An Excel Entertainment Group release of a 3Mark Entertainment presentation of a Molen/Garbett production. Produced by Gerald R. Molen, John Garbett. Executive producer, Mitch Davis.
Directed, written by Mitch Davis, based on the memoir "In the Eye of the Storm" by John H. Groberg. Camera (color), Brian Breheny; editor, Steven Ramirez; music, Kevin Kiner; production designer, Rick Kofoed; visual effects, John Gajdecki; casting, Gretchen Rennell Court, Christina Asher. Reviewed at Broadway Center, Salt Lake City, Jan. 10, 2002. MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 113 MIN.
John Groberg ..... Christopher Gorham
Jean Sabin ..... Anne Hathaway
Feki ..... Joe Folau
Lavania ..... Miriama Smith
Kelepi ..... Nathaniel Lees
Asi ..... Whetu Fala
Tomasi ..... Al Fitisemanu
Kuli ..... Peter Brown
Noli ..... April McKinley
The memoirs of the Mormon missionary John Groberg come to the screen in "The Other Side of Heaven," one of the most ostentatiously titled Christian films to emerge and --- at a reported cost of $ 7 million --- one of the most expensive. It also has Hollywood heft behind it: The producers are Gerald R. Molen (longtime head of production at Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment) and John Garbett (a producer of "Shrek"), while tyro helmer-scribe Mitch Davis attended both Brigham Young U and USC film school. Rousing, family-friendly item has a big, epic look and state-of-the-art visual effects, which help to make pic (which has been playing in Utah since December and will platform nationally this spring) a high-profile example of the mainstreaming of Christian entertainment. Pic opens on the BYU campus, circa 1953, as Groberg (Christopher Gorham) swoons over his true love Jean (Anne Hathaway) and prepares for his impending missionary assignment. That journey sends him to the remote island of Tonga, where, with few resources and no knowledge of the native tongue, he is instructed to "build a kingdom" of thriving Mormon communities. That the 19-year-old Groberg, over two-and-a-half years, accomplished this while combating all manner of hardship and natural disaster, should make for a compelling entertainment, and it does, up to a point.
Pic takes a refreshingly different stance on missionaries (they're not all out to wreck indigenous cultures) and natives (they're not all savages) than Hollywood has in the past. Specifically, Davis depicts Tongan customs with warmth and respect, and he endorses the benefits of missionary work without pushing too hard to make us feel the same way.
But on a fundamental level, "The Other Side of Heaven" is one of those soft-peddled, "A Beautiful Mind"-style biopics that takes a remarkable true-life story and proceeds to file down its sharp edges and splash light on its murky, gray areas until all you have left is pretty conventional Hollywood fare. As presented here, the very green Groberg meets with only a modicum of resistance from the native Tongans, quickly ingratiating himself by performing one miraculous good deed after another. The film then becomes repetitious, with each new scene presenting some dramatic malady (wounded children, lockjaw, et al.) befalling one or more of the villagers and Groberg coming to the rescue. Pic always seems at a distance from Groberg. Despite the daunting challenges he faces --- including having his feet chewed open by hungry rats and nearly starving to death in the aftermath of a hurricane --- we never see him let his guard down or doubt his faith. Problems are partly due to the condensing of a long, complex biography into a two-hour film. But in adapting Groberg's own "In the Eye of the Storm," writer-director Davis has glossed over most of the quieter, incidental moments of Groberg's experience that might have brought viewers closer to the character.
The focus here is on rousing, sensational events with little sense of what Groberg was really like as a person, in all his foibles and insecurities and doubts.
Gorham's performance, however, almost makes you forget how shallowly his character has been conceived. Performance by up-and-comer Hathaway ("The Princess Diaries") consists of little more than occasional voiced-over readings of Jean's love letters.
Camera (color), Brian Breheny; editor, Steven Ramirez; music, Kevin Kiner; production designer, Rick Kofoed; visual effects, John Gajdecki; casting, Gretchen Rennell Court, Christina Asher. Reviewed at Broadway Center, Salt Lake City, Jan. 10, 2002. MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 113 MIN.
Based on the true missionary experience of John H. Groberg, "The Other Side of Heaven" is a relief from the fiction laden blockbuster "Harry Potter" and the "Lord of the Rings."
