Judge Kristin Munson may not be a surfer but she still wants her own Moon Doggie.
Without Script. Without Animation. Without Hype.
Every good documentary tells a complete story with the footage collected, and that's where Down the Barrel fails. For all its globe-trotting, the movie has no focus, no theme, and no central story except for how cool surfing is. That would be fine if this were a surf video aimed at wave riders and surfing fans, but the documentary can't seem to decide who its audience is.
The first third is a great introduction to surfing and surf culture, with beautiful shots taken from every possible angle—including inside a cresting wave so that passing surfers look like they're behind a wall of shimmering sea glass—and stories of surf gangs who police the waters of Hawaii and a community in Australia where kids are on boards as soon as they can walk. But then we're yanked out of this joyous ode to wave-riding and dropped into a clunky and confusing segment on the 2006 ASP World Championship that's only going to appeal to fans. Not only does it eat up half the running time, but the cameras bail on three events early when a tournament winner is declared, abandoning the other contenders we've invested all this time in and never telling us how they finished. So much for it being about the love of the wave.
First-Time Director Steve Lawrence may have landed some amazing shots, but he doesn't know when to cut. After a mind-blowing opening sequence on the Hawaiian coast that begs for a Blu-Ray edition, the director settles on a style of extended montages that turn even the most amazing rides into boring filler. Do you think surfers riding out giant tubes looks cool? They won't after five minutes straight.
The director also favors winners, which means pros get twice the screen time as the amateurs with more entertaining stories. Rob Machado, whose backyard is an elephant's graveyard of surf trophies and who (Gasp!) quit the pro scene so he could surf every day for the fun of it, is relegated to bookend status despite giving the better, more natural interviews. Bethany Hamilton and "Doc" Paskowitz (Surfwise) get fifth and sixth billing in the credits and don't show up until the last five minutes of the movie. I guess a surfing octogenarian and a teenager who holds her own in the water despite having had her arm ripped off by a shark just aren't as interesting as the interchangeable cut and tan 30-somethings we've been following.
Luckily, Genius has produced one hell of a disc. The anamorphic transfer is gorgeous, particularly in the intensity of the color palette in the Australia and Hawaii segments. For all the doc's story flaws, it would make a spectacular Hi-Def DVD. The disc is also choking on extras. In fact, just the listed features are longer than the movie, and that's not counting the Easter Eggs hidden in the bonus menu.
Now for the bad news: the majority of those extras are leftover surf footage cut into music videos. There's also a 30 minute extended sequence at the ASP event in Spain, in case you weren't bored enough the first go-round. The one featurette I was looking forward to, "Camera Destroyed—Film Saved," isn't a featurette at all but a one-minute clip lifted straight from the movie. With a filming style that required helicopters, handi-cams, and jet-skis, Down the Barrel is one of the few films begging for a "Making Of" look and yet there's nothing on the disc about production. I didn't feel like I came out of the bonus menu knowing any more than what I went in with.
Down the Barrel aims for a wide audience, but by getting caught up in the competitive aspect, it leaves them adrift in foreign territory. If you don't already know Joel Parkinson and Kelly Slater, you'll learn a little about them personally but nowhere near enough to keep up. All in all, the film is just more wave porn designed to get surfers at home waxing their shortboards, if you get my drift.
A niche title masquerading as a documentary, Down the Barrel is a feature-length surf video that is beautiful, disjointed, and so very Guilty.
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