Press Reaction

Vince Horiuchi, The Salt Lake Tribune

"... [I]n the new PBS documentary 'The Mormons' -- perhaps the biggest national documentary about the church ever televised -- filmmaker Helen Whitney has combed through rapture and rants about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to get to the simple truths.

"She has produced a comprehensive look at the church's violent and tumultuous history and its modern-day popularity with objectivity -- no pious declarations from church leaders or venomous attacks from anti-Mormons.

"And it's riveting. ..."

Matt Zoller Seitz, Time Out New York

"On paper, The Mormons sounds about as thrilling as mandatory Bible-study class. ... Don't be daunted: This joint venture between two PBS series, Frontline and American Experience, merges the former's muckraking candor and the latter's knack for capturing history's complexities. It's meticulous and addictive -- the TV equivalent of a thick nonfiction book that you start reading after dinner and finish at dawn. ..."

Jonathan Storm, The Philadelphia Inquirer

"... Filmmaker Helen Whitney, who made John Paul II: The Millennial Pope and Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero, and won a Peabody Award for The Choice '96, about the 1996 presidential election, directed her work into neutral territory, little-charted land in a world where point-of-view documentaries are the norm. ...

"Whitney's documentary is the opposite of audacious. No entertainment masterpiece, it is a peerless explainer, outlining just how the Mormon beliefs got to be so bold, and how they can be a pillar of strength for the righteous while seeming loony and threatening to those who don't buy in."

Hal Boedecker, Orlando Sentinel

"... Whitney has found first-rate speakers and assembled the material with style. She achieves balance by interviewing believers and skeptics, church insiders and the excommunicated. Most crucially, she provides respect that has often been denied the religion. ...

"To its great credit, 'The Mormons' goes beyond public relations to ask important questions in an intelligent way. All religions should be so lucky on television."

Neil Genzlinger, The New York Times

"...'The Mormons' is the first joint production of 'American Experience,' the history series, and 'Frontline,' the public-affairs program. The history side, which dominates tonight, is the strongest.

"The installment would be interesting enough if it merely related the fascinating story of the founding and evolution of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints … but it also manages to mix in, through some well-chosen talking heads, an intriguing discussion of what faith is, what religion is and what the Mormon story has in common with Judaism, Islam and early Christianity. ...

"Part II opens with a promise to explore how the church went from being denounced by American presidents in the 1880s to having its famed singers, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, perform at presidential inaugurations a century later. But the promise isn't really fulfilled. ...

"Yet the portrait of the modern-day church, which the program says has 12 million members worldwide, is compelling nonetheless. ..."

Barry Garron, The Hollywood Reporter

"… [The Mormons] -- while comprehensive, well-researched, nicely balanced, thoroughly organized and fascinating to watch -- is far from seamless. ...

"If there is a weak point to this hugely informative and watchable series, it may be the amount of time allocated in the second night to the practice of Mormon missions and the church's heavy-handed approach to critics. Regardless, this is a brilliant work on an engaging topic."

Sam Allis, The Boston Globe

"... 'The Mormons' brims with informed talking heads -- church historians, journalists, church elders, and a constellation of happy Mormons. It would have helped to identify Mormon from non-Mormon, but never mind. ...

"The story is not particularly a visual one. There are recreations of seminal events and a full array of paintings and still photography, but this story needs little help. It is strange and compelling all by itself. ..."

Nancy deWolf Smith, The Wall Street Journal

"... 'The Mormons' is such a respectful biography of a religion that when some of its officials pointed out in advance that the church did not help pay for or have editorial input into the documentary, I first assumed that they were defending themselves in advance against possible criticism that it is a puff piece. ...

"Compared to the average media portrait of other religious groups, e.g. evangelical Christians, the treatment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints couldn't be rosier."

Scott D. Pierce, Deseret Morning News

"... Award-winning filmmaker Helen Whitney doesn't take an advocacy position -- she neither promotes nor rails against the LDS Church. ...

"The documentary is built like a good news story: An issue is raised; people who come down on one side of the issue have their say; people on the other side of the issue have their say; the viewers are left to draw their own conclusions. ...

"There is no doubt that, simply because of its subject matter, 'The Mormons' will draw criticism from both sides. Which is probably an indication that Whitney has done a lot right with the documentary."

Gloria Goodale, The Christian Science Monitor

"... This is fascinating viewing for anyone interested in the growing pains of a new religion, although it has some serious flaws. Many sources, asserting important theological or historical points, are labeled only 'author' or 'writer,' leaving it to viewers to determine credibility or biases (some are church members, some are not). Also, while the film dwells at length on controversial church doctrines such as early polygamy and baptism of the dead, it gives surprisingly little time to laying out the full Mormon belief system and how it compares to other religions. Grade: B"

Kevin McDonough, United Feature Syndicate

"... While it is clearly the purpose of 'The Mormons' to offer greater insight into an often misunderstood culture, some of the participants' rapturous rhetoric about religious revelation and credulous observations about polygamy and blind obedience to theocracy seem well outside the realm of a history lesson.

"At the same time, 'The Mormons' does succeed in moving the conversation about the faith beyond the kind of one-dimensional stereotypes seen on the series 'Big Love' and elsewhere."

Allen Barra, American Heritage Online

"... enlightening and exhausting ...

"... At times The Mormons does too good a job; the parade of talking heads becomes somewhat dizzying, particularly when we're not informed as to the affiliations and credentials of some of those speaking. ...

"Taken together, the four-hour program is a huge mixed bag, a primer on a subject that most viewers are likely to feel more alienated from at the closing credits than they were at the beginning."

Ellen Gray, Philadelphia Daily News

"... Though Whitney's version is perhaps less incendiary than that in Jon Krakauer's 'Under the Banner of Heaven' -- which juxtaposed the story of the rise of LDS with that of a double murder committed by members of a fundamentalist splinter group -- it's not a whitewash.

"Dissidents get their say on both the church's controversial history and on its present-day dealings. ...

"But what shines through 'The Mormons' is Whitney's enthusiasm for allowing people of faith to talk about that faith.

"And that's the kind of talk -- from people of all kinds of beliefs -- that it might be good to hear more of."