We tried to ask Judge Bryan Pope what he thought of this surfing documentary, but it's hard to hear while standing on a surf board inside a 50-ton tunnel of pounding seawater.
"Sacrifice one, the swell will come."—Travis Potter
"The people in this movie are real and the story is true." This is the tidbit of information with which director Dustin Humphrey opens Burning the Map, and I don't know if it is intended to suggest a seriousness of purpose or simply state a fact. Regardless, for a film in which the principal players are undistinguishable beyond their surfing abilities and the events aren't remotely remarkable, I find it a curious point.
Burning the Map tracks professional surfer/filmmaker Timmy Turner's journey from his home in Huntington Beach, California, to the beaches of Indonesia. Fresh out of high school, Turner sees his life being mapped out for him, so, in an effort to "burn the map," he ditches his job at his parent's Sugar Shack restaurant, hops on a plane with just his surfboard and a duffle bag, and begins his endless summer. Along the way, he picks up fellow surfers Travis Potter and Rory Parker. They shoot the breeze with the locals, spend a lot of time on buses and in the back of trucks, and cruise from beach to beach looking for the perfect wave. Then the final credits roll. Excited yet?
I have a hunch there is an engrossing coming-of-age story hiding in here, but neither Turner nor Humphrey know where to look. Either that or their intentions weren't quite so lofty. Could be they were simply looking for something—anything—on which to hang cool surfing sequences. And they are cool, make no mistake about that. Humphrey and Turner know how to get a camera inside the barrel of a wave and create hypnotic effects. These scenes were so vivid, I had to suppress the urge to reach out and touch the water. Word has it that the sequences here pale in comparison to those in Turner's other film, the acclaimed Second Thoughts, but enthusiasts will likely not be disappointed. As long as the camera is riding the waves, the movie soars. Otherwise, it's dead in the water.
The biggest liability is Humphrey and his lazy filmmaking style. His film relies heavily on voiceover narration (first by Turner, then by Huntington Beach Surf Team coach Andy Verdone). Rather than giving the film any fluidity or direction, the narration reveals that there's just not a whole lot happening. I wish Humphrey and his camera had taken a more creative approach to chronicling Turner's journey, paid closer attention to the details (tell us more about the people of Indonesia), and trimmed some of the fat (Turner's occasional phone calls to home added nothing).
The people may be real and the story true, but in a film this mundane and humdrum, that point seems, well, pointless.
Burning the Map is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with Dolby 2.0 stereo sound. The package includes three tedious featurettes, none of which appears to be anything more than a collection of cutting-room-floor material. "The Making of Burning the Map," the only alleged behind-the-scenes featurette in the bunch, is dull footage of the filmmakers scouting for locations. "In-Country" takes us along as the cast interviews ("harasses" might be more accurate) some of the locals. We also get to watch the longest fishing scene in cinematic history. Endless summer, indeed. Finally, "Bali Nights" is nothing but bad camcorder shots of the filmmakers enjoying a night of clubbing. Trust me: They're having more fun than you will.
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