(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.