September Dawn – DVD Review

Available at Amazon.com

Director

Christopher Cain

Cast

Jon Voight ………. Jacob Samuelson
Trent Ford ………. Jonathan Samuelson
Tamara Hope ………. Emily Hudson
Jon Gries ………. John D. Lee
Taylor Handley ………. Micah Samuelson
Huntley Ritter ………. Robert Humphries
Krisinda Cain ………. Young Woman
Shaun Johnston ………. Captain Fancher
Lolita Davidovich ………. Nancy Dunlap
Dean Cain ………. Joseph Smith
Terence Stamp ………. Brigham Young

The Movie

When one mentions the tragedies of the Old West in 1800s America, the one event few people have heard about and even less people know about is the Mountain Meadows Massacre on September 11, 1857. A revenge killing against immigrants by some Mormons, 120 people ended up dead. Led back then by Brigham Young, namesake of Brigham Young University, a militia assembled massacred the 120 people because of an apocalyptic prediction from Young involving a seven-year siege by an invading U.S Army (Utah had not become a state yet). In an age where religious extremism has taken yet another deadly turn, September Dawn takes us back 150 years to the past when another group of religious fanatics killed people in the name of God.

The film stars Jon Voight as Jacob Samuelson, a composite of men who orchestrated the attack on the settlers. Director Christopher Cain draws on historical records of the massacre, including excerpts from speeches by Brigham Young (Terence Stamp) and the signed confession of John D. Lee (Jon Gries), who led the attack and was ultimately executed for his role. And while it’s a sad time in American history, the film is even sadder because of the sheer exploitative nature of September Dawn.

Portraying Mormons in such a bad light that any other minority group in this country would file a lawsuit and outright protest the film at any theatre showing it, this is perhaps a better exploitation film than either of the Grindhouse films were. It’s not that the film portrays the Mormons who committed the massacre as evil, and rightly so, it’s just that every Mormon depicted is used in the same light one would find depicting a minority group on a website run by Neo-Nazis.

Brigham Young and others are depicted as being blood-thirsty and ruthless in the name of God. It’s easy to see the parallel Cain is trying to draw between Muslims now and Mormons then, or at least the fanatical followers of both. Religious fanaticism is dangerous is his theme but he does it with all of the subtlety of breaking wind in the middle of a church service. Cain obviously did a lot of research into the film and it shows, but the film is slanted so heavily against Mormons that it becomes almost unbearable to watch at times.

Lost in all this is a top of the line performance from Jon Gries. Perhaps better known as Uncle Rico in Napoleon Dynamite, Gries portrays a man who regretted his role in the act. It’s the only thing redeeming in a film that’s beyond redemption. One can only hope a film 150 years from now won’t depict Muslims in the same way in regards to September 11, 2001, in the same way Mormons are depicted on September 11, 1857.

A/V QUALITY CONTROL

Presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 format in a widescreen presentation, complete with 1.78:1 aspect ratio, the film has a terrific audio/visual presentation. A low-budgeted film, September Dawn still manages to look and sound like a Hollywood blockbuster in terms of its DVD presentation. The audio uses the system fully while the picture is clear.

The Extras

Descendants: Remembering the Tragedy is a look back at the tragedy from the perspective of those who survived it. Functioning as mainly a propaganda piece for the survivors, since the LDS church refused to cooperate with the film’s production, it’s a painfully slow 10-minute piece about the descendants wanting of the Mormon Church to take full culpability for the massacre.

True Events: A Historical Perspective is a piece about the historical accuracy the film strives to present. It’s fascinating to hear about how much research was involved in making sure the film was as accurate as possible, including a focus on Brigham Young’s involvement in the massacre (which he strenuously denied). Historians and the screenwriter discuss this for about eight minutes, which seems too short given how much material there is about the tragedy.

Previews for DVD releases of Slipstream, The Nines, The Good Night, Goya’s Ghosts, Already Dead, Gabriel, Seraphim Falls and the 30th anniversary edition of Close Encounters of the Third Kind are included.

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for September Dawn
CATEGORY
RATING
(OUT OF 10)
THE MOVIE

2.0
THE VIDEO

8.5
THE AUDIO

8.5
THE EXTRAS

2.0
REPLAY VALUE

1.5
OVERALL
2.0
(NOT AN AVERAGE)

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