Movie: One of the problems that movie buffs face is finding a good movie for whatever mood they are in at a particular point in time. If they are snuggled on the couch with their significant other, a more mature theme might be in order while if they are hanging out with a group of "sorta" friends, they'd probably want to watch something a little less daring. One of the most difficult types of movies to find is one where a diverse group of people, typically revolving around a large age range, can watch and have a good time. This would be called the "Family" movie. All too often, the term means a movie that keeps the kids happy and the adults groaning about how tortured they are at having to sit through it. In The Other Side of Heaven, Disney puts out a movie that can be enjoyed by anyone who is not overly anti-religious or otherwise fixated on blockbuster style releases that typically suffer from what has become known as the lowest common denominator syndrome.
The movie deals with a young man who leaves his white bread world in order to convert some natives on Tonga-a small island out in the Pacific. He leaves all the comfort and security he has grown up with in order to save others and establish a church presence. That he left behind his fiancé was probably one of the only truly underdeveloped subplots of the feature. The man, played by Christopher Gorham, has to deal with everything from incompetent officials, bad weather, competition from another preacher, death, and a whole lot more. It wasn't a white wash of his coming to the island and saving them from themselves either. He learns about some of their customs, including why it's important to leave your feet covered at night (rats eat the soles of your feet), and in balance, he learned more from them than they ever learned from him about friends, family, and sacrifice.
It should be remembered that the movie was set in the 1950's which was a much simpler time too. The movie was based on the real life adventures of a man, John Groberg, who spent several years as a missionary for the Mormon church. I'm not particularly religious but I enjoyed all but the most preachy parts of the movie and those were fairly limited in number. Becoming part of an alien culture must've been quite a shock back then for someone as sheltered as John must've been. While the movie did seem to suffer from some of the same elements Lawrence of Arabia did (i.e. that John was the savior of the alien culture which had less to offer John than he did to them), even those moments were balanced off with moments he was in awe of how much they knew. In all, a family flick made for a growing number of people tired of special effects laden bombs.
Picture: The picture was presented in 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen and looked fabulous. The settings were so lush that I'd have booked a flight to Tonga (or nearby where it was actually filmed) if I could afford it. I saw no artifacts or other blemishes in the film.
Sound: The sound was in 5.1 English Dolby Stereo and sounded excellent as well. The audio commentary was in 2.0 stereo and was also clear.
Extras: My favorite extra was the audio commentary by Director Mitch Davis. In it, he described not only some of the hardships the cast and crew went through to make the movie but also some of the funny moments each of them had and how the movie was made, even in a day when such movies rarely make it into production. The making of the movie feature was also pretty fun to watch with about 24 minutes of material for movie buffs to scour for trivia and other points of interest. The last extra was a modest still gallery of pictures.
Final Thoughts: Anyone who knows me would be quick to say that this is not the type of movie that they normally associate with my viewing habits. That doesn't make it any less fun to watch if you're in the mood to watch a light, family oriented movie. The technical aspects were very well done and the theme transcended the religious angle more often than not to show that family, friends, and community are much more important than most modern society people seem to think. If you're open minded about moralistic movies such as this, I'd recommend it to you as a keeper.