationships, faith in general, faith in yourself," he said. "It's a coming-of-age story. It's about a boy who grows up."
That said, however, Mormons may find a bit more in it than others do.
"Even though the movie is not a 'Mormon movie,' I think Mormons will take something extra away from it," he said. "Anyone who's been on a mission will certainly be flooded with memories. I think it will affect people here (in Utah) a little bit more."
Gorham appeared in the independent film "A Life Less Ordinary" in 1997, and is best known for his two seasons on TV's "Popular." He currently has a recurring role on "Felicity," where he plays "an alcoholic frat boy" -- which he suggested might balance out the "Other Side of Heaven" role as far as public opinion of him is concerned.
Davis, who is 43 and, like Gorham, a California native, said he auditioned more than 500 people for the lead role, and settled on Gorham because "he has a very gentle soul."
"It comes through in his performance, but he also adds to that a little bit of mischief and humor, which we found very endearing," Davis said. "By the time he finished his audition, I knew the part was his." Gorham, in Utah this week to promote the film, said he learned he'd gotten the job only three days before he had to leave for the Cook Islands. "I made a mad dash to find the book, and I got it the day I was leaving, and read it on the plane," he said. "It's fascinating. It's why I took the part. It's such a great challenge, with so much happening to him as a young man."
Davis speaks passionately about the movie, which was shot over 55 days in the summer of 2000, though it was wintertime in the southern hemisphere.
"It's a movie about a beautiful people and a beautiful time in a beautiful place," he said.
Mitch Davis, writer and director of "The Other Side of Heaven," said he's wanted to make a movie about a Mormon missionary for more than 20 years, but only recently found the right project.
"The Other Side of Heaven" is based on "In the Eye of the Storm," the 1993 book by LDS general authority John H. Groberg, covering his missionary experiences in Tonga.
"I kept looking for the right vehicle, hoping to find a story that I thought could be universally appealing," he said. "I had a couple different people recommend Elder Groberg's book to me, and frankly, I ignored both of them, because I incorrectly assumed that you could not find a Hollywood movie in a 'church' book. Perhaps I was a bit arrogant about it."
Finally, a friend took his own copy off the shelf, "shoved it in my face and said, 'Just read this,' " Davis said. "I immediately saw what this gentleman saw, which was a real swashbuckling adventure, a romantic location in the South Pacific, a lot of rich, colorful characters. I realized this would be the perfect vehicle to tell the story of a Mormon mission, but in a manner that would be accessible and entertaining to everyone."
He contacted Bookcraft and said he wanted to buy the movie rights to the book -- a request Bookcraft, which has since merged with the LDS Church-owned Deseret Book, does not get very often.
"It was actually a very comical conversation," Davis said. "I told them what I wanted to do, and there was this very long pause on the other end of the line. Finally, they said, 'Oooooo-kay, let us look into that.' "
Bookcraft wanted to make sure Groberg was comfortable with his personal memoirs being turned into a Hollywood movie, and arranged for him to meet with Davis.
"The Groberg family are certainly not the kind of people who seek the limelight," Davis said. "At first, they were pretty leery of the whole idea, but once they took us in and accepted the idea, they were very trusting."
Davis said Groberg consulted with him on the script and visited the set with his wife, Jean (played in the movie by Anne Hathaway, recently of "The Princess Diaries"). In fact, the real Grobergs can be seen as extras in the scene where the movie Grobergs are married.
Groberg, speaking from his office at church headquarters in Salt Lake City, said of the film, "I think they did a good job. They promised they would keep it true to the spirit of the book, and I think they've done an excellent job."
He said Davis sought his opinion often on technical issues. "Like for instance, they'd say, 'Did you really wear a shirt and tie every day?' or how far was it from there to here, -- that sort of thing."
Of Christopher Gorham, the actor who plays him in the movie, Groberg said, "I thought he did a good job. I'm sure I wasn't as good-looking as he is, and I wasn't as good a dancer as he is, but I felt he conveyed the spirit very well."
Groberg said he checked with his superiors at church headquarters before allowing Davis to make the film, and that he has "felt a lot of support."
"Most of the general authorities have seen it and seem to be favorably inclined," he said.
The Other Side of Heaven
** 1/2 [2 1/2 out of possible 4 stars]
An LDS missionary's experiences make for a heartfelt, if uneven, movie.
Rated PG for thematic elements and brief disturbing images; 113 minutes.
Opening today at the Megaplex 17 at Jordan Commons, Sandy, and the SCERA, Orem.
"The Other Side of Heaven" is by no means a great movie, but it is a refreshingly forthright one. Its emotional honesty pulls it past some of its storytelling shortcomings.
Based on In the Eye of the Storm, a memoir by John H. Groberg -- now a member of the LDS Church's First Quorum of the Seventy -- "The Other Side of Heaven" begins in 1953 with Groberg (Christopher Gorham) learning he has been called on his mission to the Pacific nation of Tonga. This means leaving behind his Idaho family and the lovely Jean (Anne Hathaway, the star of "The Princess Diaries") -- who has plenty of suitors at BYU trying to pull her away from her absent boyfriend.
