Thursday, April 16, 2015

Miracles on Ice: "17 Miracles" (2011)

I am not familiar with the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and their hardship and miracle laden trek from the American Midwest to Utah in the 1850's, but I did find some merit with this scattershot film.

Levi Savage (a hunky Jasen Wade, looking like a lost Hemsworth brother) is one of 500 people who must walk to "Zion" (Salt Lake, Utah) using nothing but handcarts for their possessions. This group of Mormon pioneers features many families from Europe, and Savage himself is anxious to get back to see the son he had to leave behind years before to go on a church mission. Savage warns of the harsh trip, he witnessed the aftermath of the Donner party's failure, but he is rebuffed and quietly follows orders.

The title comes from different divine miracles the poor travelers were involved in. They run the gamut from found food to people rising from the dead. An opening credit full of honesty tells us that the screenwriter combined two different treks into one story, and I assume some of the characters are fictional and/or combinations as well.

This odd credit gives way to an oddly constructed film. There is too much repetition, as Savage is shouted down in the most polite manner, followed by a miracle. The families didn't differentiate from one another, and Savage's behavior around a woman he has a crush on is cringe worthy- and not in a romantic comedy kind of way. An emotional focus is only found in the final twenty minutes of the film, and this does include one of the most detailed "whatever happened to?" codas ever produced.

The real strength here is writer/director T.C. Christensen's camera. He directs the scenes well, covering for a limited budget (no way are there 500 extras milling around in the background) nicely. The makeup done on the slowly starving pioneer folk is top notch. Christensen's cinematography is breath taking. The film is crystal clear and beautifully lit, with appropriately harsh winter scenes that gave me literal chills. Pessimists might argue that one major missing miracle is the assurance that all the travelers would arrive alive, and this bothered me, too.

"17 Miracles" is mild and nice to look at, and Wade rises above the rest of the cast (aside from Travis Eberhard as an overly adorable little person). No harm comes from watching this film. (* * *) out of five stars.