I’m a big fan of the Book of Mormon so of course, I’m going to be interested in anything like this. It looks a little campy but trying to render scripture in film is probably an incredibly difficult challenge.
This makes me think of something Bill Watterson, the creator of my favorite comic Calvin and Hobbes, once said.
He was always really opposed to ever making a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon or movie and one reason had to do with the fact that everyone reads the characters with a voice they have created for them in their own minds.
Once you give the character an actual voice, it might ruin what people have created in their own imaginations. I always admired how committed he was to those little details. He left a TON of money on the table, just so I could enjoy the magic of the strip for what it was.
This insight helps me understand why a lot of movies that attempt to recreate scripture are so controversial and off-putting to so many. I think it is a very hard thing to do because people have these preconceived notions that make the scriptures very personal. It is powerful to think about how every person in every culture can have a unique experience with the text.
When scripture is put into film or art, it can force a certain view that may override the personal experience of many and with very mixed results.
When you have something like the Book of Mormon, we don’t even have a solid idea of where the events took place let alone their clothing, customs, villages, etc.
When you make something like this, you run the risk of polluting people’s minds with expectations that are factually incorrect. How old was Alma the Younger? He died just 18 years after his conversion and some personal research I’ve done suggests that hey may have been around 50 during his experience with the angel. His father dies at 82 just a few years after his conversion (about 1-9 years).
If he is depicted as a teenager in the film version, that solidifies just one pre-conceived notion. Since his age isn’t specifically mentioned, it gives us the freedom to view him at different ages which could lead to different implications.
I think the same kind of thing happened with all the church art depicting Joseph Smith translating and how almost none of them reflected what we know about the process. Thus many members had this idea in their minds created by this art that was shattered when the historical records conflicted with the artwork.
This should be obvious, but art is not history.
These scripture films are attempts to make the text “come alive” and maybe visualize them in new ways; I think that could be helpful. We just need to remember that whatever kind of art we experience, to focus on principles that are trying to be communicated and not take everything else so literally.
As a final note here, I thought the YouTube description of the movie was funny:
The Book of Mormon. Is it a musical? Is it history? Is it scripture? What is this book that teaches of Jesus Christ and brings hope and joy to so many people around the world?
This made me laugh, I love that the church still has a sense of humor about things like this and mentions the musical. Instead of pretending like it doesn’t exist, we roll with the humor of it and direct it back to what is good.
I think this is a healthy response and I’m glad to see stuff like this.