In the early 1950s, Groberg, an Idaho farm boy, was called to served as a missionary in Tonga. Groberg had never seen an ocean, let alone crossed one. But before he knew it, he landed on an island in the South Pacific where no one spoke his language, no one had ever seen a white man and the natives expected him to be their "great white preacher."
"I've always found the concept of culture interesting," says producer John Garbett. "This is the story of a young North American who goes to a place as far away from Idaho as there could be, and we get to see him come to terms with his predicament. At the same time, Groberg goes to the island thinking he has all the answer. Yet, it's the simple people of the island that give him the strength. Whenever he wavering, he looks into their eyes and draw strength from who they are and what they believe. During the course of the movie, he learns that there is more than he thought he was there' more to this 19 year old than he ever through possible."
"Why do you have such faith in me?" Elder Groberg questions his companion.
"You travel so far to teach us what you say must be true," respond his companion, Feki, played by Joe Folau one of the only native Tongans on the set.
The movie is based on the book "Eye of the Storm." Groberg currently lives in Bountiful with his wife Jean where he is a leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"Naturally, I was very surprised when I got a call from my publisher saying that someone wanted the movie rights to my book," says John Groberg in a release about the movie. "But I met with Mitch and got wonderful recommendations from other about him and his team. After meeting and talking to them, I felt good about going ahead. I think the whole production team has lived up to the recommendations I received. I feel that the film capture the spirit of the book really well.
"One of the reason I have been positive about the movie has been the feeling that it could be helpful to Tong and the Tongan people. They sometimes get a 'bad rap,' especially in America. My experience was that they were a faithful, loving and kind people. There are individuals who are very different, of course, but I loved them and appreciate them. In many ways, they save my life and I feel wonderful about maybe helping them a little in this way.
"Another reason for being positive about this movie is my feeling that people everywhere need to feel and know that there is a God in Heaven who is our Father and who cares for us and helps us. I learned clearly and unquestionably of this connection between heaven and earth."
The movie was during a screening in Vernal Dec. 15 to a limited audience. It will be open in many theaters in Utah this week and in Vernal next week.
Idaho Falls - ANTICIPATION IS RUNNING HIGH AT THE EDWARDS CINEMA TONIGHT WHERE THE MOVIE 'THE OTHER SIDE OF HEAVEN" HAS ITS PREMIER SHOWING IN JUST ONE HOUR. AND THE MAN WHOSE EXPERIENCE THE MOVIE IS BASED ON IS AT THE THEATER TONIGHT SIGNING AUTOGRAPHS AND MEETING MOVIE GOERS. THERE'S MOOD OF EXCITEMENT AS PEOPLE ARE GATHERING EARLY TO MEET JOHN GROBERG, WHO IS NOW A GENERAL AUTHORITY OF THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER DAY SAINTS. AND WAIT TO SEE THE MOVIE. THE OTHER SIDE OF HEAVEN IS BASED ON A BOOK IDAHO FALLS NATIVE JOHN GROBERG WROTE ABOUT HIS EXPERIENCES AS AN LDS MISSIONARY IN TONGA BACK IN THE 1050S. BUT IT'S NOT CHURCH PRODUCED MOVIE. IT'S A STORY SO COMPELLING THAT SOME OF THE PRODUCERS OF JURASSIC PARK AND SCHINDLER'S LIST DECIDED TO TAKE IT ON AS A PROJECT FOR A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE. REVIEWS HAVE BEEN POSITIVE. CRITIC MICHAEL MEDVED CALLED IT "SKILLFULLY CRAFTED, HEART FELT AND ALTOGETHER REFRESHING." LARRY KING CALLED IT A BEAUTIFUL STORY OF LOVE AND TOLERANCE. BUT NO ONE IS MORE PROUD OF THE MOVIE THAN JOHN GROBERG'S PARENTS WHO STILL LIVE IN IDAHO FALLS. Delbert Grobert\Father: "Mama and I were remembering it as our son, a young boy going on a mission, writing a book, having it filmed, that was a special thing." "It's a wonderful thing to share this glorious experience with others."
An Austin retail real estate developer has put his money into a different kind of development -- film.
