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FIRST DESCENT (director: Kemp Curly/Kevin Harrison; screenwriter: Kevin Harrison; cinematographer: Scott Duncan; music: Mark Mothersbaugh; cast: Henry Rollins (Narrator), Shawn Farmer, Terje Haakonsen, Nick Peralta, Hannah Teter, Shaun White; Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Kemp Curly/Kevin Harrison; Universal Pictures; 2005)
“Though I admire the athletes, the film failed to capture my interest in them or the sport.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Directors Kemp Curly and Kevin Harrison’s overlong, thinly drawn, too chatty and clichéd, overly enthusiastic and sloppily told documentary is a gushing tribute to snowboarding as the savior of the ski slopes and an homage to the free-thinking attitude of its stars that rebelled against authority to make the sport explode in the ’90s. It traces the evolution of the sport from its unpopular beginning in the 1980s (snowboarders viewed as punks and losers) with the mainstream skiing industry until its acceptance in 1998 as an Olympic sport (becoming commercially viable as an over billion dollar industry) and its potential in the 21st-century to grow at an even greater rate. There are fun moments that show these likable and courageous expert snowboarders do bloodcurdling thrill-ride things coming down untrodden mountains (but after awhile even this becomes tiresome); for someone like me who is not a fan of the sport, I saw nothing there to convert me.

It follows five diverse top snowboarders–40-year-old pioneer Shawn Farmer, Norwegian world champion Terje Haakonsen, the paternal veteran Nick Peralta, the amiable up and comer Vermonter Hannah Teter, and the teenager future superstar and three-time winner of the X games Shaun White–on a 10-day adventure in Valdez, Alaska, where they experience taking free-style runs on mountains where they are putting their life on the line. When not taking the dare down the virgin mountain, the grizzled veterans Farmer and Nick reminisce about the old days, current celebrity White tells what a kick he gets out of the sport and modestly tells how much more he has to learn, Hannah digs the camaraderie–the boys remind her of her brothers–and welcomes the experience she gained in Alaska, and speedster Terje thrills at the opportunity to take a run down a mountain whose elevation is over seven thousand feet and susceptible to avalanches.

Each to his own poison. Though I admire the athletes, the film failed to capture my interest in them or the sport. The overly serious narration by Henry Rollins that includes saying things like “the soul of snowboarding,” left me wondering will there be no end to these extreme-sports as part of the “revolution” that is geared to change nothing. REVIEWED ON 12/4/2005 GRADE: C+

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”