Monday, August 19, 2013

A Discussion on the New LDS Temple Movie

This summer Latter-day Saints are abuzz about the must-see event of the season, a film that some have described as "life changing" and "a treasured experience": the Temple Endowment. Yes, the acclaimed production that began as a one man show in an Illinois upper room, later adapted into into several wildly popular feature-length productions run daily in hundreds of LDS temples, has become the latest blockbuster to be rebooted for a contemporary audience. Today Brett and I decided to share our thoughts about it and what it means for us and the church. Obviously, given the secretive and for many highly sacred nature of the temple we've agreed to avoid spoilers. So let's dive right in: Brett, the Temple movie has been out for a couple of week nows. What are your overall impressions of it?

Brett: Normally, I'm pretty wary of reboots.  Sure, you get the occasional one that improves upon the original (I speak of course of Dredd), but more often than not you get a lackluster, computer-effects-heavy attempt at making something everyone's seen seem "new" again (see: the CGI-laden 2005 reboot of Pride and Prejudice).  However, I'm pleased to announce that that was not the case with this new production!

One day historians will note that we were the first to discuss the temple and Dredd in the same post.

Casey: Still, I wonder if LDS audiences will embrace the new temple movie as they did previous ones. After all, its aesthetic is noticeably different: more realistic, grounded, and--here it comes--gritty. Part of the charm of the old movies was the undercurrent of camp, both in the stiff acting and the low budget set and costume design. I'm worried that the new film will fail to capture the same kind of interest and audience participation. I mean, are entire wards going to devote one night a month to this? I think that once the novelty wears off, that remains to be seen.

Brett: I will admit, it definitely caters to a less broad demographic.  While the old movies are certainly charming in their way, the new one is bold, fresh, and in-your-face.  If the old movies were the Osmonds, the new one is something edgy and relevant, like, I don't know, Korn or something.  That may turn some people off, but true art is demanding.

Casey: That edginess no more true than in the new depiction of Satan. Here's where we start getting into the areas where the reboot departs from tradition. I felt the transition to a less embodied Lord of Darkness was a bit jarring at first, especially given his very physical presence in the old movies and even the new one's prologue. Call me a fanboy, but a distant and less involved Evil One tends to rob the narrative of its immediacy. I mean, sure, we're told how evil he is but I seldom felt it.

Brett: I think I agree with you on this point. I mean, at first I was on board with Eve and Adam's whispered nighttime discussions about the evil rising in the East, but then he just remains a whisper. It's a bold artistic choice, but it really falls flat.

Early rumors of Ron Pearlman reprising the role proved unfounded

Casey: Overall, though, I loved the extended scope of the movie. It really fleshed out the supporting characters with some great subplots compared to the old ones. I loved watching Peter develop from a reluctant loner into a true leader, and seeing James and John go from suspicious rivals to close friends was both hilarious and touching. Speaking of James--total lady killer, amirite?

Brett: Oh, totally. One of my favorite parts is when James smiles ever so slightly and all of Adam and Eve's daughters sigh in the background. Subtle, but hilarious. The use of banter--entirely missing in the originals, by the way--really helps immerse me in the film's world.

Casey: I was engrossed. A minute ago we talked about the absence of Satan. On the flip side, what do you make of the Jehovah character? Unlike Satan he's ever-present, including an interesting retelling of the death and resurrection story that will doubtless catch viewers by surprise.

Brett: I loved Jehovah, but it was completely thanks to the actor. In anyone else's hands, the overwrought dialogue or strange interjections would have come off as, at best, wooden, and at worst, kind of unsettling. As for the resurrection story, I don't want to give too much away, but I will say that anyone versed in Zoroastrian tradition is going to be very pleased when they see it.

Casey: Thou shalt not pass! I won't say anything else. One more potential issue: the film's length. The old temple film clocked in around maybe an hour. Are audiences ready for something approximately nine times longer?

We promised!

Brett: It sounds like such a big time commitment, but it's actually broken into three smaller pieces; and when you realize how much is really in there, how much hasn't ever been put to the screen before, I think people will forget how long it is and will actually wish it was longer. Personally, I would love seeing some sort of extended edition.

Casey: Maybe in the long-rumored home Blu Ray release? Some are also talking about a prequel film already, although I'd be surprised if that gains much traction.

Brett: Only If you like songs about roads and traveling through distant lands.

Casey: Which actually I kind of do... Anyway, we're out of time and so much more we haven't covered about the new temple movie, from the epic score to the surprisingly graphic battle scenes. It really is a potential masterpiece, even if it's not your grandmother's temple video (ask her one day what it was like before the first "talkie" version was released!) Go see it for yourself and let us know what you think.