Judge Adam Arseneau is impressed how Warren Miller can journey through the decades without some sort of way-back machine, or a boy named Sherman.
"A good ski run is like a good meal."
I have said it before, and I will say it again: Everyone should own a Warren Miller film. Regardless of sex, race, political affiliation, sexual orientation, creed, or any other distinguishing factor in the melting pot of humanity, people the world over can uniformly agree that Warren Miller films kick great amounts of ass. Even agoraphobics, haters of winter and all things snow, or people who have humiliated themselves on snowboards in front of their peers and moved to Florida in shame and defeat will stand agog, mouths agape in bewilderment, at the sheer spectacle of a Warren Miller film. These are sport documentaries of the highest caliber, full of stunning cinematography, astonishing feats of arctic athleticism, exotic location shots, and of course, Miller's trademark deadpan and dry sardonic wit.
Warren Miller's Journey Through The Decades contains four Warren Miller features, a bundled collection spanning a good 25-year period in Miller's career. Out of the four films included in this box set, only one is available as a single standalone for purchase: Warren Miller's Journey (2003). The other three titles, Endless Winter (1995), Steep & Deep (1985), and Ski A La Carte (1978) are only available on DVD as part of this box set, so for diehard Warren Miller fans, this box set represents significant value even if you already own Journey.
• Journey is Miller in fine modern form, and has previously been reviewed on this website as a standalone disc by a certain brilliant and handsome Judge, so it shall not be addressed here. Feel free to read the existing review for more details.
• Endless Winter is more of the same—cutting-edge camerawork, excellent production values, and a rapidly increasing budget (thanks in part to heavy sponsorship from Nissan) which allows some fantastically exotic location shots. . Endless Winter is on a par with Journey in terms of visual quality and sound quality, heavy on the slickness.
• Steep & Deep is an astonishing example of all things '80s—terribly tacky fluorescent one-piece ski suits, giant moustaches, synthesized rock Miami Vice-style soundtrack, and horribly boxy skiing equipment. Also, breakdancing on skis. This disc in particular is worth the price of admission if only for the four-minute "Big Wrecks" blooper reel, highlighting some of the most spectacular, neck-breaking, limb-fracturing, mind-blowing yard sale wipeouts you will ever lay eyes on, cobbled together from Miller footage through the decades. The visual quality takes a hit compared to previous films and shows its age somewhat, with noticeable grain and damage to the film throughout, but is still pleasing enough as a presentation. Audio quality is quite excellent, and busts out the heavy rock-synth music with confidence and solid response.
• Ski A La Carte is vintage stuff, filmed in 1978, practically a century ago in terms of the sport of skiing and snowb…well, there was hardly any snowboarding in 1978. Pioneers like Jake Burton and Tom Sims were still strapping children's toys called Snurfers to their feet and careening suicidally down hills, light bulbs starting to go off in their heads. What, pray tell, is a Snurfer, you may ask? Imagine two skis stuck together with a rope on the front to hold onto. You stand on the plastic contraption, grip the rope, and pray for dear life. That should give you an idea of how old-school we're talking here. Visual quality is oxymoronic, with insane amounts of damage, dust and scratches—a total lack of visual fidelity that looks like 16mm film was transferred directly to VHS, then to DVD, and enjoyed many adventures in quality along the way. Ugly, ugly stuff, and the audio quality is not much better.
Though his work remains timeless to a certain degree, it is an undeniable truth that Miller improves upon his films every year, if only in terms of fidelity in visual quality. As the films get older, the visual quality of the transfers goes downhill like an amateur skier down a double-diamond trail. With moguls. And trees. This is the only real flaw with Journey Through The Decades as a box set—though Miller's films themselves remain virtually identical in tone, structure, stunts, and editing year after year, they upgrade in quality by leaps and bounds each time. Comparing Journey to Skiing A La Carte is like trying to go back to eight-track tape after selling your five-channel SACD stereo system. The older films show noticeable wear, tear, damage, and grain, and have not been given a lot of attention when transferred to DVD. With some tender restoration, things might have been passable, but as it stands, the older films are tough to watch. While their inclusion on DVD is great for nostalgic purposes, they have been shown little respect here.
Each film contains four or five extras in the way of small vignettes, which basically amount to infomercials for alternate Miller films on DVD. They have cross-promotion down to a science—each section, be it "Big Wipes" or "The Birth of Extreme" or what have you, features footage from a cross-section of Warren Miller films throughout the years, focusing on a centralized theme. These extras can be accessed through the menu or via a pop-up icon during the film. Some of these extras are redundant, like "Spills" on Endless Winter and "Big Wrecks" on Steep & Deep, but they are entertaining enough for this not to be problematic.
While it's hard to label Journey Through The Decades as the "definitive" Warren Miller collection, admittedly it is one of the closest things on the market right now. Diehard fans would be hard-pressed to resist the charms of a four-disc retrospective bundle like this. The problem for everyone else, of course, is that these are not Miller's best films; they are merely four of his films, and old ones at that, for the most part. His newer films have moved with the times, featuring better soundtracks, better audio and video recording technology, daring crane and dolly shots, more exotic and expensive location shots, more athletes, and other improvements. The older films feel…well, just plain old, and the terrible condition of the transfers for Ski A La Carte and Steep & Deep does not improve things.
If I was on the prowl for a Warren Miller box set, personally, I would opt for the alternative Miller box set available, the Power of Snow collection, which contains four of Miller's modern films, excellent both in presentation and in visual quality. Of course, for most people, a box set of Miller films might be a tiny bit of overkill. Frankly, any Warren Miller film is a good film, and one will suffice just fine—just pick one, sit back, and enjoy. They're all good.
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