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Book of Mormon Movie, The
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by EricDSnider

"At last, Mormons have a bad movie version of their scriptures."
2 stars

Whether or not you believe The Book of Mormon is true -- and I should say up front that I do -- many of its stories are prime movie material, full of drama, excitement and inspiration. I suspect one day a good film will emerge that makes use of the book's events and characters.

"The Book of Mormon Movie," now playing at select theaters across the West, is not that film. Produced, written and directed by Gary Rogers, who has no prior film experience, it is obviously the work of someone, well, with no prior film experience. Its screenplay (for which Craig Clyde is co-credited) merely recreates all the events of the first 66 pages of The Book of Mormon without any regard for plotting, storytelling or character development. There is no climax, no clear narrative path. The acting is uniformly bland, as if the actors are merely reciting scripture (which they often are), rather than portraying living, breathing people. The movie is the very definition of "perfunctory," seemingly made just for the sake of making it. It is about as imaginative as if a committee of dull, suit-wearing middle-aged men got together and tried to stage a ballet.

That Rogers made it with the pure goal of bringing a beloved work of scripture to life, I do not question. But the finished product is pedestrian and mishandled. It is a classic case of a filmmaker's love for his material being much stronger than his talent for filming it.

For those unfamiliar with the text, here's the Cliff's Notes version of what the film covers (which is the books of 1 Nephi and 2 Nephi; Rogers plans another six films to tell the rest). Set in approximately 600 B.C. in Jerusalem, the story is of a prophet named Lehi (Bryce Chamberlain) who is warned by the Lord to take his family and head for the hills, lest they be a) killed by angry townspeople who don't cotton to Lehi's denouncement of them as "wicked," or b) caught up in the impending destruction by outside forces. (This destruction will come because of the aforementioned wickedness, by the way.)

So Lehi takes off with his wife Sariah (Jan Broberg Felt), his daughters, his good sons Nephi (Noah Danby) and Sam (Kirby Heybourne), and bad sons Laman (Mark Gollaher) and Lemuel (Cragun Foulger). The boys get sent back to Jerusalem twice, first to obtain important religious records from the evil, drunken Laban (Michael Flynn), then to fetch Lehi's buddy Ishmael (Ron Frederickson) and his family, especially his daughters, since wives are needed. Then they build a boat and sail to the New World.

The trouble is that what makes for a good religious document doesn't necessarily work as a film. For one thing, you need an interesting, dynamic protagonist, and Nephi is not one. He has no apparent character flaws, even slight ones, and he doesn't change, learn or grow over the course of the film. Since the record is mum on the subject of Nephi's rough edges, some fictionalization would have been needed to make him work as a movie character. I'm not saying make him a bad guy; I'm saying make him a human being. At the very least, give him an important lesson to learn. The movie version of Nephi is exactly the same at the end as he was at the beginning. And that's boring.

At the other end of the spectrum, there's Laman, Nephi's constantly backsliding brother. Readers of the text have noted that Laman is capable of seeing an angel on one page, and complaining again on the next. (It is also true, though I had not noticed it until seeing it enacted on the silver screen, that Laman's solution to everything is to tie Nephi up.) When the story is told in broad, general strokes, it seems unlikely that a real person would behave that way; obviously there are details omitted for the sake of brevity that would have explained Laman's personality and motivations. A movie is a golden opportunity to explore that -- not to make him the central character, or course, but at least to make him believable as a villain. But in Rogers' movie, Laman is as uneven and inscrutable as he is in the text. That's OK in the book, because you're not reading the scriptures to see three-dimensional characters. It's not OK in a movie.

There is no "story" in these 66 pages, at least not the kind of story that has exposition, rising action, climax and resolution. There is, rather, a series of episodes, any of which could conceivably be fleshed-out, given the just-mentioned elements of story, and turned into films. But instead, Rogers has merely propped The Book of Mormon on an easel and filmed every page, whether it's useful in telling the story of these people or not.

