13+ years in the making.
650+ theaters in the United States.
An epic soundtrack and beautiful cinematic shots.
And let’s not forget . . .
a little bit of calling out of the church and church members (see “An Open Letter to My Church” video below).
After hearing about this film for years starting about a decade ago (I remember Darin was at it when MEET THE MORMONS came out in 2014). There was a Kickstarter for REIGN OF THE JUDGES, a short film. Then there was a plea for help to get the full-length film created. Finally, there was an ultimatum a couple of months ago that over a million dollars needed to be raised (if memory serves; may have been more) in a couple months or the whole project would need to be scrapped.
Gotta admire Darin’s tenacity and vision.
Well, the funding was apparently found, and the film debuts on December 8, 2023.
Some key takeaways (and I will try to refrain from spoilers so you can see it for yourself):
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- Seeing the cinematic shots of the landscape–WOW! Filmed in New York around Buffalo, the landscape was amazing, and seeing it on the big screen it would be incredible (I saw it via a screener link). Add to it an incredible score, and there were some breathtaking scenes.
- There was quite a bit of flashback and dream sequences at the beginning of the film—if you didn’t know the Book of Mormon characters and storyline, I think it would be hard to follow.
- The elements were there for a beautiful story overall, but the dialogue was rough. There were some good lines, but others had me scratching my head. Oh, and Billy Zane (of Titanic fame) sounded like an Irishman or a pirate depending on the scene.
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- I felt the storyline was more about the man and his relationship with the female lead (who reminded me of J Lo) than the contents of the book. It was a love story shrouded with a thin veneer containing a Book of Mormon back drop.
- I really wanted some LORD OF THE RINGS epic battle scenes. There was one CGI scene that was quick showing a lot of troops (and it is shown in many of the trailers as well). Reminded me of a video game cut scene. Great anticipation with no pay off in the film itself.
- And . . . there are some ghosts. Yes, ghosts. Coming in amidst the Tim Ballard/Nephi psychic debacle, I wonder if this piece should’ve been edited out.
Worth your time? Um . . . sure. If you’re interested in a film loosely based on holy writ and a character that is consequential in that tome. There are some redeeming qualities.
Oscar worthy? Down boy.
Let’s just hope some of the executive producers make a portion of their money back.
AGREE WITH THE WRITER, DIRECTOR, and STAR?
Hello, everyone. I hope you find yourselves happy and well. I don’t do this very often, but I have something to say and it gives me no pleasure to say it, but I’ve come to the conclusion this is the only way to, I hope, bridge understanding and bring about positive change specifically within my church. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Some call us Mormans because we profess a record of Jesus Christ visiting ancient America in 34 AD after his resurrection. I’m the writer and director of the first major scale epic inspired by the Book of Mormon called The Oath, which releases in more than 600 USA theaters this Friday, December eighth. The making of the Oath was an arduous 13-year journey, involving over 70 souls, nearly all of whom are not members of my church. My public relations, marketing, and distribution teams for the Oath are likewise, almost all not members of my church. I’m honored to belong to a church that does so much good in a world where goodness is so desperately needed, which is why it’s difficult for me to say what I’m about to say.
But as the captain of so many industry professionals laboring diligently to support a film inspired by scripture they do not espouse, I believe they need answers from the church which does. The Oath is the widest release of any positively themed film relating to Latter-day Saint beliefs in history. This fact alone makes it particularly newsworthy for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is why, over a month ago, the head of the public relations department of my church reached out to me for a private screening of the Oath. In 13 years, the Oath has received no funding, support, or even acknowledgment of existence from my church. Notwithstanding our film being inspired by their Keystone scripture. Ben Cross, who was in our pilot film before his death, often expressed great confusion and frustration at this, as have countless others on our team. For 13 years, I alone have borne the painful burden of explaining this unexplainable conundrum that my church doesn’t acknowledge or support a positive film about its own book. Please consider how confusing this seems to people working on my film who are not members of my church. Needless to say, my team and I were extremely encouraged by my church’s sudden interest in our film.
After screening the Oath and an hour-long post-screening discussion, my church’s head of PR expressed his opinion that the Oath would be positive for our church. My team and I were hopeful that my church would in turn acknowledge this publicly. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time my church had done so in other similar situations. In 2017, Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons organized a festival celebrating and raising money for LGBT youth called Love Loud. Reynolds had booked a large venue in Utah, but they were struggling to gain public support. My church received many petitions to make a public announcement of support for Love Loud. After nearly having to cancel the event for lack of ticket sales. Finally, just 10 days before the show, in response to, quote, many media inquiries, my church broke silence saying, We applaud the Love Loud Festival. We join our voice with all who come together to foster a community of inclusion. We earnestly hope this festival and other related efforts can build respectful communication, better understanding, and civility. Following this unprecedented public announcement by my church, the Love Loud Festival promptly sold out in less than a week. To clarify, my team and I support this announcement of inclusion made by my faith.
