The Other Side of Heaven
The Other Side of Heaven is a 2001 American adventure drama film written and directed by Mitch Davis, based on John H. Groberg's non-fiction book In the Eye of the Storm. The film stars Christopher Gorham as Groberg and Anne Hathaway as Jean Groberg (née Sabin).
|The Other Side of Heaven|
|Directed by||Mitch Davis|
|Screenplay by||Mitch Davis|
|Based on||In the Eye of the Storm|
by John H. Groberg
|Music by||Kevin Kiner|
|Cinematography||Brian J. Breheny|
|Edited by||Steven Ramirez|
|Distributed by||Excel Entertainment Group|
|Box office||$4.8 million|
The film is about Groberg's experiences as a missionary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) in the Tongan islands in the 1950s and is based on the book that he wrote about his real experiences, In the Eye of the Storm. The film focuses on Groberg's adventurous experiences and trials while he serves as a missionary in the South Pacific. While portraying these events, the film discusses little LDS theology and focuses instead on the missionary experience.
During the 1950s, John Groberg, (Christopher Gorham) who grew up in Idaho Falls, Idaho, graduates from Brigham Young University and is called on a mission to Tonga. There, he will spend two and one-half years as an Elder teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. His first adventure is just getting there, as it takes him 83 days, including a short stint in a Fiji jail.
When Elder Groberg arrives in Tonga, he is sent to a group of remote islands 800 miles (1,300 km) from the mission's home office. Before he leaves on this last leg he is assigned a companion, Tongan Feki (Joe Folau), who speaks English. However, Elder Groberg finds that his knowledge of the Tongan language is severely deficient and he studies intensely to become proficient. He also learns the culture.
Throughout the film, the letters between Elder Groberg and his fiancé, Jean (Anne Hathaway), serve as a narrative. Although they write frequently, Elder Groberg is only able to send and receive mail monthly. Each of them voices the letters so that the audience knows what they are writing. Another man at home proposes to Jean but she maintains her agreement to wait for John.
Elder Groberg soon begins to experience success in his mission. But one night he forgets instructions he received to cover his feet and rats bite his soles. It is a painful reminder that he must listen and obey when he receives instructions. Elder Groberg tells his fiancé that she should send her suitor to him for the same lesson.
The local Christian minister tells the people not to listen to the missionaries. Later, he sends four men to beat the missionaries. However, one of them, Tomasi, prevents the attack. Elder Groberg learns from the drunken Tomasi that he had been baptized a member of the LDS Church many years ago when a boy. Tomasi later begins attending church meetings and is chosen by Elder Groberg to be one of his counselors to the branch.
Elder Groberg is sought out by parents when their child is injured and left unconscious. Elder Groberg ministers to him with prayer and basic first aid, and the child recovers.
A local young woman, at the behest of her family, attempts to seduce Elder Groberg. She wants "a half-white baby." He teaches her about marriage and tells her he's saving his seed for Jean, and she relents.
A typhoon strikes the island. Many trees are stripped bare, homes and crops are destroyed, and many people are killed. The remaining leaders instruct the people gather up what food and fresh water is available so that rationing can begin. The supply boat due in two weeks takes much longer to arrive. The inhabitants of the island begin dying of starvation and dehydration.
Elder Groberg is close to death when the local minister gives him the last of his food because the minister is old and Elder Groberg is young. When the supply boat does arrive, the minister is found to have died and is given an honorable funeral.
While traveling at sea, Elder Groberg and his two counselors are caught in a large storm. He is washed overboard and fears for his life. He swims until he finds an island where he also locates his counselors, and they are later rescued and return to Tonga.
Elder Groberg returns one day to his hut to find that his mission president has come to visit the island. He finds the president and introduces himself. The president is unhappy because he has not heard from Elder Groberg since departing from the mission home office many months prior. Elder Groberg describes some of the success they have experienced, and the president is shocked to learn of new branches and meeting places on outer islands that the President did not authorize. After giving Elder Groberg a strong lecture about the discipline of the church, which is a "House of Order," he leaves to spend the night in the village and prepares to leave the next day.
Elder Groberg and his counselors spend the entire night filling out the baptismal, priesthood ordination, and other church records the president requested the day before. In the morning, Elder Groberg runs to the beach where the president is about to board a boat. He gives him a large sheaf of hand-typed forms documenting all they have accomplished on Raratonga and the outer islands. The President instructs Elder Groberg to send him the paperwork necessary to build new chapels and then adds, "Since they will be built with concrete, we should probably purchase the land."
The president submits a request to have Elder Groberg's mission extended, but it is denied. Elder Groberg receives a telegram via mail. It instructs him to return to New Zealand where he will obtain transportation home to Idaho. When Elder Groberg is ready to depart, many islanders gather in their best clothing to see him off, testifying to the impact he has had during his stay.
His trip home is less eventful than his trip to Tonga. He finally arrives in Idaho. He and Jean are married and spend their honeymoon at a cottage by a beach.
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The Other Side of Heaven is based on John Groberg's book entitled In the Eye of the Storm. Deseret Book, who owned the rights to the book, was hesitant to sell the rights for a movie due to concerns about how the LDS Church would be portrayed in the film. The fact that the producer, the director, and many of the filming crew were Latter-day Saints alleviated this concern. Deseret Book eventually sold the rights to the book allowing the film to be made.
