Coming Soon to a Screen Near You: The Book of Mormon

Not the big screen, just lots of small screens. From the LDS Newsroom: Filming Begins on New Book of Mormon Videos. It will not be a beginning-to-end depiction; the project will select certain episodes and events, producing “up to 180 video segments three to five minutes in length, as well as up to 60 more running 10–20 minutes each.” These will no doubt become a go-to resource for Primary teachers, Sunday School teachers, and seminary teachers.

Certainly some good things will result from this project: additional resources for teachers, details viewers might note in a video presentation that they do not notice reading the text, motivation for viewers to go back and read the actual text. Some bad things may come to pass as well. For example, LDS artists generally take some pious liberty with the text when creating visual depictions of scriptural events. Take the photo of the shoot which follows this paragraph, which seems to employ the modern-day LDS cultural notion that good guys are clean shaven and bad guys wear beards.

That’s one example of a more general problem with LDS curriculum in general as well as visual depictions: presentism, or the projection of current doctrines, norms, or practices into the past, whether that is historically accurate or not. Take this comment from the Newsroom article, offered by one Sister Aburto: “This project will help women today see themselves in these accounts in which women and men counsel and work together through trials and personal journeys of faith.” Well, the project might help LDS women today think that way, but there is precious little counseling between men and women in the text of the Book of Mormon because there are only three named women in the book: Sariah, Abish, and Isabel, who are denoted a wife, a slave, and a harlot, respectively.

The article gives a bit of detail on the production itself. “The first Book of Mormon videos are scheduled to be released in the fall of 2018. Portions of the project will be filmed in various locations in North America. The videos will cover elements of about 60 percent of the chapters in the Book of Mormon.” I imagine there will be some selection bias here, which is only natural. I doubt we will see a video depiction of Nephi decapitating the unconscious and helpless Laban or Shiz and Coriantumr whacking each other to death in a grisly sword battle.

At least this one’s not a musical.

20 comments for “Coming Soon to a Screen Near You: The Book of Mormon

  1. The story of Nephi cutting off Laban’s head is so well-known and celebrated as God-sanctioned, I’d be surprised if we didn’t see it. I wish we could get to a point where we could talk about the Book of Mormon violence (another example that comes to mind is Ammon’s cutting off the arms, no way they won’t do that story) as unacceptable by today’s standards the same way we do with biblical violence. But instead we celebrate it.

  2. Hopefully a lot more good will come of it than bad. It is a challenge to take on teaching the scriptures to a worldwide church, where, at least in the US, literacy is declining and scriptural literacy is evaporating. In our audio-visual culture more AV might be the solution.

    I am a little skeptical myself. I’ve always believed more reading is the solution. I also admit I have a personal distaste to many stereotypes embedded in the art of LDS cinema and culture. Glowing white angels, who are also always glowing white Caucasians, and every time God speaks the bass reverberation is amped up ten times. Bad people are painted bad, good people are physically “perfect,” etc. It is so cliche. And it does not conform to reality. God does not speak in bass, and very often the bad people are the clean shaven, clean spoken, testimony bearing hypocrites the scriptures always warn us about. Much of Mormon art is to me kitsch.

    Still, the Church is trying. And will continue to try. But it does so from a culture that has its values and prejudices.

  3. EmJen writes concerning the beheading of Laban:

    “I’d be surprised if we didn’t see it.”

    We did. Blood atonement.
    We do now. Take a tour of Mormons in prison for murder. (Ex-Mormons since we ex anyone who gets sent there).

    Not long ago was sweet little Jodi Arias who missed being the first woman executed in Arizona in modern times by one juror. She did quite the number on her ex-boyfriend. Fascinating, sleazy story.

  4. I can’t see them including violence in the production. I bet that’s a non-starter. But it does raise the question of how on earth you film Ammon’s story or Nephi’s getting the plates. While I suspect I view the violence differently than EmJen, both seem inherently difficult stories to script and direct.

  5. Yeah, if I had one worry, it would be to what extent they portray the stereotypical presentations of Nephites/Lamanites with the Nephites being portrayed as a weird combination of Vikings/Romans and the Lamanites as a mixture of Indians/Aztecs. I think they’ve gotten much better the past years. Even art at the visitor’s center in Temple Square now has Macuahuitls even if there are still a depressing number of Roman gladii in the art as well.

    I should ask my friend who has contacts in the film world about it all.

  6. On beards and evil: Well, in the PR piece I watched, Lehi had a beard. Also, if they film the Savior’s appearance in Bountiful, which I’m sure they will, I imagine he will also have a beard. So much for that theory.

    On Blair Treu as director: I thought he’d had it after the Meet the Mormons project and would never work for the Church again. Wonder what they offered him or what arm twisting they had to engage in to get him on board.

  7. Jonathan, I actually think a Terrance Malick approach ala The Thin Red Line would be interesting. Have some battle going only then decenter where you think the action actually is and have this little moments with Mormon and his young son Moroni which shows how pointless and beside the point the action is.

  8. Between 19 to 35 hours is a lot of material compared to past LDS productions of this sort. The recorded audio Book of Mormon was distributed on 23 CDs, so less than 27 hours. It seems someone is giving serious attention to the needs of illiterate people and others who like to watch video. Perhaps someday the Book of Mormon will be put out in blog post style, that all may receive it in their preferred communication format.

  9. Dave, in the photo in the OP there are two bearded men and two clean shaven men. Are you saying that the two beards in that photo are bad guys? How do you know that? I did a google image search on that photo and only got hits for the Mormon Newsroom and your post here at T&S, neither of them give any context to the photo. And, like Wally, I watched the newsroom video and saw Lehi with a very big beard as well as many other bearded and non-bearded unnamed characters in various scenes that showed no hint of the beards being bad guys or the non-beards being good.

  10. The photo is clearly of Nephi, Sam, Laman, and Lemuel somewhere in the “getting the plates” saga. Nephi is clearly the one out front, leading the way. I would guess Sam is the other beardless one. Laman and Lemuel are bearded either because bad guys always have beards or to indicate that they are older.

    BTW, “bad guys always have beards” is not the same as “bearded guys are always bad”. The second is clearly not true in Mormon media since Lehi and Jesus are always bearded. But do we have any example of bad guys who are not bearded? I think it’s pretty rare, and limited probably to depictions of the Lamanites who are said to shave their heads.

  11. Are you sure the bare-faced youth leading the way isn’t Alma up to no good and about to meet an angel?

  12. “do we have any example of bad guys who are not bearded?”

    The Geddy Lee lookalike in “Testaments”.

  13. If nothing else, this series may open the door for several unemployed body builders to begin a career in acting!

  14. While it is convenient for our mostly beardless culture, Nephi was the youngest of the 4 so portraying him with less facial hair makes sense.

    Helaman usually has a beard in our art. Abinidi too. Samuel doesn’t.

    So while I agree our largely beardless culture colors how we view things, on reflection it’s only your inherent counter-culturism that’s on display here.

    That pretty well sums up nearly every bloggernacle nontroversy, which is at least 30% of bcc and ts posts. Opposition in all things and inherently we all take the opposition some of the time because were just influenced to be contrarian rather than seeking for understanding and unity.

    It’s truly something to reflect on if we took Pres. Eyrings advice to speak well of others and find unity even after having different opinions.

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