First Descent

Every movie about extreme sports must measure itself up to Dogtown and Z-Boys, by far the best movie about the evolution of a sport. After the seminal film on skateboarding, director Stacey Peralta tried his hands at a surfing movie, and released the lesser Riding Giants. Around the same time, Billabong Odyssey, a surfing film about a group of top surfers flying around the world came out. First Descent is a mix of Riding Giants and Billabong Odyssey transported to snowboarding. It is a quick history of the still relatively new sport combined with a quick trip to Alaska for five of the world's top snowboarders. And it sounds a lot better than it actually it.

First Descent's directors, Kemp Curly and Kevin Harrison, create an awkward structure for their film. They intersperse the history of the sport, going approximately one decade at a time intercut with scenes in Alaska as well as flashbacks to about a month before the expedition in the lives of each of the snowboarders. This is clunky and becomes repetitive, adding a lot of filler to the running time. It was not a good idea, and taking a quick look into the lives of the snowboarders is not as interesting as it could be. It is a diverse group that spans three generations, from forty-year-old Shawn Farmer to seventeen year-old Hannah Teter.

The other members are Shaun White, Nick Perata, Norwegian Terje Haakonsen, and Travis Rice. Farmer and Teter are two of the biggest stars in the world. Perata and Farmer invited them to Alaska to experience freestyle riding. In other, they are not in a controlled area. This isn't a half pipe or ski run. This is snowboarding in pure nature, off the side of a mountain. The experience can be incredibly exhilarating, yet can be very dangerous. Rocks and avalanches are lurking around every corner. For White and Teter, it is a chance to flex their muscles in an unknown medium. They are champions on courses, with very little freestyle experience.

Snowboarding's history is pretty simple. Nobody knows quite who invented it. It has been around awhile and seemed to involve spontaneously beginning in the mid 1960s. Soon, teenagers and people in their twenties latched onto snowboarding, and it adopted an anti-authoritarian ethic. As it gained popularity, ski resorts cringed at the thought of punk running rampant on their cultured, pristine slopes. However, as skiing waned in popularity (and revenues), they did a u-turn and embraced snowboarders. Once broadcasters embraced it, and the X-Games came along, its popularity mushroomed. Curly and Harrison spend more time on the latter half rather than the beginnings, giving the film the air of one extended advertisement. Unfortunately, it feels like they are patting themselves on the back, congratulating each other on how cool they are, rather than spending more time with the five snowboarders and their little trek. To succeed, First Descent should either have focused more on the snowboarders in Alaska, or added more substance on snowboarding earlier days. By trying to do it all, they have the opposite effect and water the story down.

Mongoose Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 50 minutes, Rated PG-13 for brief strong language and a momentary drug reference.

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