Gerald R. Molen, the producer, had worked on several notable films, including The Color Purple, Rain Man, Schindler's List, and The Lost World: Jurassic Park. He won an Academy Award for his work in Schindler's List and is a Latter-day Saint. Mitch Davis, the director, had worked on several Disney films before this film. He won a CAMIE Award for this film, which was shared with Gerald R. Molen and several film crew members. He is a Latter-day Saint.
The title of the film was changed from In the Eye of the Storm to The Other Side of Heaven to avoid confusion with The Perfect Storm, which had been released a year earlier.
Gorham was cast as Groberg because of his ability to balance the seriousness of the role with lighter, more comedic moments. He learned how to speak the Tongan parts with a flawless accent.
Hathaway was cast as Jean Groberg (née Sabin) in the film. Her scenes were shot towards the end of the production. She immediately began working on The Princess Diaries after completing work on this film. The film was shot on location in New Zealand and Island of Rarotonga, capital of the Cook Islands. The opening scenes set at Brigham Young University were filmed in New Zealand.
Polynesian actors from New Zealand were used for most of the roles. The less experienced ones relied heavily on the more experienced ones. The cast and crew enjoyed a great amount of cooperation from locals. When the film crew arrived on the island, the Prime Minister welcomed them by gathering all of the religious ministers of the community for a prayer meeting. They prayed that the film crew would be blessed with good weather. The photographs in the opening scenes are of the actual people portrayed in the film, provided by Groberg.
The real Groberg, his wife Jean, one of his grandsons, and one of his daughters with her husband can be seen at the very end during the wedding scene. As the camera pans from right to left, his daughter, then her husband, then the grandson, then Groberg are taking a picture of the couple, and his wife is next to him clapping.
During the opening dance scene, extras were hired from almost every swing club in New Zealand. Gorham and Hathaway did most of their own dancing. Hathaway was kicked in the head in one of the takes and was nearly knocked out.
The scenes where Groberg learns the Tongan language were altered slightly for dramatic effect. He did isolate himself and study the Bible in both English and Tongan and went without food and water for several days. However, he spent time in a bush, rather than on a beach.
Groberg and Feki's hut was recreated from photographs, an authentic replica of the one that they actually lived in.
Groberg really did have rats eat the soles of his feet while he slept. When he awoke that morning, they split open, and the members of the branch helped treat his feet. He spent time outside with his feet pointed up at the sun in order to sear the soles of his feet with the heat from the sun. Later in life, he was diagnosed with skin cancer on the soles of his feet due to exposure to the sun. His doctor was puzzled about how he could have exposed the soles of his feet to the sun. Groberg responded to his doctor, "Have I got a story to tell you..."
A boy really did fall from a mango tree. He was on his way to a church meeting on Tuesday. He climbed the tree because it had very good mangoes. He fell out of the tree and was knocked out. When he awoke on Thursday after being treated by Groberg, he was worried that he was late to his church meeting.
The real Feki's father was not a drinking man, nor did he beat his wife. Liberties were taken in order to combine several characters. This particular alteration was done with the permission of the real Feki's children.
The first cut of the film was 135 minutes and the final one was 113 minutes.
The film's release was delayed to follow the release of the other Disney film, The Princess Diaries, also starring Hathaway. It was hoped that the success of that film would garner a following for Hathaway and bring in extra earnings for this film. Disney took part only in the DVD release, which was distributed by Excel Entertainment Group.
The Other Side of Heaven opened theatrically on December 14, 2001 in two venues, earning $55,765 in its opening weekend, ranking number 41 in the domestic box office. By the end of its run, almost a year later, on December 2, 2002, the film grossed $4,720,371 domestically and $39,643 overseas for a worldwide total of $4,760,014.
The film received negative reviews from critics. Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reports a 29% rating based on 42 reviews, with an average rating of 4.6 out of 10. The site's consensus states: "The Other Side of Heaven preaches to the converted; others will likely consider it simplistic, even offensive, propaganda." On Metacritic, the film has a 38 out of 100 rating based on 16 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews." The audience reception was much more positive, averaging a 73% favorable rating on Rotten Tomatoes and 8.4 on Metacritic.
In February 2018, it was announced that there will be a sequel titled The Other Side of Heaven II: Fire of Faith. Gorham, Folau, Lees, and Smith will reprise their roles from the first film. Natalie Medlock will play Jean Groberg, replacing Hathaway. The movie will be based on Groberg's second autobiographical novel, with the same title, set ten years after the first film. The story follows John returning to the island with his wife and five daughters during the period of time he served as an LDS Church mission president. It is scheduled to be released in April 2019.
- "The Other Side of Heaven (2001) - International Box Office Results". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. December 2, 2002. Retrieved October 11, 2015.
- New York Times
- DVD Talk
- The Other Side of Heaven trivia from The Internet Movie Database
- "Weekend Box Office Results for December 14-16, 2001". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. December 17, 2001. Retrieved October 11, 2015.
- "The Other Side of Heaven". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved October 11, 2015.
- "The Other Side of Heaven Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved October 11, 2015.
- Sean P. Means (February 27, 2018). "A sequel to the Mormon missionary drama 'The Other Side of Heaven' starts shooting in April". Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved July 30, 2018.