Coming Soon to a Theater Near You

Joseph Smith, The Prophet of the Restoration debuts at the Legacy Theater (on the Temple Square corporate campus in Salt Lake City) on Saturday, December 17, according to this story in the Deseret News. There is also a long list of Visitors Centers that will be showing the new movie beginning on December 24.

The article notes that the film was “produced under the supervision of the First Presidency.” That’s interesting, as there is no official biography to use as a script, apart from the brief canonized account authored by Joseph Smith himself and appearing in the History of the Church and the Pearl of Great Price, two 19th-century documents. The movie, in a sense, becomes the 21st-century “official” depiction of the life of Joseph Smith. Welcome to the video age; we do movies, not texts. Movies have soundtracks, good for motivating spiritual emotions that should be associated with the Joseph Smith story. Conveniently, movies have no text that can be quoted or analyzed, just a string of images and depicted events. The dialogue is the closest thing to a text, but most of it will no doubt be fictional if plausible dialogue, words that would likely have been used by Joseph or other people during the events shown in the movie.

So come December 17 we will have a textless, official 60-minute movie version of the Joseph Smith story to complement the 561-page scholarly but unofficial textual account of the Joseph Smith story recently authored by Richard L. Bushman. It will be enlightening to compare the two accounts.


  1. Bob Caswell says:

    Hmm… Is there anything that sets this movie apart other than that it’s just the latest one? It seems like other mini-films depicting Joseph have been “produced under the supervision of the First Presidency.”

    Having said that, though, I wonder if this will discourage other LDS film makers from tackling the Joseph Smith story, since now we do have the 21st-century “official” and “inspired” version. Let’s hope not…

  2. We had stake conference this weekend and it occurred, however you spell it, to me that we of the bloggernacle, however you spell it, are skeptical sorts. Negative, even cynical.

    Because I was listening with an ear for how others here would perceive it. Would they criticize, find fault, find the holes in the argument? I had to set that aside and accept the counsel and spirit as they came to me that moment.

    Perhaps this video about Joseph Smith is worthwhile as it is, without criticism or comparison.

    I think we need to become more as little children here and try harder to walk that fine line between skepticism and apostacy.

  3. Bob Caswell says:


    I’m sure this movie about Joseph Smith will be fine, probably even better than fine. I, myself, am excited to see it. Anything new from the Church that’s more than a conference talk or an Ensign article always excites me in a unique way.

    And to clarify my last comment, I wasn’t really being cynical / skeptical when I put “official” and “inspired” in quotes. I have no doubt that this movie is probably both. I just hope it doesn’t somehow close the doors to anyone else wanting to make a movie about Joseph Smith, that’s all.

    And I’m sure the movie is worthwhile without comparison, similar to how the Book of Mormon is worthwhile without comparison to the Bible. But I get more when I view things from different angles (be it the Gospel or the life of Joseph Smith). Of course, I stick with angles that promote truth. I’m not promoting any sort of anti- literature.

  4. This is pretty interesting. At 60 minutes long, I expect the movie will be only a very superficial biography. I predict it will spend most of it’s time on the first vision up through the organization of the church. I’m interested to see how they segue into the martyrdom…I doubt they’ll mention the destruction of the printing press, for example.

  5. annegb, I don’t know how you get to skepticism and apostacy after reading my post unless you’re the kind of person who sees Satan lurking behind every tree. The question I’m posing is: How does a video depiction of the life of Joseph compare to a textual description of the life of Joseph? Certainly if the First Presidency issued a 20-page textual narrative of the life of Joseph, it would receive careful study and be accorded pseudo-canonical status, much like the Proclamation. So what is the status of a video depiction? It is an entirely legitimate question.

    That might not be a conversation you want to be part of, fine. But don’t drop in on my thread and start muttering about criticism, skepticism, and apostacy. If that’s all you see at this site, I would politely invite you to go somewhere else where you find the conversation more uplifting and enlightening.

  6. I’m sure the contrast between the movie version and Bushman’s version will be stark–but hey, they are likely produced to accomplish different things I think. Personally, I was hoping to see Dutcher’s version of Joseph Smith. I hope he still makes it sometime in the future. I think Val Kilmer would make a killer Joseph. Someone somewhere, I think on T & S, threw out a line about “I’ll be your Huckleberry” in reference to Gov. Boggs. Truth be told, I think I’d be more entertained by Dutcher than the “official version” But, I’d still like to see it.

