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First Descent
DVD disk
Mar 15, 2006 By: Quigles
First Descent order
Director:
Kemp Curly, Kevin Harrison

Actors:
Shawn Farmer
Shaun White
Nick Perata

Rating:
Movie:
Extras:
Overall:

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WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
Five of the best snowboarders in the world head to Alaska to ride down some insanely big mountains.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
The only knowledge I have to base a review on something snowboarding-related is from my owning all three SSX games for the PS2... so, yeah, not much. Thankfully though, this documentary is suitable for both fans of the sport as well as people who know practically nothing about the ins-and-outs of it (a.k.a. "me"). The basic structure of the film can be separated into three distinct sections:

1. History Lesson - This part of the documentary deals with the development of snowboarding over time, as well as how it influenced people.
2. Alaskan Mountain Riding - This is almost like a mini-documentary in itself. It involves five experienced boarders, who all go to Alaska to ride the most outrageous slopes they can find. Avalanches ensue.
3. Boarder Backgrounds - This section devotes time to talking about each of the five boarder's involvement in snowboarding.

Those three parts are sort of awkwardly interspersed throughout the documentary, but at least the pace moves at a faster clip because of it. Unfortunately though, I didn't find all of the sections to be altogether interesting. I really enjoyed seeing the five main boarders take on huge runs of the Alaska mountains, but wasn't all that excited when it came to watching the documentary talk about their backgrounds. A few of the people are pretty interesting, and were well-served to show how different boarders can be involved in the sport, but I also felt like I was watching a personal biography at times (which I really was not into at all). That's not the only problem though. The documentary runs way longer than it needed to, and could have easily been benefited from cutting about twenty minutes. Another issue was that, at times, the film felt more like a commercial for snowboarding than a documentary.

Aside from the above complaints, FIRST DESCENT is a solid trip to the world of snowboarding. The style of the documentary is at times very amped-up to feel like a sports video, and at others follows more along the lines of DOGTOWN AND Z-BOYS (the popular skateboarding documentary). Believe it or not, that style really benefits the film, as it allows different types of people to appreciate various aspects of the production. Which brings me to my next point - the cinematography is gorgeous. Seriously, when those five people are boarding down those giant mountains, it looks too cool for words. If nothing else, you should rent the flick for that.
THE EXTRAS
There are quite a few nice extras here.

AK and Beyond (21:30): This featurette gives a nice behind-the-scenes look at the technical side of making the documentary. It also features some candid interviews and a whole bunch of fooling around.

Top of the World: Wescam Featurette (5:32): A short but interesting featurette about the "wescam", which is a special anti-vibration camera that mounts on a helicopter and delivers some really stellar visuals.

A Thousand Words (4:52): A dumb extra that features a photo-gallery with fading images set to rock music.

Big-Mountain Riding (5:39): Nick Perata discusses some safety-related do's and doníts when riding the Alaska mountains (good for beginning snowboarders).

Extended Snowboarding Action (4:27): A worthwhile 5 minutes of extra snowboarding footage - sure to please fans.

Deleted Scenes (6:00): There are 2 of them. Neither of them are special. Had a few more scenes similar to these been cut from the documentary, the length would have been much more agreeable.
FINAL DIAGNOSIS
If you love snowboarding, don't mind the surfer persona of people using words like "rad" and "gnarly", and get a kick out of seeing people doing completely insane stunts, then FIRST DESCENT is a no-brainer. If, on the other hand, you don't know much about the sport and are interested in learning more, then FIRST DESCENT still might be a good choice for you. It's not the best documentary I've ever seen, but it's still a darn good one... if you're a snowboarding fanatic, that is.
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