I didn't lead an adventurous childhood. Perhaps that's why, at 23, nearly every passing second of my free time is whittled away in front of a television, staring blankly at whatever DVD happens to be spinning in my player. I've come to understand that there's a place often referred to by many as "outside", and occasionally, I'll find a disc that offers a peek at this other world without me actually having to leave the comfort of my home theater. White Water Summer is fat-packed from beginning to end with the sorts of things I've never even conceived of doing -- scaling the face of a mountain, careening down rapids in a canoe, hiking in the wilderness, crossing a rickety, razor-thin bridge several hundred feet above the ground, sleeping in the woods, foraging for food -- but thanks to Sean Astin, Kevin Bacon, and Columbia/Tri-Star Home Video, I can live vicariously through fictional characters and without doing so much as breakin' out the Skeeter-Go.
Alan (Sean Astin in his silver-screen follow-up to The Goonies) has attended every conceivable variety of summer camp, with one minor caveat. Soccer, sailing, chess, and computer camps never entailed sleeping in dirt, or at least, that wasn't part of the itinerary. Alan's skillful avoidance of camping the like had been successful for fourteen years, and he was looking forward to spending the next few months putting the moves on the girl of his dreams. These hopes are dashed when Vic (Kevin Bacon, in that sunny period when he wasn't exposing himself in every film) quite literally strolls into the big city, giving Alan's parents an exciting slideshow presentation of some recent group excursions to the wilderness. His father is psyched about the opportunity, and a disinterested Alan doesn't put up much of a fight. Mere seconds later, at least in movie-time, he and three other kids are on their way to the Middle of Nowhere. Vic proves to be unrelenting, unwilling to compromise his philosophies or coddle the consistently reluctant Alan. The other kids don't seem to understand Vic's well-intentioned motives, and tensions are running tight by the time Alan refuses to swing across a gorge. He finds himself left hanging by a cord, abandoned by Vic and the rest of the group. A mini-rebellion ensues after Alan frees himself and catches up with the gang, and its aftermath puts Alan to the test more than any of the adventures up to that point.
The trailer gives the distinct impression that Vic is the stereotypical camp counselor, constantly prodding kids to do their best while spouting off horrendously corny motivational catch phrases. Bacon's character doesn't even come close to that. The occasionally hot-headed Vic is pictured as being somewhere between a nature buff and a total loon, and even the kids aren't sure which side of that spectrum he's really on. Sean Astin plays the meek Alan fairly well, at least during the course of that summer. For some ungodly reason, the film breaks from time to time while an older Alan reflects on the events with sassy commentary. I guess this is to spell out to viewers that the experience has made Alan a much "cooler" person. By "cool" (obviously the presence of quotes indicates sarcasm), I mean in the Hypercolor t-shirt, parachute pants, Corey Haim Video Diary sort of way. Aside from that and the distinctively 1980s rock gingerly distributed throughout the soundtrack, White Water Summer doesn't really feel dated at all. The opening credits make mention of the cinematography by John Alcott, to whom the film is dedicated. Alcott, whose body of work includes Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, and The Shining, makes full use of the scope frame and beautifully captures the power of nature, as laughable as I'm sure that sounds. White Water Summer doesn't bow to most of the usual clichés seen in so many similar movies. The number of monologues is kept to a minimum, rare for a coming of age tale. Similarly astonishing is the lack of a bear. I don't watch too many movies that spend a great deal of time outdoors, but invariably, there's a bear attack in each and every one. No, the only ferocious animals are the...errr, primal instincts of man and...something or another. I shouldn't reach too deeply, I suppose. White Water Summer is genuinely entertaining and holds up remarkably well, and not in the guilty pleasure sense.
Video: The detailed 2.35:1 anamorphic image looks wonderful, especially factoring in the age and relative obscurity of
White Water Summer. Sharp and detailed, there's precious little in the way of blemishes or print damage. Colors,
ranging from the azure sky to the lush green foliage, are spot on. Black levels and contrast are perfectly balanced, and
whatever extremely minor film grain or aperture correction may have been present didn't detract from the viewing experience in the
slightest. Very nicely done, and for the deranged, a cropped version can be viewed by flipping the disc.
Audio: When I first put White Water Summer in my player, I was disappointed by how flat and lifeless the audio
sounded. It took me a short while to realize that unlike the other two Columbia/Tri-Star DVDs I'd watched earlier in the day,
this disc defaulted to 2.0 surround. Whoops. Switching back and forth between the stereo track and the 4.0 discrete surround
mix teeters on night and day. Despite not having quite as many channels at its disposal as more recent releases, this audio
track holds its own against the best of them. All of the speakers get a fair amount of use, providing a considerable amount
of ambiance outdoors, particularly in the pair of canoeing sequences hinted at in the film's title. The '80s rock soundtrack, which
includes Journey, Cutting Crew, and Bruce Hornsby, is richer and far more full of life than the performers who contributed to
it. Per usual, there are oodles of subtitles as well as a French dub.
Supplements: The only extras are full-frame trailers for White Water Summer and The Karate Kid.
Conclusion: White Water Summer may not be the sort of movie that completely alters the way you look at cinema,
but sure, it offers a solid hour and a half of fun and adventure. The DVD looks and sounds great, and a cursory search of
online retailers turns up several carrying this disc for under $15. I can't quite shake the impression that this is the sort
of movie that doesn't cry out for many multiple viewings. Accordingly, White Water Summer may be best suited as a rental,
but it's entertaining enough that its meager list price isn't difficult to justify. Recommended.