Wednesday, May 30, 2012

What happened to LDS cinema?

It's pretty well known that I'm a huge movie snob. The older and more obscure the film the better. What truly saddens me, besides the wreckage that is the Transformers franchise, is what happened to LDS cinema. There is no reason there shouldn't be an LDS section on Netflix peppered with Oscars, but what do we have? Ugh...
It started in the 70's with a bunch of weird BYU productions about trading women for cows and some guy's lament for some Christmas thing I had the unfortunate experience of seeing on my mission (Thank you Elder Gotchy). They can be kindly described as existential and unkindly described as Looney Tunes bananas. Besides them we got Saturday's Warrior, a musical with a budget about the same as an early episode of Touched By an Angel about a giant LDS family... doing... stuff... or something...
Now I'm not talking about films produced by the church, like the missionary tools over at Temple Square. Those are actually pretty decent, even though I still don't understand why, since the Book of Mormon is full of heroes, Testaments had to make a bunch up out of nowhere. The Joseph Smith one makes me cry though.
Anyway, nothing came out for a while until 2000 when we hit a little Renascence with the release of God's Army. Here we had a film that took an uncompromising look at missionary life, arguably without breaking any LDS standards (Argument can be made for the toilet scene). It's only flaw was that having most of the missionaries either end up dead or leaving the church didn't make it too conducive to Family Home Evening.
Disney enters the story at this point, with The Other Side of Heaven, an interesting true story about Elder Groberg's mission in the South Pacific. It's only problem is the fact that with most of the spirituality pulled through the Disney safety ringer, it ends up like trying to sell the story of Noah as an adventure on the high seas. Close but they missed the point. At least it gave families something to watch for FHE.
The real crux of the Renascence came with the release of The Best Two Years. It was a sunnier version of God's Army, lighter on the whole death and leaving the church stuff, but somehow kept the same authentic tone God's Army had going for it. Honest but safe, funny but emotional, and it even had some spiritual points, it could've been the sounding call to an incredible wave of LDS filmmakers to forge a place in the market with great work...
But then...
What came next was a disaster. Film after film came out in the following years, each more awful than the last. Stuff like Single's Ward and the RM made tired jokes on LDS culture, while piles of reinterpretations of classic literature, and even Beauty and the Beast of all things, all with an awkward LDS setting shoe horned in as badly as a chair through a TV flooded the shelves at Deseret Book. An even darker age then before had settled in.
People tell me that they're are good LDS films out there. I've heard encouraging things about 17 Miracles and A Good Man, but at this point I feel like a survivor of the zombie apocalypse. I hear rumors that Hill Air Force Base is still open, or that there's a stronghold in Heber, but I've seen too much carnage and have had my hopes dashed too many times to believe any of it now.
What's really sad is that, while we've been messing around with remaking Pride and Prejudice, those who are against the church have been busy collecting Golden Globes, Tony's and film festival awards for their contributions. As blasphemous as Big Love, Latter Days and The Book of Mormon musical are, at least they're cinematically well made! This is definitely not a sign of encouragement. In a time when the world has been looking pretty closely at us as a people, and we even have a member running for the White House, do we really want the only people telling our story be the guys who made South Park?
I know that good LDS movies can be made, I've seen it happen once upon a time. I know we have brilliant LDS entertainers with standards, like Russell Kendall and David Archuleta, so why can't we put together a decent film? You know what would look better than one of those tacky Moroni replicas on someone's mantle? An Oscar!


  1. The Best Two Years was probably the high point of LDS themed movies. Although the RM and Singles Ward were funny, they got old fast...really fast. I would still sit down and watch The Best Two Years or God's Army, even after seeing them multiple times.

    Oh, and the latest Joseph Smith movie (from the church) was awesome! Intense, spiritual, and moving. I forget what it's called off the top of my head.

    1. I think it's just called the Joseph Smith movie.

  2. The only truly "LDS" movie that you have mentioned that I fully enjoyed was The Best Two Years. A little cheesy in parts, but I like how one of the main character missionaries struggled with his motivation and testimony. Made it more real.

  3. If it's the one at Temple Square, I believe it's called "Joseph: Prophet of the Restoration." There was another LDS themed film that wasn't mentioned that I thought was pretty good. "Saints and Soldiers." It does get a little long in places, but I think worth a look.

    1. "Saints and Soldiers" is one of the rumors I've heard. I also know the little controversy it stirred trying not to get rated R due to a couple pints of blood. My thoughts are: If you're going to make a movie about a WWII combat medic you had BETTER have a lot of blood!

  4. The Best Two Years is the pinnacle of LDS films, in my not-so-humble opinion.

    And really, if I could afford it, I would gladly make LDS films. There are a lot of books out there that would make awesome films (some of them aren't even LDS based themes, just LDS authors and publishers).

    Oh if I had money/backing.

  5. Saints and Soldiers was a great piece of independent film. It was well acted and it looked like they had a bigger budget then the really did. It's a war movie, so it's a little violent, but I really liked it.

    The Best Two Years is probably my favorite though.

  6. I think that Saints and Soldiers is probably the best film of them all, but the Best Two Years has a better "replay" value. It's light-hearted enough that I wouldn't mind seeing it over and over, whereas Saints and Soldiers will leave me a sobbing mess on my couch.