One of the most dramatic events is when Nephi is compelled by the Lord to kill Laban. In the text, Laban has passed out drunk and Nephi must switch clothes with him, fool a guard, and make off with the brass plates. In the film, Nephi puts Laban's clothes on -- notably a large, gaudy breastplate -- as soon as Laban is unconscious. He's not an imminent threat; why does Nephi have to kill him? Reading the scripture, I have no problem with the notion that sometimes God may command a prophet to act contrary to orthodoxy. Seeing it portrayed in the film, though, it reminds me of the insane religious zealots who do heinous things because "God told them to." It's uncomfortable.

There's more discomfort later, when Nephi uses the power of God to shock his rebellious brothers. Again, in the text, it makes sense. On the screen, it seems weird, with Nephi prefacing the punishment with a "this is going to hurt, but it's for your own good" kind of speech.

The film's dialogue is an awkward mix of King James-style scripture-talk -- often direct quotes from The Book of Mormon -- and modern language. People say "thee" and "thou" sometimes, and "I know not" instead of "I don't know," but they also say things like "Let's go" and "You're always spoiling our fun!"

(I don't know how the dialogue could have worked, frankly. Writing it all in scripture style would prevent the characters from seeming like real people, and writing it in more modern language would make them seem absurd. So this was going to be an uphill battle from the beginning.)

Sean P. Means, my friend and colleague at the Salt Lake Tribune, laid down the law in his review of "The Singles Ward." He wrote: "It's tempting to go easy on 'The Singles Ward,' since it's a local production. But when you must pay the same $7 that gets you into 'A Beautiful Mind' or 'The Lord of the Rings,' amateur hour is over."

He is exactly right. "The Book of Mormon Movie" may have honest, even noble, intentions. Its budget was comparatively low, its director/writer inexperienced, its source material difficult to transfer to the cinema without upsetting fans who would prefer that not a word be changed. (You thought Harry Potter enthusiasts were insistent!) But that doesn't matter. They're charging the same money to see this as they are to see good movies. It must be held to the same standards, at least artistically.

Whether it is spiritually moving is another issue, and not one that can be examined in a film review. Such matters are extremely personal, after all. (Did it move me? Yes, briefly, during Nephi's visit with the angel who explained Lehi's Tree of Life dream.) I can say "The Book of Mormon Movie" is "good" in the sense that it is wholesome and highlights sound principles. I cannot say, however, that it is "good" in the sense of being well-acted, well-written or well-executed.

One final note. After seeing the film, I went to The Book of Mormon to verify some details, and to compare how the movie differed from its source material. In so doing, I got caught up and read a few pages of 1 Nephi, which I hadn't done in a while. If one of Rogers' goals is to inspire people to read The Book of Mormon, then I suppose he succeeded. As a religious tract, a literal reenactment of events portrayed in scripture, the film is OK. As a film, something you watch for entertainment, enlightenment or enjoyment, it is not. I hope my readers will understand the difference and see why, for all its good intentions, "The Book of Mormon Movie" is neither a marvelous work nor a wonder.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=8158&reviewer=247
originally posted: 09/12/03 18:39:57
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User Comments