    I think there is some truth in your point about the movie becoming an “official 21st Century depiction” of the Prophet’s life. Personally, I’d probably take it less seriously than that. It is after all just a movie, regarless of under whose direction it was made. For some reason I take the video productions as less “canonical” than say the Proclamation–but that’s just me.

  7. You scooped me Dave. Serves me right for sitting on half written posts. The Director of the film is T.C. Christenses. He has done some local Mormon themed work as well as having been the director of photography for some pretty large documentaries, including the recent Lewis and Clark documentary. He also worked in the same capacity on the recent PBS docementaries written by Heidi Swinton. Co-director and screne writter Gary Cook was the producer for the Book of Mormon Movie. Some of the actors are from the local scene (e.g., Brigham City).

    It looks as if the Church is happy to outsource this. Maybe they will start outsourcing otherthings? like, the bloggernacle will get to take a crack at the Sunday School manuals!

  8. Dave, I was going to make a comment but realized that would mean dropping in on YOUR thread. I’m sure Annegb has learned her lesson as did I.

  9. Bloggernakkle Sunday School Lessons for OT 2006:

    1) Garden of Eden: Fact or Fiction, MO or No?
    2) Fall of Man: Eve did it, and she meant to!
    3) Cain: Framed? Still walking the earth? Steinbeck full of it, or what?
    4) Abraham: Whats with the all the lying?
    5) Sodom: Their real sin wasnt sodomy!
    6) Dinah victimized, twice!
    7) Exodus: Pharaoh Sucketh Mightily

    15) Judges: WTF!?!

    20) Ruth: Finally, a woman!
    21) David and Jonathan: Great friends, SSA?

    25) Psalms: I’m sorry, so so very sorry. Is that enough?

    28) Elijah: Kicking donkey and taking names

    32) Job: STFU
    33) Jonah: Yeah, right
    36) Isaiah: Lets talk about the weather
    37) Isaiah: Lets talk about current events
    38) Isaiah: Lets talk about politics
    39) Isaiah: Lets talk about BYU football
    40) Isaiah: Lets talk about the grandkids
    43) Ezekiel: Why do we always skip chapter 16?

    45) Esther: Well its about time we had another woman

    48) Malachi: Tithe or burn baby burn

  10. Kent, I’m opposed to people who drop in on forums and try to shut down dialogue by a combination of fingerpointing and guiltmongering. I’d rather have you voice your opinion (on that point or on the substance of the post), but if you prefer to turn around and leave, it’s your choice to make.

  11. How does a video depiction of the life of Joseph compare to a textual description of the life of Joseph?

    Well, you have answered your own question. A textual description maybe would have been practically canonized by members of the church. A film like this will be seen as fluffy (albeit uplifting, either mildly or extremely depending on how susceptible you are to music and melodrama) entertainment akin to Legacy or The Testaments.

    I wasn’t aware that some members of the Church would view a video presentation as akin to scripture, if that is what you are trying to get at Dave. I highly doubt that it will be accorded such reverance by anyone.

  12. Sorry Dave, I saw no guiltmongering in Annegb’s thoughts. She did point a finger, but she explicitly stated that her finger was pointing at herself as well when she said, “WE of the bloggernacle.”

    And as for shutting down dialogue, isn’t that what you did to her?

  13. I agree with Kent. Your professions of non-skepticism notwithstanding, I believe your comments

    Movies have soundtracks, good for motivating spiritual emotions that should be associated with the Joseph Smith story. Conveniently, movies have no text that can be quoted or analyzed, just a string of images and depicted events.

    could reasonably be construed as negative in tone, and skeptical in nature. Don’t make a post with such a clearly critical tone, then tell commenters who object to leave, claiming they are imagining it. If you had phrased your original post the way your phrased your response to annegb, I doubt she ever would have objected. Your word choice was much more objective in the latter.

    I’m not saying that you aren’t right to take issue with the choice to make an official movie instead of an official book. But don’t pretend that your original post isn’t skeptical the First Presidency’s decision.

  14. Thanks for the comment, Jonathan. It sounds like you would label anything other than “Here is a wonderful movie just released by our inspired First Presidency” as “negative in tone and skeptical in nature.” I think there has to be room for questions and discussion without triggering a “negative and skeptical” charge.

    More blog theory: At a discussion-oriented group blog like BCC, you can’t just post a link to a news story, you have to set up an issue or question worth discussing. The issue I thought worth discussing in relation to the new movie (which hasn’t been publicly released, so we can’t really talk about the movie yet) is to compare the status of a video presentation whose production and release is supervised by the First Presidency with the status of a text that is supervised and released by the First Presidency. It sounded interesting to me, anyway.

