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Posted 09 Jan 2002   For week ended December 28, 2001
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News about Mormons, Mormonism,
and the LDS Church
Sent on Mormon-News: 08Jan02
By Mormon News Film Editor
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'Ocean's Eleven' Top-Grossing Film Ever with an LDS Character

DALLAS, TEXAS -- "The Other Side of Heaven" opened wider this week, expanding from 2 to 15 theaters. This is a platform release, meaning the film opens in limited theaters before expanding or moving to other cities. But amazingly, it broke into the Top 30 nationwide list. This is a considerable accomplishment considering the fact that virtuall all of the other films in the Top 30 were playing in far more theaters: The next lowest theater count was for "The Royal Tenenbaums," in 40 theaters.

Six major studio films opened this weekend, so competition was intense: Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" opened in 1st place (of course). Other new films included Russell Crowe in Ron Howard's "A Beautiful Mind", the CGI-animated "Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius" and "The Majestic" starring Jim Carrey. "Heaven's" climb to number 26 with only 15 theaters is nothing to scoff at. After two weeks in limited release, "Heaven" has taken in $191,000 at the box office.

Of course, far more moviegoers saw Mormon characters in this week's Number 2 film at the box office. "Ocean's Eleven" brought in another $14.6 million in its third weekend. The Steven Soderbergh crime caper has now grossed over $100 million. This means that "Ocean's Eleven" has surpassed "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" as the top-earning film of all time to feature a Mormon outlaw. Of course, Paul Newman as the charismatic Mormon train robber Butch Cassidy was a far more important character in that 1969 movie. Scott Caan and Casey Affleck as the Mormon Malloy twins are almost buried behind all their co-stars. We can only hope they get their own sequel.

"Oceans's Eleven" has also become the top-grossing film ever to feature a main character explicitly identified as a Mormon. "Rain Man" ($173 million) and "Deep Impact" ($140 million) both earned more than "Ocean's Eleven" has so far. But Dustin Hoffman's title role as the "Rain Man" was only based on an actual Latter-day Saint -- the movie character was changed and was not identified as LDS in the film. The astronaut from Utah in "Deep Impact" is an LDS character, but in the movie his religion is not mentioned by name.

Amidst all the major new releases, Mormon-authored "Behind Enemy Lines" dropped from 5th to 11th place, in its fourth weekend. "Out Cold" starring A.J. Cook finally dropped out of the Top 20 in its fifth week.

The Golden Globes nominations were announced. Among the honored films includes a Best Dramatic Picture nominee, "Mulholland Drive", which was co-written and co-produced by Mormon writer/movie producer Joyce Eliason. One of the nominees for Best Comedy or Musical was "Shrek", on which Latter-day Saint filmmaker John Garbett was a producer. Garbett is better known to LDS audiences as the co-producer of "The Other Side of Heaven," but more people nationwide have seen the computer-animated "Shrek", which has grossed over $267 million domestically.

The 2001 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards were also announced this week. "Mulholland Drive" earned non-LDS filmmaker David Lynch the Best Director Award. "Shrek" won for Best Animation.

Perhaps most significantly among the L.A. Film Critics Awards, the Independent/Experimental Film and Video Award went to "The Beaver Trilogy", directed by non-practicing Mormon filmmaker Trent Harris. "Beaver" refers to the town of Beaver, Utah, the setting for the film's story. It is an unusual self-contained "trilogy" in that the movie actually consists of three shorter films, each re-telling exactly the same story with different casts and different techniques. The film's stars include Crispin Glover and a young Sean Penn.

LDS film fans may be more familiar with Harris' low-budget 1994 film, "Plan 10 from Outer Space", a science fiction comedy about a Utah Mormon who discovers the "Plaque of Kolob", which leads her to uncover an alien plot to use the Church to take over the world.

