Friday, January 11, 2008

The Not-So-Cranky Reviewer Reviews a Film

So I don't normally write movie reviews. This is primarily because I'm not a true student of the genre. I do not know all the ins and outs of filmmaking, nor do I really care to. I much prefer to be a consumer, and any review I write needs to begin with that caveat.

That said, we just watched the latest LDS film to hit the big screen: "Passage to Zarahemla." It was, in fact, a free preview offered up by the writer and director of the film, Chris Heimerdinger. Chris himself hosted the event this evening, and he presented himself as a fairly affable guy. We'd gotten there quite early since we can't ever accurately predict traffic in this town, so we had a chance to chat with him informally while we waited for more guests to show up. I've enjoyed Chris's "Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites" series of novels, and after meeting the man in person I decided I wanted this film to do well.

So. The film.

"Passage" is a good yarn, if you enjoy any of Heimerdinger's books. He freely admits that the primary difference between this story and his "Tennis Shoes" series is that it relies on inter-dimensional travel between time periods, rather than a portal in a cave. Otherwise, he's on familiar ground here. The story revolves around a young teen who'd had what she thought was an imaginary friend as a child. In the story she finds that not only is he real, but his existence may hold the key to the disappearance of her father several years before.

The back story is built around the conflict between the Nephites of Zarahemla as they defended themselves from the Gadianton bands in the years encompassing the mortal life of the Savior. In fact, the inter-dimensional "rift" brings ancient Zarahemla and modern-day Utah into dangerous proximity.

There are plenty of scary Gadiantons, Los Angeles gangstas, and youngsters running away from it all to keep the drama of the story in the forefront. The role of Kerra is played admirably by newcomer Summer Naomi. She holds the threads of the plot together in a way that keeps it from going over the top. Going over the top is something this film wants to do — frequently — but always manages to bring itself back down to a more believable level.

Heimerdinger tosses in plenty of chuckles and Mormon insider references and jokes along the way. I'd once read criticism levelled at LDS filmmakers for doing precisely that; instilling their movies with references that only Mormon audiences would appreciate, thus alienating potentially larger films. My response to that criticism (I haven't actually heard it in reference to this particular film, but it was used against "God's Army" and "Brigham City." A lot.) is that Mormon audiences need more entertainment that target their own life experiences. Heimerdinger himself stated — correctly, I believe — that Southern California LDS audiences in particular haven't had an LDS film play here since Work and the Glory 3. He also stated that, over the years, the "shine is off the apple" in LDS cinema, and the quality of films of the past few years has been declining. I find this observation to be mostly true. From my perspective as an admittedly older LDS consumer, too many recent LDS offerings have had a nearly moronic "MTV" flavor to them. Just not my cup of, well, Postum I guess.

Chris's tale appeals to the adventurer in me. This is why I enjoy being a consumer rather than a critic. I lost myself in "Passage" this evening, and was happy to do so. I've been equally happy to lose myself in the "Tennis Shoes" tales over the past few years. Mrs. Woody and I love to listen to them on CD in the car on long trips. Unfortunately, we haven't taken that many long trips since Mrs. Woody's illness last summer. We were just remarking that we'll need to listen to them at night after the kids go to bed. They're still stuck on volume 1.

If you like a decent adventure yarn, go see "Passage." Keep an eye on the younger kids (my younger Woodyette had her face buried for, she estimates, "50%" of the film), but by all means take the family. We're already looking forward to getting the DVD when it comes out, perhaps as early as May.

One side note: Since this was a preview and Chris was on hand, my 'tweenie daughter really, really wanted to get his autograph. He was, of course, more than happy to oblige. We also bought a copy of the CD that has songs from the film (not really a "soundtrack," says Chris, but he wrote 9 songs and performs on most of them for the film), and he was happy to autograph that as well. Also appearing at the preview tonight was one Alex Petrovich, who played one of the heavies in the film. He was accompanied by his fetching young girlfriend who wanted a photo of my 'tweenie asking Alex for his autograph. So she actually got two autographs that way, and shared one with her younger sister. What a kid.

"Passage" runs for 105 minutes, but I felt they were minutes well spent with my loved ones tonight.

For what it's worth.

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