    As to my comment that started this whole snarkiness tangent, maybe I misread annegb’s comment. But I didn’t delete it, I just responded. I don’t see how anyone could term my response “a vehement attack,” although I am impressed that the Snarkernacle weasel managed to spell “vehemently” correctly. It wouldn’t take much speculation to guess who I think personifies snarkiness, mockery, and idiocy.

  15. Dave, I think you might be reading too much into the phrase “”produced under the supervision of the First Presidency.” In a sense, everything the church does is supervised by the First Presidency. I’m not convinced that this production has any special endorsement different from many of the other audio-visual materials produced by the church.

    I agree, though, that deciding what authoritative weight to give to such materials is an interesting question. My sense is that most members have not assigned any great authority to such things. And in general, such materials are not expected to last for very long…they are continually being replaced with new, updated materials. They seem to be more about marketing and emotional manipulation than about doctrine, and I think faithful members understand that.

  16. Eric Russell says:

    There’s enough history in the History of the Church to make a full year TV series out of it. I don’t think there will be anything surprising in an hour episode. I think it will move very quickly through a dramatization of the basic events we’re all familiar with. I mean, the recent First Vision video was what, 20-30 minutes alone. As such, I very much doubt there will be anything that disagrees or departs from a history such as Bushman’s – or, for that matter, anything new in its presentation that suggests an official interpretation of something previously ambiguous.

  17. Bob Caswell says:

    “They seem to be more about marketing and emotional manipulation than about doctrine, and I think faithful members understand that.”

    Not that I don’t agree, but my gut reaction is: “Gee, marketing and emotional manipulation… Wait, why does the First Presidency want to use resources for this again?” I guess I’m just having a hard time reconciling “marketing and emotional manipulation” with “First Presidency.” I’d like to hope there are other, better reasons for the movie to be made.

  18. LOL, I didn’t know I’d bugged anybody till I clicked on the snarkernacle thing and saw my name.

    What I meant by “here” I is the entire blog and I was merely making a generic observation based upon the whole content and personality of bloggers rather than your specific post. No offense intended. I didn’t detect any vehemence in your post about my post, either.

    Back to the subject, I dislike movies about historical movies in general because I don’t feel they can ever tell the real story and it feel fake to me. I can’t suspend my disbelief.

    I almost feel that Joseph Smith could be better interpreted by a non-believer. I don’t know anything, though, really.

  19. I can see both sides on this. On one hand, I think the new JS video is more than just another video release because it is designed to be shown at Visitors Centers as an “official” version of the LDS message to interested visitors. It is the 21-st century version of Paul’s address in the marketplace at Athens.

    On the other hand, Eric’s reference to the original First Vision film from the ’70s is instructive. That film was never taken as establishing any doctrinal points (although the inclusion and depiction of the brief “really bad karma” episode prior to the glorious vision itself was noted at the time). It is not used much anymore. No one, for example, has ever even referred to it in Bloggernacle discussions. This lends support to the idea that everyone sees the films as just a convenient way to show the events, but not as really making any definitive statements or assertions.

    And annegb, thanks for the follow-up note.

  20. Eric Russell says:

    Dave, I was actually referring to the new First Vision video that came out about 2 years ago. (And which features Kirby Heyborne as Oliver Cowdery, who appears for LITERALLY one second!) But yeah, I think the effect will be similar with the upcoming film.

  21. I noticed an hour long program called Joseph Smith on my tivo around conference time last month. Is this the same movie, or is that a separate production?

  22. Hope of Israel says:

    I wonder if the movie will mention any of JS’s 30-some-odd wives besides Emma. Fanny Alger? The Partridges? I suspect their scenes ended up on thr cutting room floor.

    I wonder if they will show JS drinking wine the night before the martyrdom.

    I wonder if the Zelph story will make it in.

    I wonder if they will show an accurate portrayal of the translation process, with JS putting his peepstone in the hat and burying his face in it to read the text with spiritual light, or will they show him sitting there with the Gold Plates in plain view of the scribe.

    I wonder which version of the First Vision will be depicted–the 1832 version where he makes no claim about seeing both the Father and the Son or the 1838 version.

    Just wondering. But I think I know the answers.

  23. Hope, thanks for sharing those highly original insights. I’m sure none of us here have ever heard about those things before.

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