Arriving in Tonga after an eventful voyage, Groberg is given simple orders from his mission president (played by "Schindler's List" producer Gerald R. Molen, one of this film's producers): "Learn the language and build a kingdom." But learning the customs of the Tongan people, and overcoming the prejudices of a rival Christian minister, is a hard nut to crack -- even with a Tongan, Feki (Joe Falua), as his missionary companion.
With a miniscule budget of $7 million, writer-director Mitch Davis makes the best of what he has. The location footage, shot in Raratonga, is gorgeous -- and the cast and crew from nearby New Zealand are as professional as can be. The budget constraints show only in the climax, with a computer-generated tidal wave that looks like a half-finished outtake from "The Perfect Storm."
Davis plods through the episodes of Groberg's mission experience, including several obvious fish-out-of-water cliches (tasting strange cuisine, mangling the language, etc.). Thankfully, Davis avoids the two biggest cliches by never showing Groberg either as someone who "goes native" or as an all-knowing Anglo among the "heathen" Tongans.
Groberg -- portrayed with unassuming charm by Gorham (from the canceled WB series "Popular") -- is simply someone who believes in his faith, works hard to help the people around him, and thinks about getting home to his true love. His plain-spokenness gives "The Other Side of Heaven" a sincerity that money can't buy.
Talk to any Mormon missionary about his experiences and he or she will have a dozen stories of high drama to tell. So it's no small praise that the tale of John Groberg"s mission to Tonga in the early 1950s was the kind of experience movies are made of.
Which easily explains why a mainstream Hollywood producer, who also happens to be LDS, Gerald R. Molen ("Schindler's List"), would be eager to bring Groberg's memoirs, "In the Eye of the Storm," to the big screen.
Possibly the most surprising moment of the film is at a student dance at Brigham Young University. The Swing was all the rage and these kids performed it with reckless abandon. It looked like a scene out of "Grease," with ladies flying around their partners as if caught in a hurricane.
Having been to several dances at the Y, I can tell you that things have changed. When a member of the bishopric of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints admonishes you to "leave room for the Holy Ghost" during a slow dance, you know those good old days of bobby-sock debauchery are over.
Anyway, it must have been a shock for a farm boy from Idaho to get a mission call to the remote island of Tonga. This kid had never seen an ocean, much less crossed hundreds of miles over one to get to the place where he would spend three years of his life.
The first and biggest obstacle for Elder Groberg, besides the culture, the mosquitoes and the food, was the language. He felt embarrassed the first time he was asked to address the congregation -- his feeble attempt to relay his message was met with laughter.
He decided that he would spend the next few days reading the Scriptures -- first a line in English and then a line in Tongan. Day and night, he read, with no sleep or food. He was determined not to be a laughingstock again.
The movie is filled with these faith-promoting stories, fortunately handled with a light touch. Most of the filming was done in New Zealand or Rarotonga in the Cook Islands to give it a look of authenticity -- no "Gilligan"s Island" back lot for this thinly budgeted production of $7 million.
I think Mormon and non-Mormon alike will appreciate Elder Groberg's adventure, but I never felt comfortable with the young man they chose to play Groberg (Christopher Gorham from the WB"s TV series "Popular"). He seemed too polished -- even borderline arrogant -- working next to his Tongan companion, Feki (Joe Folau), who radiated compassion and warmth.
The director of "God's Army," Richard Dutcher, proved there is a market for Mormon-themed films. "The Other Side of Heaven" is the next evolutionary step in that genre -- but it is only a step.
Walking that tightrope between an LDS pep rally and offering a compelling, crossover movie that all audiences would be comfortable watching is still the most daunting task for these filmmakers, but they're getting closer.
At least, hats off to John Groberg. If half the things in this film are true, he is an amazing man whose story deserves to be told.
THE FILM: "The Other Side of Heaven"
OUR RATING: ** 1/2
STARRING: Christopher Gorham, Anne Hathaway, Joe Folau, Miriama Smith, Nathaniel Lees and Whetu Fala
BEHIND THE SCENES: Written and directed by Mitch Davis in his feature-film debut.
PLAYING: Jordan Commons in Sandy. Wider release next week. Runs 113 minutes.
MPAA RATING: PG
THE OTHER SIDE OF HEAVEN ** 1/2 [2 1/2 out of possible 4 stars] Christopher Gorham, Anne Hathaway, Joe Folau, Miriama Smith, Nathaniel Lees, Whetu Fala, Al Fitisemanu; rated PG (violence, brief vulgarity, brief gore); Megaplex 17 at Jordan Commons.
"In the Eye of the Storm," the real-life account of the experiences of LDS General Authority John H. Groberg when he was a teenager serving a church mission to the Kingdom of Tonga, would make a great film.
"The Other Side of Heaven," a good-looking but rather superficial adaptation of Elder Groberg's novel, is not that film.
