‘Book of Mormon Movie’ makes a wrong turn between Lehi and Nephi

The Book of Mormon Movie: Vol. 1 — The Journey
1-1/2 stars

• A low-budget epic that is more monotonous than momentous.
• Rated PG-13 for a scene of violence; 120 minutes.
• Opening today at area theaters.

The Book of Mormon Movie: Vol. 1 — The Journey” begins with a disclaimer (stressing that it is not endorsed or sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints), and so must I: I have no doubt that the people who made this movie are good, decent people who put their hearts and souls into the project.

That being said, the movie they made is a poor one — a plodding, repetitive, ham-fisted attempt to create a “Ten Commandments”-style epic without the resources or bravado required to pull it off.

Director-producer Gary Rogers depicts the first chapters of the Book of Mormon, from 1 Nephi through part of 2 Nephi. It begins with the prophecies of Lehi (Bryce Chamberlain), who urges his family to leave Jerusalem to start a new life in a promised land in the Americas. Lehi’s sons are split on the idea: Laman (Mark Gollaher) and Lemuel (Cragun Foulger) think Dad is nuts, but Nephi (Noah Danby) and Sam (Kirby Heyborne) stand up for their father.

From Nephi’s retrieval of the brass plates from the wicked Laban (Michael Flynn) through the boat trip to the New World, the movie falls into a recurring pattern: Laman and Lemuel whine, they try to kill Nephi, Nephi prays for divine intervention, God comes and smites his brothers, the brothers repent and vow to follow Nephi, Laman and Lemuel start grousing again, and the whole cycle starts over again — smite, lather, repeat.

The movie suffers from tonal and technical inconsistencies. The dialogue — the script is credited to veteran Utah filmmaker Craig Clyde — is half in scripture-speak (lots of “thou” and “sayeth” and “so it came to pass”) and half in modern colloquial English. The production is sometimes striking, as Rogers got lots of Hollywood crew members to work practically for free. But the strain of stretching a $1.5 million budget shows: Some costumes look as if they were made from bedsheets, and the storm that strikes Nephi’s ship looks like two guys tossing buckets of water just outside camera range.

Fortunately, the movie seldom drops to the unintentionally funny — though a ridiculously chaste depiction of Laman’s followers getting jiggy on the crossing nearly qualifies. (Memo to Rogers: Cecil B. deMille played up the sex appeal in “The Ten Commandments,” justifying it because the sexy characters went to hell. Why not follow suit? You’ve got a PG-13 rating anyway, for the scene where Nephi slays Laban — if you’re going to do the time, you may as well do the crime.)

Some of the performances are moving, notably Heyborne (“The R.M.”) as the good-hearted Sam. Danby, as the heroic Nephi, fulfills the beefcake quotient but is often flat and uninvolving. If eight more movies are coming to tell the tale of the Book of Mormon, as Rogers plans, there is plenty of room for improvement.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
The Salt Lake Tribune, USA
Sep. 12, 2003 Film Review
Sean P. Means

Religion News Blog posted this on Friday September 12, 2003.
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