The search for the world's biggest wave.
They have the technical sophistication to track global weather conditions and predict big waves. They have the wherewithal to dispatch helicopters, jet ski fleets, surf boards, and hardcore surfers (living in California and Hawaii) to any point on the globe within 48 hours. They spent years training in extreme rescue techniques and high speed surfing, all to catch the world's biggest wave.
So why couldn't they shell out a few bills for an entry-level scriptwriter and a good voice actor?
There is one reason to see this movie, which is the opening scene. This footage might be the only reason the movie exists, it is that good. In an amazing confluence of man, nature, and technology, surfing veteran Mike Parsons caught a 50-foot wave in Maui, rode it to perfection, and a cameraman was perfectly poised to capture it.
We see Mike being hauled on his surfboard by a jet ski. He lets go and starts to ride. The camera is zoomed in, so we can't really tell where Mike is. The camera begins to zoom out, and we see that Mike is on the crest of a wave. As the camera continues its magnificent retreat, the awesome scope of the situation becomes clear. This surfer is alone on the brink of a six-story wall of water. He tilts the nose of the board down and plunges into the ride of his life. The camera pulls further away, and the sea undulates in a deadly swell with the tiny dot of a man slicing through the center.
Once this fantastic sequence is spent, there are 82 minutes left to go without much to fill it. Billabong Odyssey is a dry treatise on the future of surfing and the quest to capture massive waves. There are interesting tidbits from time to time, such as the peek into global wave tracking technology. There is also a surprisingly moving sequence about surfboards equipped with hydrofoils that could enable people to cruise around the ocean for miles. The feature also maintains an impressive focus on safety. But most of the narrative is repeated platitudes about how the surfers became "a team" and how they are on "the brink" of a major new era in surfing. The bulk of the movie is aimless, drifting from reality show style conflict to PBS style technobabble to extreme sports gnarlyisms. Brief moments of cohesiveness only serve to highlight the discord of the rest. The filmmakers seem oblivious to the obvious truth—that listening to people talk about surfing for an hour is less interesting than five minutes of actual surfing footage. Beyond that, everything we see in Billabong Odyssey was done earlier and with more heart in Step Into Liquid.
The movie, though formless, does have its heart in the right place. The same cannot be said for the DVD treatment. There are no extras. The video quality is very good, with no detracting edge enhancement or digital blights. The occasional black speck doesn't annoy, it only proves that real cameras were used. In fact, some of the footage of ice blue waves is breathtaking. A shame, then, that Warner felt the need to modify this film from its original version and format it to fit my screen. First of all, it didn't fit my screen because I was viewing on a widescreen. Second of all, what??? Warner Brothers, learn these words: Original Aspect Ratio. They are kind of important if you're planning to produce DVDs or anything like that.
There are better surf movies out there, but I doubt if better footage exists than the opening shot (even if it is cropped). It is up to you whether five minutes of exquisite footage is worth the purchase price.
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