Duuude! You have to check out this new flick called “First Descent”! It’s got, like, the history of snowboarding, and some board pros totally go up to, like, Alaska or whatever and totally cut lines down these sweet mountains! It’s so gnarly. Catch ya later, brah!
(Will I be the only critic to begin his review like that? No. I can only hope to be among the first hundred.)
Anyway, brah, “First Descent” is to snowboarding what “Dogtown and Z-Boys” was to skateboarding and “Riding Giants” was to surfing — or at least it tries to be. Rather than using new interviews and old footage to tell the history of the sport, “First Descent” features an awkward mix of those elements and a newly shot, just-for-the-film document of a team of current pros on an Alaskan snowboarding expedition.
Much of this footage is gnarly indeed, and beautifully filmed (by first-time directors Kemp Curly and Kevin Harrison) in the breathtaking back country of our 49th state. But if you want nifty x-treme sports footage, there are dozens of videos you can rent.
The Alaska crew includes 18-year-old Shaun White, a Carrot Top lookalike who is evidently all the rage on the pro boarding circuit these days (and, like many of his colleagues, no slouch on the skateboard, either). His is a youth-oriented sport, but men like 40-year-old Shawn Farmer have excelled in the past and continue to be active (though some of the more ridiculous Alaska stunts are too much for him).
Also along are 18-year-old Hannah Teter, Scandinavian sensation Terje Haakonsen, and Nick Perata, who has spent enough time in Alaska to make him quite valuable to the rest of the team. (“The biggest thing that would bum me out would be if someone got hurt or killed here in my own backyard,” he says casually). A few minutes are spent on each character’s back story, and then it’s to the slopes!
Intercut with all this are interviews with other snowboarding pioneers and footage of their early work. A story emerges that is similar to what we heard in the films previously mentioned: We weren’t trying to invent a new sport, we were just kids having fun, etc. Still, it’s interesting to see the evolution from despised thrashers of ski runs to mainstream athletes competing in the Winter Olympics. (Naturally, a few of them worry whether such acceptance is “selling out,” as if getting paid for what you were doing anyway somehow means the thing isn’t worth doing anymore.)
It’s all enjoyable as far as it goes, but at 110 minutes, the film is liable to tax the patience of all but the most devoted of aficionados. It needs more focus and cohesion — more fascinating history and trivia, less footage of the Alaska trip. Because honestly, with all due respect to Alaska, one guy zipping down a mountain on a snowboard looks about the same as any other, regardless of what state he’s in.
C+ (1 hr., 50 min.; )