5/03/06 Miguel316 Good Actors,Good Scenes, Bad Costumes 4 stars
7/20/05 Daniel It's a good beggining taking in consideration the experience of the director It's all right 4 stars
11/02/04 Billy Green A disgrace to the Book of Mormon 1 stars
7/21/04 Chris Brannen Excellent Movie! Can't wait for the next one. 5 stars
6/02/04 Tommy Southiv I can't act, direct, or make movies but I think I could have done a better job. It's that b 2 stars
4/09/04 Mike Craig Clyde is a **** 5 stars
3/31/04 David Deem Laman the only bright spot. Bad writing, bad cinematography, bad costumes, etc. etc. 2 stars
3/02/04 LeDawn Sacred scripture becomes "amature hour" 2 stars
2/23/04 Steve Marquis The costumes were so distracting. The drapes they wore even had factory creases. 1 stars
2/21/04 Gregor Cunningham The Best 5 stars
2/19/04 aloha joan Fairly done, but the costumes were outright hilarious.. Paisley prints? Give me a break! 3 stars
2/18/04 simone exactly as ridiculous as i had hoped 1 stars
2/17/04 Suzie I think it is a very good movie. its not only educational for mormons but also for others. 4 stars
2/07/04 Garon Galloway Horrible 1 stars
1/30/04 Cheryl picked apart and pieces examined leaves much to be desired but, tells the story perfectly! 5 stars
1/21/04 DF LoserVille 1 stars
1/21/04 Andrew Smith This was the most vile, wretched, and inexcusable waste of celluloid that has ever... 1 stars
1/19/04 Sherie Seegmiller Authentic 3 stars
11/28/03 Amy Hey atleast someone tried to make an effort give the movie producer a little more credit 5 stars
11/10/03 Petina You must read the Book of Mormon and see the movie for yourself. It is not a easy job! 5 stars
11/07/03 Bruce Stevens Cool ! 5 stars
11/03/03 Jim Goff Excellant tutorial on how not to make a movie. 3 stars
11/03/03 noah danby this movie made me sick to my stomach. LOSERS! 1 stars
11/01/03 jay a piss poor road show is better than THIS movie 1 stars
10/30/03 Jay Brimhall The worst movie I have ever seen...and I am LDS!!! 1 stars
10/30/03 Rosie 'O Peil It made me pick up the text once again and read!!!!! 5 stars
10/29/03 Patricia Very good story interpretation ! Everybody has to see it ! 5 stars
10/29/03 Melvin P. I agree with the review. well meant, poorly done. Gets the word out. 3 stars
10/29/03 Elisa Marchetti The best movie i ever seen 5 stars
10/28/03 Mike O` Connor Beautiful story, movie, sountrack and acting. 5 stars
10/28/03 Kirsten M. I've read the book so I'll forgive the effort. They fell short of the mark. READ THE BOOK! 4 stars
10/26/03 Delores I. Olmstead We loved the movie. It was inspirational and true to the book. The acting was great. 5 stars
10/26/03 Amanda Perkins Definately worth seeing. I thought there was a great mix of spirituality and comic relief. 4 stars
10/26/03 Doug Payne I want to see it again! Waiting for the next ones! 5 stars
10/24/03 Steven Very good movie awaiting the next volume 5 stars
10/14/03 robert hales absolute joke of a movie. high school talent. a loser director 1 stars
10/07/03 Barb Loved it 4 stars
10/06/03 Bill Ennis I can't believe someone wanted to hear Polish in this film! 4 stars
9/29/03 gary rogers this movie blows hard. i cannot believe i directed it. 1 stars
9/26/03 rafael johnk quero assistir 5 stars
9/26/03 Gayle Castleton I know Gary Rogers. He did it for the money, no other reason. 1 stars
9/22/03 Carl Look past the material issues, and its a very moving, and moral film. Refreshing for once. 4 stars
9/21/03 Lisa Thought it was worth seeing 4 stars
9/21/03 Chuck E. Myers I loved it with all my heart and soul this is the most incredible spiritualmovie ever made! 5 stars
9/20/03 george gray Gullible Mormons will pay for anything, I suppose. This film is garbage. 1 stars
9/19/03 Fred Mann nice try 2 stars
9/17/03 Willow Davis It was really good! 5 stars
9/17/03 Jim Lacked the polish that I expected 3 stars
9/17/03 Scott Good Movie! 4 stars
9/17/03 Kaylen Miskin Laman was the strongest part. Nephi began weak, grew stronger. would like better flow. 4 stars
9/17/03 Ashley So bad it was funny 1 stars
9/16/03 Greg Schlosser This film was great! It was not fabricated and it accuratly told the story. 5 stars
9/16/03 Tim Snider is dead on 1 stars
9/16/03 Tino Saiki IT SUCKS DONT SEE IT! 1 stars
9/16/03 lycan time to stop being a mormon I guess 1 stars
9/15/03 Jaime Ruiz It missed on all counts. No vison at all! 1 stars
9/15/03 CWarner Eric Snider got it just about right . . . what a disappointment. 1 stars
9/14/03 Mike Christensen Amen to Brother Snider's review 2 stars
9/14/03 Griffin Spaulding Watching this is like getting bitch slapped. 1 stars
9/14/03 Josh Fennell Mormons can make even polygamy boring. 1 stars
9/13/03 Heidialyssa The worst thing is that, according to IMDB, this is listed as Volume 1. 1 stars
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  12-Sep-2003 (PG-13)



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