The following year, having set the precedent, my church again announced public support for Love Loud, donating money and helping them raise over a million dollars. This for an event that arguably did not entirely align with their own doctrine. The church, choosing to say, as my team would as well, we want our LGBT brothers and sisters to know they are loved, valued, and needed. Another example of my church’s history of public expression is still ongoing with Book of Mormon musical. In this case, rather than responding in kind to an antagonistic play, my church instead took out full page ads in the show’s playbill. You’ve seen the play? Now read the book. Spending significant amounts of money and resources on advertisements to an arguably antagonistic crowd, patronizing, a for-profit venture. One final example of My Church’s history of public support and expression, this again for another for-profit organization, is when they almost single-handedly saved the hit TV series The Chosen. As the story goes after the success of Season 1, The Chosen was still struggling to fund Season Two. My church stepped in to save the day, offering what I understand to be a significant amount of funds toward the series production budget, in addition to giving exclusive, never before granted access to their coveted, multimillion dollar Jerusalem set, which The Chosen still uses to this day.
My church continued its support, fully backing the series on BYU TV with billboard advertising and more. It’s no stretch to say the tremendous and unprecedented public support from my church is the primary reason The Chosen, with its powerful and uplifting message, was able to reach hundreds of millions the world over. This, again, in support of a for-profit venture, The Chosen, LLC. I would be remiss not to also throw in the infamous stake Lagoon Days, which went on for decades, unquestioned in my church, supporting and patronizing a for-profit amusement park from pulpits all across Utah. What about the amazing celebrities my church hires to perform with the tabernacle choir? Are we to believe these world-class professionals are performing for free? The walls of my church’s temples are built by for-profit construction companies. Does this make them unholy? Given my church’s history of public support for unaffiliated and sometimes antagonistic endeavors, would it not seem common sense that my church would have great interest in not only acknowledging but aiding the first Universal Independent Epic based on their own book? The Oath also represents the greatest collaboration of nonreligious, unaffiliated souls ever to unite in the production of a film that reflects positively on my church’s cherished beliefs.
After my church PR screened the Oath, my PR firm, led by a wonderful Jewish man, cordially petitioned my church not for money or endorsement, but rather for what any reasonable, prudent person would ask from a church family. Acknowledgement that the Oath exists with an announcement of support for the Hercules and efforts of one of their own. Unfortunately, my PR’s earnest and heartfelt pleased were met with an action. Further, the Oath’s head of general sales, also an amazingly hardworking Jewish man who’s gotten us in over 600 theaters across the nation, sent an earnest and open letter to my church’s PR expressing his hurt and confusion that my church would publicly ignore perhaps the greatest opportunity in its history to expand awareness for the amazing stories from their cherished scripture. I was truly surprised to hear that a faith community would not endorse a product that educates, informs and talks positively about its history. I, being of the Jewish faith, as well as knowing many Christians, have never had an issue when something positive comes along to have it endorsed by the respective synagogue or church to help promote learning, tolerance and historical perspective of their faith.
Does my church not care about the efforts of so many people, not of their faith, who have given so much time, talent and energy to bring positive attention to the epic Book of Mormon stories? In behalf of my most excellent team, I ask my church earnestly. Why would anyone outside our faith help any positive endeavor for our faith? Knowing our own church will stand by and say nothing of the effort, such a plight would seem almost inconceivable if it wasn’t our present reality. But my church was not always so. In 1980 to1988, President of the Church of Jesus Christ, Ezra Taft Benson, praised the movie How Rare a Possession from the pulpit of General Conference, praising the awareness it brought to the Book of Mormon. And in 1963, Apostle of the Church of Jesus Christ, Spencer W. Kimble, again from the Pulpit of General Conference said, A struggling movie industry might here find material in the Book of Mormon, which could increase box office receipts. As the writer and director of the first Universal Epic, inspired by the Book of Mormon, and in behalf of those on my team who are not of my faith, I ask my church on what principle is silence appropriate on the eve of the widest release of any positively themed film about our Keystone scripture?
When you have so often expressed public support for other similar endeavors, both for profit and nonprofit, many of which were arguably antagonistic to your beliefs and all of which were entirely unaffiliated. This question is not an issue that will go away when the Oath Theatrical Release concludes. It will continue on unless it is addressed right now. Two Sundays ago, while sitting in my church meeting, I suddenly heard a young man in class making an announcement about my movie releasing this week. The teacher asked me to stand and tell the class about my film. Later that week, one of the leaders in my local congregation sent an email to our local members, inviting them to a movie night on December 12th to see the Oath. I was once again encouraged to receive such support. I have since found out that this young man and the church leader who sent the email were both censored by other church leadership for doing so. This, when my own daughters were recently invited but not permitted to attend, a church young women’s activity to see the Disney movie, Buzz Lightyear. An activity paid for by our local church budget. Or perhaps we could discuss the high school play our young women recently had an activity to attend in support of one of their fellow church youth, an event also paid for by our local church budget.
I sincerely wonder how my church expects membership excitement for any independent efforts to bring positive awareness to their beliefs when these efforts are completely unsupported by the church organization from which these beliefs hail. The movie industry is like a real estate appraisal. The most comparable film of the recent past will forever be used to judge whether any films like it will be funded and distributed in the future. Stand or fall, the theatrical release of the Oath will determine whether other comparable films that celebrate my church’s beliefs will ever be made again. I conclude by expressing my hope and my optimism that my church will yet stand behind the greatest universal effort to build respectful communication, better understanding and civility through the powerful, cinematic journey that is the Oath. If not, I fear this may be the last independent effort they will ever see attempt to do so. Regardless, thanks for listening and please join us for an unforgettable theatrical experience, December 8th. We’ll see you at the theater.