Mark Palmer, president of SMP Interests Inc. and a developer in partnerships that brought Austin the Arboretum Market, Gateway Cinema, Gateway Market and Sunset Valley Village, is one of a handful of investors behind a $7 million movie opening Feb. 1 at Regal Arbor 7, 10000 Research Blvd.
"The Other Side of Heaven" is based on the life of Idaho farmer John Groberg -- played by Christopher Gorham of "A Life Less Ordinary" -- while he was on missionary service to the island kingdom of Tonga in the 1950s for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Anne Hathaway -- "Princess Diaries" -- plays the girlfriend back home who receives Groberg's letters.
The film already has opened in Utah and Idaho, where it earned $2 million in the first month. The Texas opening will serve as a market test to determine how the film is released to the rest of the country.
Palmer won't disclose specifics of his financial involvement, but Jeff Simpson, president of the film's distributor, Excel Entertainment Group, says Palmer is one of a handful of investors who joined the project early.
"We think the Austin audience is unique," Simpson says. "While it has some metropolitan sensibilities, its feet seem rooted firmly and we think that broadness is going to be an interesting test for it."
Palmer says even before director/screenwriter Mitch Davis told him about the project, he had already read and loved John Groberg's memoirs, The Eye of the Storm, on which the movie is based. Palmer liked Davis' plan to shoot the $7 million project in Palmer's homeland of New Zealand, where U.S. dollars carry more than twice the buying power they do here.
Palmer invested in the film even before casting began, based on the strong team Davis had put together. Key players include producers Gerald Molen, who was a producer on "Schindler's List," "Jurassic Park," "Hook" and "Minority Report"; and John Garbett, who was Los Angeles-based producer of "Shrek."
Palmer says he liked the idea of an uplifting, family-friendly movie as well as its profit potential.
"It's kind of like doing a shopping center without seeing any buildings or tenants in place," Palmer says. "The proof will be in the ultimate financial return, but to the extent that this group wants to keep turning out this caliber of movie, I'd certainly want to continue to invest"...
[ARTICLE CONTINUES, ABOUT OTHER, UNRELATED AUSTIN-AREA BUSINESS DEVELOPMENTS.]
Developer Mark Palmer's latest venture has more to do with lights and cameras than bricks and mortar. Today, "The Other Side of Heaven" will open on movie screens around Austin, thanks in part to his investment. The feel-good family film, which cost $7 million to make, centers on John Groberg, an Idaho farm boy who served as a Mormon missionary in Tonga. Palmer can relate. A member of the Mormon faith, Palmer is a native of New Zealand whose family knew Groberg while living in Fiji. Palmer's 19-year-old son, Nathan, is serving as a missionary in the South Pacific. "This is clearly a first for me," said Palmer, whose Austin shopping centers include Gateway, Arboretum Market and Sunset Valley Village. "It remains to be seen if it works out as well as a shopping center."
About a week ago I saw the latest entry into the Mormon film genre, The Other Side of Heaven.
I was anticipating a glorified LDS seminary video: a big-screen schmaltzfest guaranteed to yank on the heartstrings. Not really milk, not really meat; more like meat-flavored milk with a saccharine aftertaste. This was one movie that I was not looking forward to swallowing.
Surprisingly, The Other Side of Heaven, directed by Mitch Davis, was a very palatable experience. Is the movie great? No. But, to the film's credit, it did not live up to my expectations. It was nice and (not too) sweet. It truly was the cinematic equivalent to a warm fuzzy (that's a compliment).
Heaven was a complete 180 degrees from the two initial Mormon films, God's Army and Brigham City, both directed by Richard Dutcher.
Dutcher's films are like milk-flavored meat-if you bite off too much, you might choke. Granted, they fill you up, but by the end you're exhausted from so much chewing.
But I admire Dutcher's willingness to take risks with his movies -- he knows not everyone within the Church likes his films, but he did start modern Mormon Cinema almost single-handedly. (His next project, a biography of Joseph Smith, is certain to cause controversy here in the Beehive state.)
Neither Dutcher nor Davis have yet to make a great film within the LDS cinema niche. And it might be a while until we really see truly memorable films worthy to be called classics.
So now you're probably wondering why I want you to see these movies if they're not that great to begin with.
The answer is this: if we want great Mormon films in the future, we have to support the ones we have now.