Not that it's terrible, mind you. In fact, the film's pleas for racial tolerance, compassion and service without expectation of reward are messages we need in these trying times. And during this weak cinematic year, a live-action movie you can actually take the whole family to is a welcome sight.
But compared to what "The Other Side of Heaven" could have been should have been this drama is definitely something of a disappointment. We have probably come to expect little depth in most films, but considering the promising source material here, this one should do more than simply skim the surface.
Television actor Christopher Gorham ("Popular") stars as the teenage Groberg, who is attending Brigham Young University in 1953 when he receives his mission call. Obviously, he's excited, although it means he must leave behind his true love, Jean Sabin (Anne Hathaway, from "The Princess Diaries").
His exuberance will soon serve him well, however, as the naive missionary-to-be has no idea what's really waiting for him in Tonga starting with the journey there, which takes him nearly three very trying months. And when he finally does arrive, there's nobody waiting there to aid him, except for Feki (Joe Folau), a local who becomes his mission companion.
Despite Feki's help, Elder Groberg has a lot of obstacles in his path, not the least of which is a language barrier few of the Tongans speak English. And, of course, they're extremely skeptical about the odd newcomer in their midst.
However, the elder quickly proves his worth. First, he does some intensive study to learn the language. Then when a tropical storm threatens to destroy the island, he's there to offer aid and comfort.
He must also stay true to Jean, who's busy fighting off suitors of her own. And their long-distance commitment could be in real trouble when it appears that his mission could be extended.
Admittedly, this is a handsomely mounted production that belies its $8 million budget which may be large by independent-film standards, but which is extremely low for the industry as a whole. Especially impressive are the storm effects (nearly rivaling those in the much-pricier major-studio film "The Perfect Storm").
And to his credit, filmmaker Mitch Davis has filled out his cast with appealing fresh faces. As Groberg, Gorham has charm, though his too-good-to-be-true portrayal makes the character a bit bland. He's well-matched with Hathaway, who has to make their relationship seem believable without much screen time together.
The biggest surprise is Folau, a charismatic newcomer whose presence would be welcome again.
"The Other Side of Heaven" is rated PG for violence (forces of nature), brief mild vulgarity (a flatulence gag) and brief gore. Running time: 114 minutes.
(Jan. 8) -- "The Other Side of Heaven" is an unusual film. It tells the true story of a young man named John Groberg, who left his home in Idaho Falls, Idaho, in the 1950s to be a missionary in the Tonga Islands of the South Pacific.
It is a fascinating story. It took him almost three months just to reach the remote island to which his superiors had sent him. He went by ship from San Francisco to Samoa, then by another ship to Fiji, where he was arrested for illegal immigration because he didn't have the proper papers to disembark.
From Fiji he traveled some 800 miles by open boat (some 10 days) to his eventual destination. There he is the only white man, he speaks none of the language, and his presence is opposed by the local religious power, a native minister for another faith.
The fact that he is a missionary for the "Mormon" Church is incidental, and is not even mentioned until nearly halfway through the movie.
Written and directed by Mitch Davis, this is not a "Mormon" movie. It is handsomely mounted, with filming in New Zealand and Rarotonga, and it is produced by Gerald R. Molen (one of the producers for "Schindler's List" and "Jurassic Park.") and John Garbett (producer for "Shrek.") The cinematography is at times breathtaking, but then, with scenery such as the seascapes and sunsets and grand ocean vistas of the South Seas, it would be difficult to miss.
Christopher Gorham is Groberg, and Anne Hathaway ("The Princess Diaries") plays Jean Sabin, the girl he fell in love with before he went to Tonga. It is the interchange of letters with Jean that forms a nice narrative to both explain the action of the film as well as to provide a counterpoint to other events.
At one point, after a devastating hurricane virtually destroys everything on the island -- including the islanders' food supply -- Jean's letters saying, "it's been nearly three months since I've heard from you" underscores the fact that the island has been cut off from communication and food for that period of time, and it is only when the islanders are about to expire from starvation that a ship arrives with provisions.
The movie is based on Groberg's own book, "In the Eye of the Storm."
While fascinating and at times majestic in its sweep, the movie somehow feels a little flat.
That Groberg survived even his first month on the island, let alone three years, is absolutely remarkable. Upon later reflection, certain events of his stay there are more profound and far reaching than we are allowed to feel while we are viewing the action. The closest we come is during a raging storm at sea when Groberg and two companions are swept overboard from an open boat by a wave that rivals anything we saw in "The Perfect Storm." The feeling of isolation and hopelessness is almost complete, except for the fact that we know he survived to write about it. Somehow the survival is not as powerful as the danger.
Bottom line: this movie is an unpretentious and sincere examination of a young missionary's struggles in a foreign land, to learn the language and love the people. That he succeeds on both levels is a tribute to both the real Groberg as well as this narrative of his experiences. By the time Groberg leaves the islands, we have come to know more about him and the people he loved there than we thought we would care to know.
"Heaven" is rated PG for some briefly disturbing elements. Running time is 113 minutes.