THE WORK AND THE GLORY: AMERICAN ZION
Release Date: October 21, 2005
Starring: Eric Johnson, Sam Hennings,
Jonathan Scarfe, Brenda
Strong, Emily Podleski,
Alexander Carroll, and Andrew
Genre: Historical Drama
Audience: Teenagers and adults
Runtime: 100 minutes
Distributor: Vineyard Distribution
Director: Sterling Van Wagenen
Executive Producer: Larry H. Miller
Producer: Scott Swofford
Writer: Matt Whitaker
Address Comments To:Dean Hale, Director
5183 South Commerce Drive
Murray, UT 84107
Phone: (801) 263-3443
Fax: (801) 263-1391
Based on the second in a series of novels by Gerald N. Lund, the movie opens abruptly with Smith performing the marriage ceremony between Nathan Steed and Lydia in secret to protect them from the Non-Mormons. Nathan's father, Ben, is not happy with the marriage because Ben has not become a Mormon. The movie is the story of Ben's prolonged and tedious conversion. Ben's other son, Joshua, is extremely anti-Mormon and becomes primary persecutor of the cult. He is enraged that Nathan has his girl. This is a very flimsy family feud on which to construct a whole movie.
Joseph Smith tells all of his followers to leave Elmyra, New York and head for Kirkland, Ohio. It is never clear why they leave, but many just walk away from their farms and belongings to follow this very smug, self-righteous character.
When they get to Kirkland, Smith orders them to build a Mormon temple. Ben argues that they should build houses first. Eventually, the towns people start to dislike the Mormons, so an advance party goes to Missouri to buy land to settle. However, Joshua Steed is in Independence, Missouri. He organizes anti-Mormon sentiment. With the governor and a mob, he tars and feathers the Mormon printing office, burns their villages and drives the women out to take a long march across the snow barefoot. Some die on the long march. His wife and child, who converted to Mormonism, are on the march, but they do not die.
Joseph Smith hears about these events and organizes an army of Mormons to march a thousand miles to reclaim their American Zion. When they get there, the forces against them are overwhelming. Smith calls down the forces of Heaven, and the enemy is driven off. Even so, Smith changes his prophecy and goes back to Kirkland with his befuddled followers.
In the movie, Smith is a charismatic leader. He prophesizes in the name of Jesus, performs a miracle healing in the name of Jesus, suffers persecution in the name of Jesus, and organizes the Mormon Church. His flaws are minimized. His villains are vilified. They are rotten to the core and seem to have no reason for persecuting the Mormons. There's no hint of polygamy. The families seem happy and sign hymns together and otherwise seem like nice people who are misjudged at every turn.
Clearly, this is a Mormon movie for Mormons and Mormon converts. Like the worst movies of other religions, it is too black and white, too poorly acted and directed, and too dull. Characterization replaces characters and tedious preachiness replaces storyline and plot. If one did not understand the theological abhorrence of Mormon teachings, one would think this was a low grade Christian movie.
This is a Mormon movie for Mormons and Mormon converts. Like the worst movies of other religions, it is too black and white, too poorly acted and directed, and too dull. Characterization replaces characters and preachiness replaces storyline. In terms of history, the movie is a revisionist hagiography painting Joseph Smith as this heroic, persecuted, perfect, good-looking character whereas his enemies are all vile, ugly, uncouth villains. It also ignores the theological abhorrence of controversial Mormon teachings.