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3 reviews, 1 rating

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First Descent
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by brianorndorf

"Didja know snowboarding cured cancer?"
3 stars

“First Descent” takes the viewer to the peaks of Alaska, where five snowboarders have set off to conquer virgin mountains for fortune and glory. That’s the good part. The rest of this new documentary is a bit stale, thanks to a similar filmmaking template used in such other sports documentaries like “Dogtown and Z-Boys.” Followers of snowboarding should have some fun with this, while casual riders might find their time better spent practicing on the bunny slopes.

Snowboarding as a sport has come a long way from the maladjusted skateboard crews who wanted to get their rocks off in the wintertime too. The phenomenon has become a flashpoint for the extreme sports generation, growing considerably in popularity and profitability as the years tick by. “First Descent” is a new documentary that takes the viewer on a tour of snowboarding history, and to the peaks of Alaska, where five individuals are looking for fresh, unclaimed mountains to break in.

The film opens with Shawn Farmer (the grizzled, 40 year-old, partied-out boarder), Terje Haakonsen (the daredevil), Hannah Teter (the lone female), Nick Perata (the dad), and young Shaun White (The Leif Garrett of the sport) finding their bearings in Alaska, appreciating the endless snow and sky high landscapes they’re looking to “conquer.” Directors Kemp Curly and Kevin Harrison dive right into the hair-raising snowboarding footage, using biographical segments with each participant to break up the action along the way. “Descent” was made using the exact some mold as the successful sport documentaries “Dogtown and Z-Boys” and “Riding Giants,” so there are no real surprises when it comes to storytelling. The strength of the film is found in the footage, and thankfully, Curly and Harrison keep a steady flow of insane snowboarding location and trick clips, throwing in the thrill of professional triumphs along the way.

My only real criticism of these documentaries is their smug attitude about their subjects; “Descent” isn’t shy when it comes time to expound on the mark snowboarding has left on sports, taking it so far as to imply that the skiing industry would have died without it. Perhaps that’s true; however, what “Descent” needed was less boasting about reputation and a perceived cultural impact, and more humor and original directorial vision. There’s great, crisp footage of the mountain runs, and an easy to follow history of snowboarding from the 70s to today, but the filmmakers spend so much energy trying to drum up respect for snowboarding that “Descent” starts to come off as shrill propaganda.

“Descent” might appeal to those who are curious about the sport, but I have trouble believing it will convert anyone. The film is made for those with snowboarding already in their hearts, climaxing wonderfully with Haakonsen staring down a mile-long virgin descent that will bring chills to those in the know.

“First Descent” accomplishes the small goals it lays out for itself, and it will leave the causal viewer with a newfound respect for these “surfing” legends, and the sport that continues to blossom.

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originally posted: 12/02/05 16:17:58
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User Comments

2/03/06 malcolm interesting, probably a lot more engaging for snowboarders 3 stars
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  02-Dec-2005 (PG-13)
  DVD: 21-Feb-2006



Directed by
  Kevin Harrison
  Kemp Curley

Written by
  Kevin Harrison

  Shawn Farmer
  Nick Perata
  Terje Haakonsen
  Shaun White
  Hannah Teter

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