Political Surf on how to make a Book of Mormon movie

(The following column runs in today’s Standard digital-only section Currents. If you are a subscriber, you can access Currents. It includes an original LDS-themed cartoon from Cal Grondahl)

You don’t hear much about “Book of Mormon Movie: Volume 1: The Journey,” Gary Rogers’ attempt to bring the Mormon Church’s chief scripture to the big screen in 2003. Talk of a sequel lingered on for years, but even that has faded away.

BOMM was — to put it kindly — greeted coldly by critics. It’s hard to find a positive review, even on fan sites such as the Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com) One fan reviewer, playing off a Mark Twain pun, calls BOMM “chloroform on film.”

It’s true, the film is dopey. There are a lot of “Mormon actors” in the film, including Jan Broberg-Felt, Jacque Gray and Kirby Heyborne. Although non-Mormon star Noah Danby is pretty good as Nephi, he can’t overcome weak dialogue, little depth of character, a hurried production, historical inaccuracies, poor special effects, mediocre acting, really bad aging procedures, supercilious narration, delusions of Cecil B. DeMille-ish grandeur, an episodic shooting script that allows little plot development … have I left anything out? Oh yes, it’s too long.

In fact, Latter-day Saints are the most harsh of the critics of BOMM. They seem to take it as a personal affront that a film version of Mormondom’s most famous scripture is barely above the level of a K. Gordon Murray Saturday-only Mexican children’s fantasy from the 1960s. Still, I bet there are thousands of LDS families who have a copy of BOMM gathering dust in the DVD rack. And many more Latter-day Saints went to see the film. It grossed over $1.6 million, a pretty high take for an LDS-genre movie. Perhaps if BOMM had cost $500,000 instead of $1.5 million, we might actually be seeing a “Book of Mormon Movie Part 2: Zarahemla.”

We Mormons are clannish people. We give our films a shot. And no matter how bad a “Home Teachers” or “BOMM” is, it makes an easy and low-maintenance family home evening activity. Also, BOMM, God bless it, is full of good intentions. Its pretentious, faith-affirming prologue brings a smile, as does the Snidely Whiplash antics of Laman and Lemuel, the aging actors whose faces stay smooth while their hair grays, and that modern dialogue — my favorite is a young Nephite who tells mom, “Oh mother, we’re going to a new world, you’re so old fashioned!” (I paraphrase I’m sure!

So what would it take to do an honest, interesting version of BOMM? Probably the best idea is not to try at all. The Book of Mormon is the 19th century’s Tristram Shandy. It’s hard to adapt. But if someone ever tries again, stick to Alma. It seems the easiest to adapt into an adventure film. But then take all the specific religious elements out of it, throw in some fantasy, a few wizards and elves.

By all means make sure the producer or director is not a Mormon. Add a passionate romance to the plot, a long journey, bad guys, a twisted tormented dwarf, helpless villagers, a bloody finale, perhaps a magic, malicious breastplate, and finally a joyous reunion of all the (good) principals.

Slap the title BOMM on it and — if a lawsuit from J.R.R. Tolkien’s estate is avoided — it may just gross $50 million and result in a couple of thousand referrals for missionaries.

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6 Responses to Political Surf on how to make a Book of Mormon movie

  1. Mark Shenefelt says:

    I’m no sage film critic, but I still laugh out loud when I think of the acting in that film. I watched it once, a year or so after it came out. The acting was beyond bad, even appalling to watch.

    For some reason, I was expecting a Ten Commandments-style epic, so it was jolting when it quickly became apparent the film would rank closer to Plan 9.

  2. Jake D. says:

    I like the campy Mormon cinema offerings like the RM. Bu the BOMM is honestly one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen.

    Why they chose to have the characters speak in their fake King James language I have no idea (of course they are just following the actual fake King James dialogue in the source text). The cartoons like the “Living Scriptures” at least could turn the poor dialogue and flat characters and story lines into something partially interesting.

    And of course many of the historical inaccuracies in the movie are just repetitions from the text.

  3. flatlander100 says:

    Most religious themed historic epics are pretty god-awful. So to speak. There was a Hollywood purportedly biopic on the girl who allegedly saw the Virgin at Lourdes [start of the shrine]. 1950s I think. It was pretty grim. And the acting [and script] in “The Ten Commandments” was on the whole as wooden as the cross itself. When FX and huge casts in FX scenes [Egyptian army soldiers playing fleeing Jews led by Moses through walls of water crossing the Red Sea, etc.] has to carry a movie… well, that says it all. “The Greatest Story Ever Told” wasn’t much to write home about either. “Ben Hur” wasn’t bad, but I’m hard put to think of a really good biblical epic, and “Ben Hur” wasn’t that, really.

    Your advice — “Probably the best idea is not to try at all. ” — is dead on.

  4. TV says:

    Ah, flatlander: you forget the acting in “Life of Brian”! Wait, that wasn’t acting, it was a true story.

  5. Leslie says:

    Yes, you left out bad costuming and horrible makeup! I think you can get away with using old 70′s draperies for tunics and barbershop clippings and grease pencils to make up the actors when you’re doing community theater–with the audience seated at least 30-50 feet away… But it was very painful to see it all extremely close up on the big screen! I kept thinking, “Isn’t there some sort of standard criteria all movies have to meet before they are actually allowed to be shown in a movie theater??? How did this one slip by the committee??? Didn’t the film maker have someone close to him (like a wife or good friend) who watched it and said, maybe you might want to fix this and this and this, etc.??? What were they thinking???” I do have to admit, though, we laughed almost all the way through it. But that is precisely why I never bought the thing and never will. I shan’t receive it as a Christmas gift from “friends” either! ;-)

  6. Sebron says:

    I would think and I hope, that the guy who made this movie went back to bagging grocieries at Walmart or whatever he was doing. I have a freind I see movies with on occasion (and lately he hasn’t been available much) who loves this movie. For the life of me I can’t figure out why. Yes as the very attractive young lady before stated (I think her name was Leslie) it was funny. But how could he (the director) have screwed this movie up so much. Someone had already written the story. I think he just doesn’t have any skills in directing movies and doesn’t know how to tell a story on the big screen, Hey, I don’t know how to fly planes so when I am on a flight I don’t push the pilot aside and tell him I will fly the plane. I let the professionals do their job. Well maybe this guy should allow the people who know what their doing make the movies and he should stay making donuts at Krispy Kreme or valet parking or whatever he did before. I do like my friend despite he disability with movie selections. :)

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