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Pretty Bad: 3.13%
Total Crap: 3.13%

2 reviews, 20 user ratings

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Riding Giants
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by Chris Parry

"At the risk of sounding like Earl Dittman - this is 'crushing' stuff."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2004 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL: Surfing movies come and go. When you grew up, as I did, on the sunny beaches of Australia, surfing flicks would run at the local surf club every other week, and more often than not they consisted of the same thing over and over; lots of spills, occasional thrills, babes in bikinis and not a lot beyond. But Stacy Peralta, the directing force behind the seminal skateboard doco, Dogtown and the Z Boyz, isnít one to simply throw together some big wave footage and let the good times roll. With Riding Giants, heís created yet another seminal documentary Ė this time about big wave surfers Ė and itís a project that will sit both surfing fans and absolute suburbanites right back in their seat. The visuals, the humor, the history and the kinetic style of Mr Peralta make this the kind of surfing film that is likely to change the genre permanently.

ďBig waves arenít measured in feet, but in elements of fearĒ Ė so said Buzzy Trent of the killer crush of Waimea Bay in 1963. If thatís true, some of the people featured in this film must have hit a 9.3 on the fear Richter scale. Faced with walls of water converging on themselves with a force of many tons, only a few feet above a razor sharp coral reef, these guys look Death square in the face, smirk, and punch his lights out. Theyíre freaking nutbars. Theyíre truly and undeniably insane. And there should be more of it.

Geez, I really am sounding like ďEasyĒ Earl Dittman now, but to hell with it. Itís not often a film festival like Sundance will open with a surfing movie. In fact, itís never happened before. The decision to show the opening night festival crowd a film that wouldnít normally play outside of a small, mostly male, mostly coastal demographic certainly wouldnít have come easily. After all, the Sundance crowd isnít just made up of celebrities and film freaks Ė there are also old folks, skiers who happened to be in town when they realized there as a festival on, and the locals, who likely havenít dipped their toe in the ocean since mom and dad took them to Disneyworld fifteen years ago. In essence, this is a crowd ready-made to put crap on a film like this if it didnít present them with an epic vision, stunning cinematography, interesting historical background, and the kind of flow that youíd expect from a seasoned documentarian. But if the reaction from those outside this screening is anything to go by, the experiment was a runaway success.

Surfing started out as a pastime for the Hawaiians about a hundred years ago, only for the missionaries to come along and ban it because it involved not a lot of clothing and the occasional mixing of the sexes. Jesus, I hate missionaries. But in the early part of the 20th century it started to pick up again, mostly as a tool to bring in tourists to the Hawaiian islands. Thatís when Riding Giants gets interesting, as the film documents a hardcore group of 1950ís white boys who made their way to the islands and played an early version of Survivor. They scrounged food out of the forest, crammed ten people to a hut, and did nothing all day, every day, but surf. As these 20 or so kids grew to more, and more, they began to discover parts of Hawaii with bigger waves, and slowly but surely began to dare themselves to take the waves on. This early surf commune is documented with loads of archival footage, not just of the action in the waves, but also on the beach, hamming it up and generally being all rebellious Ė in that ever so non-rebellious 1950ís way, of course.

Through the years, bigger waves would be discovered, each one being tackled by one brave, crazy, nigh suicidal individual as all around him would expect the worst. And sometimes the worst happened, with death in injury a relatively common theme throughout the years whenever these guys tried to tackle a wave that had never been tackled. Riding Giants follows this progression, documenting the riding of each massive wave like Ken Burns may document those who climbed the highest mountains; only without the terrible haircut and self-important sales pitch.

To Peraltaís credit, he knows exactly when to keep the images moving through tricky editing and camerawork, and when to back the hell away, show us the pictures and let the sheer force of nature do the talking. Borrowing from the groundbreaking quasi-animation technique used to make still photos come alive in The Kid Stays in the Picture, Peralta keeps things moving along nicely when other docos might have been standing still, keeping the talking head sequences short and punchy, while embracing the humor and enthusiasm of her interview subjects.

I could quack on and on about this flick and youíre not going to understand how good it is, so instead Iíll simply say this. Riding Giants may not be the greatest documentary of our time, but it is a film that I guarantee will freak you out more than once, while giving you some small insight into why these guys toss away what we would call Ďlivesí to sit on a beach, soak up sun and throw themselves of skyscrapers of water. Itís The Alchemist for surfers. Itís Winged Migration for beach bums. Itís Rudy in the water. Itís a must-see.

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originally posted: 01/16/04 16:08:52
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 CineVegas Film Festival. For more in the 2004 CineVegas Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Seattle Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Edinburgh Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Edinburgh Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

11/28/08 Shaun Wallner Thought this was a good film. 5 stars
12/11/04 Monday Morning Shows that surfing is, like, a totally amazing way to waste your life. 2 stars
9/23/04 Surf fan totally amazing 5 stars
7/25/04 ajay the idea of living on the beach and surfing makes me want to rethink my life. :) 4 stars
6/23/04 Lauren Nissen It would make me want to be a better surfer if I didn't live in the desert. 4 stars
6/19/04 keith another clasic from peralta. a great surfing movie for everyone to enjoy! 5 stars
5/20/04 Ed I was able to attend Riding Giants @ Sundance Film Festival (it was this year's opening fil 5 stars
3/08/04 stickman AWESOME-THE GREATEST 5 stars
3/03/04 richard castro the best surf doc ever 5 stars
2/16/04 Paul I have never seen such a boring picture 1 stars
2/11/04 Mike Kneeshaw Great film, but Stacy Peralta is actually a bloke despite teh girly name 5 stars
2/06/04 Ed Grant Over the top - 3 minute standing "O" Giants is a classic!!! 5 stars
2/03/04 AE great doc 5 stars
1/30/04 Bill Morgan Loved it and have recommended it real surfers 5 stars
1/28/04 Jeff Hebeler Superb job at catching these heroes crazy enough to try such feets. 5 stars
1/27/04 jason it rocks little boys's buttholes...hard! 5 stars
1/26/04 jason2 stacey is the man surfs up 5 stars
1/22/04 Will Sinclair If u liked dogtown absoulutely awsome 5 stars
1/20/04 jeff unbelievable 5 stars
1/19/04 Maryann Colescott Amazing 4 stars
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  09-Jul-2004 (PG-13)
  DVD: 04-Jan-2005



Directed by
  Stacy Peralta

Written by
  Stacy Peralta
  Sam George

  Laird Hamilton
  Greg Noll
  Jeff Clark

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