Step Into Liquid Movie Review

Step Into Liquid, a documentary about the various forms that surfboarding takes around world, is a visually stunning enterprise - it has more in it to wow viewers than whatever it is Jerry Bruckheimer's blowing up this summer. But in following a few dozen surfers who are driven by their often reckless obsessions, it lacks much in the way of deep insight, which leaves it falling short of great documentary filmmaking. On the other hand, what it lacks in human detail is more than made up for in its constant, jawdropping shots of massive waves climbing, cycling, and spraying for 90 minutes. Plan your pre-show soft drink purchases accordingly.

Writer-director Dana Brown clearly had a blast burning through the film's travel budget. From Hawaii to Vietnam to Easter Island, his crew captures some gorgeous footage of surfers at play (or at work, depending on how you look at it). Regardless of where he travels, surfers world-wide all share a childlike wonder at how much fun they get to have in the water. Off the coast of Galveston, Texas, Brown follows a group who find pleasure in surfing on the wakes of the massive supertankers that pass through; in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, he discovers a group of decidedly un-buff men cruising the modest tides of Lake Michigan, offering surfer-dude talk in Midwestern accents.

Throughout, Brown's narration offers romantic platitudes about the joy and beauty of nature, though he thankfully has a sense of humor about it. After goopily noting that seals and pelicans are the world's best surfers, he adds that "humans, in comparison, suck." Still, in both his narration and direction, Brown takes on a defensive tone - at every opportunity he stresses that the men and women he follows don't match the stereotype of bong-sucking layabouts. And it's true that most of the people interviewed are level-headed and intelligent enough folks, but Brown's breadth of interviewing comes at the expense of depth. When he chats with one man who's surfed every day for 27 years and says it's hard to raise a family that way, it'd be nice to hear how he personally pulled it off; a segment about a Vietnam Vet who returns there with his son to surf desperately needs filling out.

In the film's most cloying moment, Brown shows a group of surfers in Ireland gathering kids both Catholic and Protestant to learn to ride waves, as if everybody involved had finally arrived at a magical -- and way groovy -- solution to a generations-long conflict. (Thank goodness Brown didn't travel to the Sea of Jordan or the Persian Gulf.) But none of which matters in the film's penultimate scene, which follows a group of surfers making a trek to Cortez Bank, a spot 100 miles off the coast of San Diego boasting 60-plus-foot high waves. The daredevils take on the monster in spectacular fashion, and no narration or interviewing needs to explain the ecstasy the surfers are feeling. It's magnificent to watch, and Brown perfectly renders both how much pleasure there is in those massive waters, and how capable it is of turning your spine into Silly Putty.

That closing segment trumps Step Into Liquid's other flaws; it's one of the best presentations of a because-it's-there nature expedition caught on film. The look on one surfer's face recalling the trip is so filled with rapture it hardly matters what he actually says. Luckily, we get to grab onto some of it too - it feels like utter freedom, drawn in enough shades of blue to fill a king-sized Crayola box.

Two stuffed discs make up the DVD release, which includes widescreen and high-definition versions of the film (the latter only works on the PC). There's audio commentaries, a zillion interviews and documentaries, and even the full game of "Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer." Surf fans rejoice!

What wave?


Comments

Step Into Liquid Rating

" Good "

Rating: NR, 2003

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