Waiting for Lightning (Samuel Goldwyn Films)
Directed by Jacob Rosenberg; Written by Bret Anthony Johnson
Starring Danny Way, Travis Pastrana, Laird Hamilton, Rodney Mullen, Mat Hoffman, Ken Block, Rob Dyrdek, Tony Hawk
The Art of Flight 3D
Directed by Curt Morgan
Starring Travis Rice, John Jackson, Mark Landvik, Jeremy Jones, Scott Lago
As someone who watches a lot of movies, especially a lot of docs, it’s hard not to feel like an expert on many different subjects, but one thing that’s really evaded me over the years is the appeal of skateboard and snowboarding culture, something that’s exemplified in two movies being released this Friday.
I’ve never been on a skateboard, and if I have, I probably quickly fell on my ass and swore to never get on one again, so the idea of snowboarding down a mountain, potentially killing myself certainly has never crossed my mind. These movies follow the brave young men who seem to show no fear as they try to take on new challenges that few of us mortal men could possibly imagine us doing.
Waiting for Lightning tells the story of skateboarding pioneer Daniel Way, while also following him in the months leading up to his skateboard jump over the Great Wall of China. As a kid, Way lost a number of important father figures and that’s part of why he ended up driving himself to do bigger and bigger stunts, first in the skate parks, then on the skating circuit and in recent years, doing stunts on his patented MegaRamp, which creates an environment where one can do absolutely enormous leaps which don’t seem humanly possible.
Jacob Rosenberg’s film features interviews with lots of people from Way’s circle of friends, but not as much time spent with Way himself, which is why those unfamiliar with the skateboarder may spend the movie wondering if maybe Way died during his attempt to jump over the Great Wall – seriously, he could have. The set up to the jump is even more interesting than Way’s story, as they build a large enough ramp to allow Way to leap the 65-foot gap, and it’s quite astounding to see Way taking huge spills at some of his jumps only to get back on his board and try again.
At least I’ve heard of Daniel Way, which is not something I can say about snowboarder Travis Rice, star of the snowboarding doc The Art of Flight 3D, which opens for a one-night only run at AMC theaters in select cities. Directed by Curt Morgan, this movie really shows what can be done with 3D and one imagines part of why this movie even exists is due to the success of the “Jackass” movies and especially Jackass 3D. Unlike those movies, these are real athletes and thrillseekers constantly trying to break new ground.
Morgan’s cameras follow Rice and a rotating string of colleagues as they travel around the world trying to find remote mountain locations on which no one else has ever snowboarded, creating “lines” and leaping over huge caverns. At least as it begins, The Art of Flight risks the danger of basically being a music video as footage of the snowboarders is cut over music by Arcade Fire, Deamau5 or other such modern alternative music, but watching Rice’s journey to find the perfect slopes is almost as exciting as watching them board down them as both sometimes lead to dangerous situations and injuries. (Their helicopter pilots are almost as daring as the boarders themselves.)
The film looks absolutely spectacular on the big screen and one probably wouldn’t be able to differentiate the stuff that was filmed in 3D from what was converted after the fact, but frankly, it’s one of the best uses of 3D in a documentary since last year’s Piña and Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams. Once it gets past some of the downtime horseplay by the group, it goes on to show some absolutely amazing stunts on the snow-covered slopes.
Waiting for Lightning definitely has more weight as a documentary since it does have a far more interesting subject in Daniel Way and it does try to get inside his head. Enthusiasts of extreme sports (and those who snowboard or skateboard themselves) should be thrilled by the access both filmmakers have gotten to their subjects. Those who just like watching these daredevils breaking new ground in their sport should find both movies to be quite jawdropping.