First Descent

Bomb Rating: 

In the end, we learn that snowboarding's fun for everyone, except, it would seem, black people. Seriously, if you do go see this film, play "spot the black snowboarder." There is one. But he's hard to find. Like Waldo.

This is a documentary about snowboarding, two things that go together about as well as chamber music and slam-dancing. If the documentary were paced in a manner appropriate to the sport, I could see it working, but at times the tempo was so slow I expected Ken Burns to appear and start reading historic letters from the Civil War.

The problem starts with the opening credits, which last longer than an Oscar acceptance speech and cause the movie to immediately run afoul of a primary characteristic of its intended audience: short attention spans. Segments on the history of snowboarding clunk by like PowerPoint slides, interspersed with some footage of snowboarding luminaries riding the Alaska wilderness.

In this expedition, Nick Peralta and Shawn Farmer are the snowboarding old-timers, and Farmer especially strikes you as someone who's beginning to realize he's "that guy" at the all-ages show twice as old as everyone around him. Hannah Teter and Shaun White are the young turks, halfpipe masters who sometimes struggle with the Alaska terrain. Terje Haakonsen is the Scandanvian superstar, a one-man-ABBA of snowboarding. When not actively snowboarding, everyone gathers to talk about snowboarding, snow conditions, and the postmodern philosophical critiques of Michel Foucault. Well, not so much the Foucault.

In the end, we learn that snowboarding's fun for everyone, except, it would seem, black people. Seriously, if you do go see this film, play "spot the black snowboarder." There is one. But he's hard to find. Like Waldo. The larger issue here is "do we care"? I mean, someone came up with the idea of strapping a board to his feet and sliding around on the snow on it. Is this really an occasion for such cinematic gravitas? Apparently this turned into a "movement" and all this time, I thought all these folks had just lost a ski.

The movie keeps underscoring the "anti-establishment" energy that drove the snowboarding revolution, which is the height of irony given that the message is being delivered directly from the establishment, namely PepsiCo. That's right, "MD Films" is one of the producers of this film. "MD" stands for "Mountain Dew." So it's essentially a two-hour soda pop commercial, which explains why a Mountain Dew sponsored NASCAR race is considered central to a film about snowboarding. At one point, some snowboarding luminaries ponder whether the sport has sold out. The only surprise for me in this film was when that heartfelt soliloquy wasn't followed up with a big onscreen swig of Mountain Dew, and an exclamation along the lines of "Wow, that's refreshing to the EXTREME!"

"First Descent" goes downhill fast.

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