Even if that means going to the upcoming The Singles Ward, which, from what I've read, appears to be the biggest inside joke ever made -- unless you live in Utah or selected parts of Idaho, you won't get it. Hopefully, for those of us who do get it, we'll be laughing.
Going to a movie out of obligation might sound a bit silly, but if there is a people who do things out of obligation, it's us Mormons. And going to a movie -- even an okay LDS one -- is a lot more enjoyable than sitting through another meeting on a Sunday afternoon.
[Reviewer's score: 3 "Moronis" (out of 4), for "Morality and Enlightenment"; plus 1 star] (age 8+)
Definitely worth your time, The Other Side of Heaven is full of enlightenment, excitement and fun. The film is about an LDS Missionary who severed in Tonga during the 1950's. I loved this film. Growing up with many Tongan friends of my own, I was able to relate and feel a strong connection in this film. There are obvious reasons why I was not able to give this film the 4th "Moroni", but do not let that stop you from seeing this masterpiece.
*** [3 out of 5 stars]
Starring Christopher Gorham, Anne Hathaway, Joe Folau, Miriama Smith, Nathaniel Lees. Directed by Mitch Davis. Written by Mitch Davis. Produced by Gerald R. Molen and John Garbett. An Excel release. Drama. Rated PG for thematic elements and brief disturbing images. Running time: 113 min.
Recent years have seen a dramatic increase in the number of independently-made and -distributed movies dealing with religious subjects, most of them niche-marketed to their core audiences with only cursory effort at finding interest among more mainstream filmgoers. Efforts to target a crossover audience for "The Other Side of Heaven," however, look promising thanks to the uplifting fact-based story and the exotic appeal of the South Pacific locations.
Produced by Oscar winner Gerald R. Molen ("Schindler's List," "Jurassic Park," "Rain Man") and former Disney executive John Garbett, "The Other Side of Heaven" is based on the memoirs of John H. Groberg, a high-ranking leader in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints who spent three years as a young man during the 1950s performing Mormon missionary service among remote Tongan islanders. Christopher Gorham of television's "Popular" stars as Groberg, a motivated but innocent Idaho farm boy who leaves his girlfriend Jean (Anne Hathaway of "The Princess Diaries") in the lurch with only vague promises that, upon his return several years later, they'll be able to pick up where they left off. After several months of hop-scotching from ship to ship across the Pacific, Groberg finally arrives at his assignment: a small Tongan island where believers are few and the clumsy ways of white westerners widely ridiculed. Fortunately, Groberg is assigned a native for a companion, a strapping youth named Feki (Joe Folau), who helps Groberg overcome linguistic and cultural barriers to eventually begin finding his place with the people.
Most of the film, from this point forward, is episodic in nature--Groberg and Feki struggling to spread the message of their faith while dealing with hostility from a rival minister, illness and injury, the wrath of nature and romantic insecurity on the part of Jean who, through her letters, begins having doubts about "picking up where they left off." One feels, at times, the veneer of an old-fashioned '60s melodrama in the proceedings with more than a few passing similarities to James Michner's "Hawaii" thrown in for good measure. Such qualities will invariably endear the movie to some and alienate others, depending on their disposition to such affectations. In the end, though, it's all in the interest of an undeniably uplifting story, made all the more inspirational by the fact that it's true.
Though made with limited resources and relatively little money for a film of this scale, "The Other Side of Heaven" has a big-film feel to it, thanks to the work of first-time writer/director Mitch Davis and cinematographer Brian Breheny, whose lensing of the New Zealand and Cook Island locations captures both the beauty of the land and the people. Highest praise as well for the outstanding supporting cast of relative unknowns, most of whom were culled from New Zealand, Tonga and Samoa.
Whether or not it's all enough to assuage the apprehensions of filmgoers who normally shy from faith-based material remains to be seen--such barriers have traditionally been formidable, though not entirely insurmountable. And if it comes down to details making a difference, "The Other Side of Heaven" can claim a decided edge.
