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Vuissa, "Joseph Smith: Plates of Gold" (DVD reviewed by Trevor Holyoak) Options · View
Posted: Friday, February 10, 2012 5:23:32 AM

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Title: Joseph Smith: Plates of Gold
Writer, Director, and Producer: Christian Vuissa
Genre: Drama (Movie)
Year Published: 2011
Publisher: Covenant Communications, Inc.
Format: DVD & Blu-ray
ASIN: B0064OK902 (DVD) and 1608618897 (Blu-ray)
Price: $19.99 and $24.99

Reviewed by Trevor Holyoak for the Association for Mormon Letters

(This review is of the DVD. The Blu-ray verson may have different features.)

Joseph Smith is one of my personal heroes, and when I first heard that this movie was coming out, I have to admit I was worried. I was afraid it might turn out like a certain attempt a few years back at turning the Book of Mormon into a movie. But then I found out it was being made by Christian Vuissa, who had recently made what I consider to be some of the better movies in modern Mormon cinema (such as "The Errand of Angels"), and I expected that he would probably do a good job. I didn't make it to the theater when it was playing, so I was excited when the opportunity came up to review the DVD. As it turns out, I am mostly happy with how it was done.

The movie is well-acted, using Dustin Harding as Joseph, who also appeared in the newer film about the First Vision made by the church, and has aged appropriately in the time since then. Michael Flynn, a veteran actor perhaps best known for his role as Pilate in the church-made film, "The Lamb of God," does splendidly as Isaac Hale. An unknown, Lindsay Farr, also did well as Emma.

Where I feel the movie falls short is in short-changing history for drama. There are many scenes (and even a semi-prominent character) that are fictional, yet there are elements I feel are important that were left out. The fictional parts serve the purpose of helping us relate better to such things as Vuissa's version of Joseph and Emma and their relationship, and I appreciate that Joseph was made much more human in this film than he is usually portrayed, but as my 14 year old daughter put it, "it showed a lot of stuff that really didn't matter."

The director chose to have the characters tell about supernatural experiences, rather than showing them. He gave his reasons in the Director's Commentary (this is how people actually found out about them from Joseph Smith and others, for instance), but unfortunately some of the scenes where this is done seem rather staged. The experience of the eight witnesses is shown, but according to the commentary that was because there was not an angel involved. (There is also a brief scene of the initial baptisms of Joseph and Oliver among the Deleted Scenes, but John the Baptist is not shown.)

Also in the Director's Commentary, he explained that he wanted to avoid voiceovers, but this means that a viewer that does not already have much knowledge of the story is left with only place names and dates given on the screen at transition points from which to try figure out what is happening (and this may even be a challenge for those more familiar with it). The commentary helps - if one is interested enough to listen to it - but a few explanatory voiceovers would have made a big difference.

The main thing that I looked for in this film in terms of accuracy was how the translation was portrayed. I was happy to see that the Urim and Thummim were used during the dictation of the first 116 pages (although much smaller than they should have been). However, instead of also showing the use of his personal seer stones, at that point Joseph begins reciting with his eyes closed, at times even pacing the room, as if doing it from memory (my daughter even asked me if that was what he was doing). It was disappointing how close the film came to being as accurate as possible, yet fell short.

My daughter appreciated seeing how the Book of Mormon was printed (which included a press that appeared to be the actual kind that was used) and learning how the pages were folded together and bound. She was also intrigued to learn how the sacrament used to be administered, with a single cup of wine being passed around.

Besides the previously mentioned Director's Commentary and Deleted Scenes, there is also a "Making of," and trailers for this and other movies. Closed Captioning is available, and it is in a 16:9 widescreen format. The music was composed by James Schafer, and it is appropriately uplifting. In fact, I would probably enjoy listening to it on its own, and may have to look into getting the soundtrack CD.

In spite of its flaws, I believe this is the best movie yet made about the life of Joseph Smith, and is definitely worth watching and having in your family's movie library. The director hopes to make a follow-up in a few years, ostensibly so that the actors portraying Joseph and Emma will have aged appropriately, and I look forward to seeing it.
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