Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

The Work and Glory Played in My Town of Appleton:
How Do Non-LDS Folks Respond?

I was surprised to see the LDS-related movie, The Work and the Glory, playing in my little Wisconsin town of Appleton, Wisconsin. We went on a Friday night where I ran into several other LDS families. It looked like a group of about 7 or 8 non-LDS people were there as well. Sparsely attended.

I was generally impressed with the movie. I thought the photography was outstanding and the acting was far beyond my expectations. For example, I found the father, torn by the pain of his family becoming Mormon, to be very believable. Joseph Smith struck me as just a little too self-assured and perhaps a tad too much like the Midwestern stereotype of a buff and cocky Californian twenty-something, but that's the way movies are done, I suppose. (Perhaps I'm revealing some biases here.) I also thought the First Vision account was handled very tastefully.

Overall, it was an outstanding film for an LDS audience or for investigators of the Church. But it is being distributed to general audiences. What about all the people who walk into the theatre not knowing that they are about to see a very pro-Mormon movie? I worried that non-LDS audiences might be caught off guard and surprised or even offended. The trailer for the movie, like the printed ads, provides no warning of explicit religious content, and no indication that this might be considered a pro-Mormon movie that suggests that Joseph Smith was a real prophet of God.

Perhaps there reaction may be a stronger version of my reaction to the Robin Williams movie, "What Dreams May Come," when the interesting treatment of the afterlife suddenly shifted and the whole movie became senseless when it began advocating the concept of reincarnation. Though I enjoyed it as a whole, the end of the movie seemed to become an ad for New Age Hollywood religion. Well, I should have seen it coming, and certainly couldn't expect Hollywood to do much less. But the shift from a somewhat "mainstream" religious concept - that of an afterlife with a paradise and a hell - to pure New Age themes of reincarnation bothered me. And it was truly senseless in the context of the movie - Robin Williams has just faced hell to rescue his wife so they could be together, and now they are going to risk losing their relationship by each being reborn and starting over? Silly.

The Work and the Glory was far from silly. It was well done and often powerful. But I felt there needed to be some kind of indication to non-LDS people that this was a Mormon-related movie. Perhaps something like, "If you liked The Godmakers, you'll hate this movie." Or may, "A movie about good people becoming Mormons that even some non-Mormons will enjoy."

9 comments:

Dave said...

Nice write-up, Jeff. It's the first reaction to the movie that made it sound like one I'd like to go see (or, more likely, rent and watch at home). I'm not really fond of the books (disclaimer: haven't read 'em) but movies can shift tone and message in creative ways.

Anonymous said...

I was reading a review of the move (I think on Yahoo Movies) and it got some very good reviews from non-members!! (I remember one of the reviewers said he let his girlfriend select a movie that evening, and she saw the poster for that and thought it looked good, though she had no idea it was an LDS movie. He said he didn't find it "preachy" at all.)

I think "neutral" non-members would probably like it, but those biased against the Mormons probably wouldn't like it at all.

Anonymous said...

I watched the movie last Tuesday and enjoyed it personally but I am a member. The theater was pretty much empty except my friends and I and one other older couple. As soon as Joseph Smith's name was mentioned, the couple got up and left. So yeah, I guess they should let the masses know what kind of movie it is. However, the close minded attitude that this couple had is kind of disturbing. They didnt even give it a chance! It's not like watching a LDS movie is going to convert you or offend you with perverse content or profane language...

Anonymous said...

to dave who doesn't like the work and the glory series of books but hasn't read them: i found them incredibly interesting, historically helpful, and emotionally involving. i thought the movie was pretty good, but could not come close to matching the books. it was because of the work and the glory novels that i started going back to church and gained a testimony of the prophet joseph smith and fell in love with church history. i was ordained an elder last sunday. i love these books, please don't bash them until you've at least read them =)

Corey said...

I am proud to say Scott Swofford (the producer of the movie) is my Bishop :-D

-Corey

Timotheus said...

I have seen virtually every mormon film that has played in L.A. and I personally thought the audience reaction to be good. Much better than say, "Singles Ward." The theatre was about half full. I think about half were members, if my mordar (I guess that is Mormon Radar) was correct. I also thought that the title of the movie and the poster gave adequate warnings to people who were going to be offended if religious content that was different from their own interpretation was presented. I expected as much from "What Dreams May Come," but found it pathetically silly in the end.

Anonymous said...

My wife and I have read the books (in fact twice!) and felt that they greatly increased our knowledge of Church history, especially the "flow" of it. The movie, we felt, was a fair representation of the book. It was enjoyable, inspiring and touching, all at the appropriate times. We can hardly wait for more.

Having read hundreds of novels and seeing movies made from some (ex. Exodus, Hawaii, Little Drummer Boy, The Bourne Supremacy, Hunt for Red October, etc., etc.), I've come to be skeptical of screenplays based on novels. It's impossible to recreate in a 2-3 hour movie the depth and breadth of character development found in a 500-1000 page novel. However, I feel that this movie did an excellent job. I was pleased to feel many of the same feelings in the movie as were presented in the book. I cared about the characters and shared their ups and downs.

IMO, if you liked the movie...you'll LOVE the book (indeed the entire series). One benefit of reading the book AFTER seeing the movie is that you then have faces to attach to the characters in your mind. Then reading the book becomes like a deeper, more meaningful movie as it plays in your imagination.

Anonymous said...

Just got home from the sequel. It too was well worth it! Much darker than the first as it had to deal with more persecution and the increased hostility between Joshua and his family. The hard part will be waiting the 6+ months for the third one (it was shot at the same time as the second).

Vince said...

The first one was good. I also have not read the books, but my wife did. The second one is also good-major cliffhanger at the very end. I wish more members would support these movies. there is a rumor that the third one might not be released at all in the theaters because the second one didn't make very much money. We'll have to wait and see.