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"The Other Side of Heaven 2: Fire of Faith" received enthusiastic praise from a most unlikely source: The New York critic for Rotten Tomatoes, Avi Offer, called it “an exhilarating, thrilling, genuinely heartfelt epic for the entire family” before adding, “It will make you stand up and cheer!”
“That review made me stand up and cheer,” said the movie’s writer, director and producer, Mitch Davis. He said he has been delighted by the number of critics who have noted the movie’s big screen and epic nature because he refused for almost 20 years to make a sequel unless it could be produced at the same studio-level quality as the original Disney-distributed film, 2001's, "The Other Side of Heaven."
“There were a lot of people, including President Monson, who were excited about the idea of a sequel,” Davis said. “But I felt like we had done the first one right with a big budget and big stars like Anne Hathaway and I didn’t want to make a cheaper imitation just to make money. So I just kept saying no.”
Elder John H. Groberg, however, felt a responsibility to Thomas S. Monson, the late president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Monson had assigned Groberg to write books about each of his two missions to Tonga.
“President Monson was very specific to me that I had to write not only a book about my first mission to Tonga in the 1950s but also my second mission as president of the Tonga-Fiji mission in the 1960s. I would have never thought to write them myself,” Groberg explained. “And now, seeing that major movies have been produced based on both of them, I see the fulfillment of his prophetic vision.”
Davis lights up from Groberg’s description of the two films as “major motion pictures.”
“That’s right. They are both major motion pictures. In fact, the sequel is a bigger, more ambitious film than the first,” Davis stated. “I believe we have big stories to tell the world and that we ought to be telling them at such a level that they demand to be heard. Which is why we produced this big-budget, big-screen film that critics and audiences are telling us really deserves to be seen inside a theater.”
Davis went on to emphasize the importance of the U.S. theater audience, explaining that “movies that succeed inside theaters in North America are given a free pass to distribution in many foreign countries and languages for years on end. That’s what happened over the last 20 years with the first film. We need to accomplish the same thing with this sequel. Not so anyone can make a dollar. Just so this faith-promoting film can go into all the world doing good.”
“It’s a really beautiful film,” praised professional golfer, Tony Finau, who attended the theatrical premiere of the movie with his wife, Alayna. “My wife and I felt such a powerful, sweet spirit inside the theater while watching it. At times it really did feel like we were in heaven.”
And Finau knows better than most the stories of Kolipoki, Groberg’s Tongan nickname. His grandmother’s brother, Feki Po’uha, served as Groberg’s first missionary companion and appears in both films.
“When I saw the first movie I felt Feki’s spirit just as my grandmother described him, and I admired Kolipoki and his faith,” Finau recalled. “I felt the same way when I watched the second movie. 'The Other Side of Heaven' runs deep in my family.”
Groberg is modest when speaking about his accomplishments.
“I am just one of hundreds of thousands of missionaries and mission presidents who have served faithful missions around the world over the years,” Groberg said. “I think the thing that was unique about my missions was the unconditional love and powerful faith of the Tongan people. I think that’s why Hollywood decided to make movies out of them.”
But, as Davis noted, the opportunity to see this epic, Hollywood film inside a theater is waning.
“We are competing with 'Lion King' and 'Spiderman' and 'Toy Story 4' inside theaters right now. If we don’t fill those seats this week, we will get tossed out and the next chance people will have to see the movie will be on DVD on their tiny TV sets,” Davis warned.
“My advice would be for everyone to see this movie inside a theater this week because it might not be around next week whereas all those big studio films will be around for weeks to come.”
Davis also vouched for the movie’s family-friendly nature in spite of an MPAA rating of PG-13.
“There is one beat-up scene in the movie that the MPAA thought was too intense to give it a PG rating, but it’s actually an inspiring scene where a real character makes a brave sacrifice for his faith. No way were we going to cut that scene out,” Davis explained.
“I am most impressed by the quality of this film,” Groberg said. “The images, the drama, and the music are all very powerful on the big screen. It is just remarkable how much impact this movie’s spirit has on people. The spirit of the Tongan people mixed with the spirit of the Lord.”