I remember a few years ago when it premiered, our bishop told us about it in church and said that it was a fantastic thing, that many people would get to see what our church is all about, and we should all try to watch it.
I didn't watch it back then, but I remember turning it on for a minute, just to check it out... and what I saw was a historian talking about how Joseph Smith followed the same pattern as many charlatans and shamans, and how such people often become convinced of their own divinity. And I realized, this is not what our church leaders thought it would be...
I was thinking about that recently, so I got the DVD from the library, and my [never mormon] wife and I watched it today.
And it is with every ounce of my recommendatory power that I say that everyone here should watch this thing. It is excellent. It is interesting, and it does something very important: it looks at the church from an objective viewpoint... and as we all know, if there is something the Church abhors, it is being viewed objectively, or rather, any way other than from Church-approved sources. (There's actually even a whole segment on this! which made me quite happy)
Part 1 deals with the history of the church, from the First Vision to the exodus to Salt Lake, finishing with segments on the Mountain Meadows Massacre and polygamy.
When I say they do this objectively, I really mean it. They tell the history as the church tells is, as the members believe it. They interview members of the quorum of the 12, as well as LDS scholars and historians. They also interview secular scholars and historians, who, after telling the church's version of its own history, also speculate on things Mormons aren't supposed to think about: was Joseph Smith a mere con man? Was polygamy rooted in, to put it bluntly, horniness? They talk about Smith's treasure hunting days.
One of the most interesting things to me was the segment on the Mountain Meadows Massacre. There is endless debate as to whether Brigham Young himself ordered the slaughter, and there is no evidence to point either way. However, there are first hand documents, letters and journals and such, revealing Young's coverup of the whole affair, and showing that even before that, he had given the Native Americans permission to pretty much ransack any passing wagon parties. This is stuff the church doesn't want you to hear, and all I could think about was our bishop regretting telling us all to watch this...
Part 2 was about the church in modern days. It talked about how the church came to be socially acceptable, then had segments on missionaries, the church's feelings on family, the temple, and my favorite, a segment entitled "Dissenters and Exile," which, my fellow ex-mos, means us. It was quite interesting, and as I said above, it is all about how the church doesn't like those who pry. The apostles are actually on there discouraging severe intellectualism! Because it is damaging to faith.
There was one woman in particular who was interesting... she had some crazy idea that women should have the priesthood, and in her digging, she had found some very interesting records from Joseph Smith that would appear to support her... and the church didn't like it. And she was excommunicated.
Part 2 was my favorite, but the whole thing is vastly interesting. I had fun playing a little game with myself, identifying all the points my parents would have turned off the TV had we all watched it together (if they hadn't turned it off earlier, of course). I feel like church leaders would feel more than a little nervous about members watching this... which means that they should probably all watch it.
This turned out to be longer than I intended... sorry about that. In closing, I'm just curious who has seen it, what you thought, and to recommend this to anyone who hasn't seen it.