User Reviews of the Movie
THE OTHER SIDE OF HEAVEN
**** 1/2 Go See This Instead of Anything Besides Lord of the Rings
There are so many movies that have come out in the last several years with plots that revolve around sex, and, um, more sex. It amazes me that we are so incapable of controlling our hormones that we think a movie has to contain smut for it to be entertaining. There are very few exceptions to this standard, and I'm beginning to think that even Disney movies will soon have bedroom scenes. Thankfully, there are a few movies, like Lord of the Rings, who actually have themes of Good vs. Evil and don't show any good guys sleeping with heroins on their first encounter. The Other Side of Heaven is refreshingly lacking the Hollywood sexual crap and still manages to be entertaining and inspiring. Go see it and see if you can combat your addiction to sensuality.
***** Hoorah for Israel!
Reviewer: Anonymous from Pasadena, Texas
Need a quick course in how to gain humility? This movie made me feel good and puts perspective into what real service to humanity and the Lord is all about. It's decent, funny, sad and true and I loved it!
This film is great, I have seen it three times and I love it! It is the kind of movie you walk away from feeling like you can be better. I'm tired of movies that don't do anything for me, and this film certainly shows me that there are still movies out there that are uplifting!
OK, it's now official: I need to get a life; one that includes more than just movies.
Seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, I'm almost completely consumed with watching, writing about and reading about film. (For example, one of the first things I do every day is scour the Internet for stories and rumors about new films.)
Weirder still is my obsession with collecting movie "scrambles," concatenations of movie titles -- movies with similar titles or shared or similar words in their titles jumbled together for an imagined result.
For example, try to envision "Orange County of Monte Cristo," a combination of the slacker comedy "Orange County" and "Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo." Of course, given how many anachronistic touches and characters there are in the latter film, a period swashbuckler, the end result might not be that hard to imagine.
Here are some more:
Elder John H. Groberg, of the First Quorum of the Seventy, encouraged students to be clean in their thoughts by serving others at the Prospective Missionary Fireside on March 5.
Elder Groberg is the author of "In the Eye of the Storm," a book recounting his years of missionary service in Tonga and which provoked the newly released movie, "The Other Side of Heaven."
Elder Groberg used clips from the movie to help demonstrate being an example, serving others and enduring to the end.
Elder Groberg stressed that missionaries, both full-time and member, need to be an influence for good.
"You can be an influence for good, only as you are good yourself," Elder Groberg said.
He said the best way students could continue to be good would be by helping others.
The greatest benefit of service is that as missionaries or students serve, they can eliminate worldly thoughts, Elder Groberg said.
Elder Groberg suggested that missionaries "focus on things which last forever," such as love, service and teaching others the truth.
"Don't focus a lot of your attention on things that come and go," he said.
Things such as sports stars, trends in clothing and rock groups should be focused on in moderation - they can be good, but they need to be kept in place, said Elder Groberg.
Elder Groberg said that this concept is simple - all a person needs to do is think: "Will this last forever?"
He went on to say the answer to that question should help missionaries determine what they should spend their time concentrating on.
Elder Groberg also noted that new missionaries have a tendency to get caught up in the excitement of receiving their call, buying new suits and getting ready. But what they are not usually prepared for is the monotony of the schedules they will be experiencing everyday.
"Not all missionary work is exciting," Elder Groberg said. "But it's valuable."
If missionaries can fill the time when the work is slow with prayer and service, they can turn those dull times into learning experiences, he said.
Elder Groberg also reminded all prospective missionaries that it is not the number of people each missionary baptizes that matters. It is how hard they tried.
"The effort is the important thing," he said.
In closing, Elder Groberg encouraged students to remember to lose themselves in service on their missions, not for fame or recognition, but "because you not only want to know and do - you want to be."
"The Other Side of Heaven," the true story of Elder John H. Groberg's (of the First Quorum of Seventy) triumphs and trials as a full-time missionary in the Kingdom of Tonga is set to open in select theatres in Utah, Idaho, Arizona, and California on December 14, 2001. The film is written and directed by Mitch Davis, former bishop, and member of the Castlewood Canyon Ward of the Parker Stake.
The film is produced by Jerry Molen, also a member of the Church, and Academy Award winner for Schindler's List.
Between the producers (all members) and Brother Davis, the world has been touched with Schindler's List, Jurassic Park, Dead Poets' Society, Shrek, and many others wonderful stories.
The release will mark the first ever big-budget, LDS film targeted at mass audiences.