Finally, the Ring Thing: As mentioned above, the Number One movie this week (the biggest movie of the month, in fact) is "The Lord of the Rings." Now, never mind the fact that director Peter Jackson's first big feature film was "Heavenly Angels," a not-so-accurate re-telling of the Juliet Hulme story, a story that happened years BEFORE Hulme became a Latter-day Saint. No, the "LDS Connection" to "The Lord of the Rings" is simply that this blockbuster film was inspired by the writings of a Latter-day Saint writer.

We don't mean Tolkien, however. J. R. R. Tolkien, of course, deserves 99% of the credit in the Inspiring Writer department. But before Jackson ever read Tolkien's books, he first saw the "Lord of the Rings" movie: the 1978 animated version, which was written by LDS writer Chris Conkling.

In a Barnes and Noble interview ("Explorations", October/November 2001, pg. 13), Jackson was asked if he had seen the animated "Lord of the Rings," which was directed by Ralph Bakshi. Jackson responded: "Yes, I have seen Bakshi's movie--in fact, it inspired me to read the book. I enjoyed it and wanted to know more. In 1978, an animated film was definitely the most sensible way to show the scope of the story. A live-action film back then would have been impossible."

Nobody today will compare the 1978 animated film to the new 2001 live action release. Conkling and Bakshi had only one film, no CGI technology, and limited resources, to tell a large story that Jackson is spreading over three big-budget films. But Conkling's "Lord of the Rings" was nominated for a 1979 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation. (The Hugo Awards are like the Academy Awards for science fiction.) Conkling was named as a nominee for the Hugo Award, along with co-writer Peter S. Beagle and original novelist J. R. Tolkien. (Alas, the Hugo that year went to the first "Superman" movie). Interestingly enough, fellow LDS writer Orson Scott Card was nominated for a Hugo that same year, for the novelette "Mikal's Songbird."

Conkling, Beagle and Tolkien were also nominated for a Balrog Fantasy Film Hall of Fame award in 1981. (Although you have probably never heard of the now-defunct Balrog Awards.)

Many Latter-day Saints who haven't seen the 1978 "Lord of the Rings" may be more familar with a 1979 film that Conkling wrote: "The Emmett Smith Story." The 35-minute video tells the story of Emmett Smith, who overcomes a debilitating brain tumor to become a long-distance runner again. This film was produced for the Church at Brigham Young University, can be found in many church libraries, and is available for purchase from BYU Creative Works as part of the BYU Film Classics series.

Chris Conkling has also given presentations at a number of Sunstone Symposium meetings, and written a number of articles for the Ensign, including "The Gentle Power of Jacob" (February 1992) and "The Book that Built a Better World" (January 1998). For all you Ring fanatics: The famous book discussed in that last Ensign article was the Old Testament, NOT Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.

So enjoy the new "Lord of the Rings" movie: It is based on a much-loved novel by a famous Catholic writer, filmed by a now-famous New Zealand director, who was inspired by the screenplay of a less-famous LDS writer.

(And did I mention that the late Latter-day Saint actor Billy Barty was the animation model for the 1978 version's Frodo and Bilbo? Jackson's film has an LDS elf -- John Thocolich. But only the animated version has LDS Hobbits.)

On the web: The official "Singles Ward" website is up and running. Steve Young is pictured there.

Weekend Box Office Report (U.S. Domestic Box Office Gross)
Weekend of December 21, 2001
Film Title
LDS/Mormon Filmmaker(s) or Actor(s)
Weekend Gross
Total Gross
2Ocean's Eleven
LDS characters: Malloy twins
11Behind Enemy Lines
26The Other Side of Heaven
Mitch Davis (screenwriter/director)
John G. Groberg (author/character)
Gerald Molen, John Garbett (producers)
27Out Cold
A. J. Cook (female lead)
33Mulholland Drive
Joyce Eliason (producer/writer)
48Cirque du Soleil: Journey of Man
Reed Smoot (cinematographer)
53Joy Ride
Paul Walker (2nd billed star)
71Mark Twain's America 3D
Alan Williams (composer)


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