Blu-ray and DVD Reviews

First Descent

Reviewed by: Joshua Starnes and Scott Chitwood
Movie Rating:
5 out of 10
Extras Rating:
7 out of 10
Movie Details:
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Rating: PG-13

Starring:
Shawn Farmer as Himself
Terje Haakonsen as Himself
Nick Perata as Himself
Hannah Teter as Herself
Shaun White as Himself

Special Features:
AK and Beyond

Top of the World: Wescam Featurette

A Thousand Words

Big-Mountain Riding

Extended Snowboarding Action

Deleted Scenes

Other Info:
Widescreen (2.35:1)
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
Spanish and French Subtitles
Running Time: 1 Hour 51 Minutes

Synopsis:
The following text is from the DVD cover:

"Follow five snowboarding icons (Shaun White, Hannah Teter, Terje Haakonsen, Shawn Farmer and Nick Perata) on this epic Alaskan journey as they ride the most challenging and dangerous mountains on the planet. Featuring some of the most jaw-dropping snowboard footage ever caught on film, this incredible motion picture tracks the rebellious, inspiring and sometimes controversial evolution of snowboarding from an underground American movement to a full-fledged global phenomenon."

First Descent is rated PG-13 for brief strong language and a momentary drug reference.

The Movie:
I'm going to go the lazy route here. CS reviewer Joshua Starnes captured my sentiments about First Descent very well. However, he gave the film a lower rating than I thought it deserved. He gave it a 3 out of 10 while I thought it deserved a 5 out of 10. Still, his thoughts echoed mine. Here's what he had to say:

"At it's best, "First Descent" manages to capture the acrobatic grace and beauty of snowboarding with some stunning sports footage taken from major boarding events from all around the world, tacked onto the framework of several of the worlds best snowboarders spending 12 days boarding in the Alaskan wilderness.

It does not reach that particular peak very often.

The different personalities are fairly interesting to listen to when they talk about the craft of their sport - particularly Norwegian snowboarder Terje Haakonsen, perhaps the best in the world and one of the few who approaches the sport in an adult fashion - but whenever they start getting into the dynamics of their lives or their philosophy on snowboarding, they tend to flounder in the most inane sort of banality. There is certainly some unintended irony in professional snowboarders complaining about the commercialization of the sport ruining its purity in a movie made by Mountain Dew.

Most of those reminiscences of the purer days tend to revolve around the anarchy of thrashing that used to be a much larger part of the sport and its general place in the counter-culture (which seems to be what most of the older boarders really miss - they seem to be trying to have their cake and eat it too). They tend to sound like children who never had to grow up, with some of the older pioneers just beginning to question if maybe this is a way of life they have outgrown with age. Still, it's hard to decide whether that particular mindset is a blessing or a curse.

The term first descent itself refers to the first time a particular slope is attempted - in this case a 7,000 foot monster that all of the professional boarders are nervous about attempting, but at the same time anxious to try because there are less and less first descents available as the sport grows older. It's epidemic of the problems people see within snowboarding itself - the maturation of a sport invented to battle maturity. Naturally the people involved aren't too sure what to make of that, maybe they never will be.

Despite some moments of truly athletic beauty, "First Descent" is a fairly empty sports documentary that celebrates the gloss of the lifestyle, but doesn't do much to try and get under its skin."

To this I will add that First Descent is the most cinematic documentary I've ever seen. It's beautifully shot and the scenes where the snowboarders took to the slopes looked like they came from a big budget action flick. Still at a 2 hour running time it could have been 1 hour shorter.

The Extras:
There's a pretty good selection of bonus features on this DVD. Here's what you'll find:

AK and Beyond – This is your standard "making of" feature. They interview the snowboarders and the crew. They get into in-depth discussions about the making of the movie. You see the camera crew, the helicopters, the cabins, and more. You certainly appreciate the logistics of pulling this film off.

Top of the World: Wescam Featurette – This featurette discusses the gyro-balanced camera attached to the helicopters. The pilot tells what it's like to fly with the 600 lb weight strapped to the front of the helicopter. He also tells one harrowing tale where they dropped 2000 ft in 10 seconds in a downdraft.

A Thousand Words – This is just a slide show of photos set to music.

Big-Mountain Riding – This featurette discusses snowboarding in Alaska and all the safety issues that go with it.

Extended Snowboarding Action – This is some additional footage of the big snowboarding scenes from the film. Some of the shots are alternate angles of the action.

Deleted Scenes – There are two deleted scenes – one in the bar and one during the weather. They didn't do much for the film.

The Bottom Line:
If you're into snowboarding, you liked watching snowboarding in the Olympics, or if you're a fan of media darling Shaun White, you'll enjoy First Descent. Everyone else should pass.

Order this DVD @ Amazon

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