A few years ago, "Blue Crush" offered viewers a mixture of largely thoughtful teen drama and some utterly spectacular surfing footage. Although not a surfer myself, I can't imagine that "Crush"'s spectacular visuals aren't thought to do justice to the sport. However, the film had to share surfing with the drama and really never got much into the culture or mentality of surfing.
In steps director Dana (son of "Endless Summer" director Bruce) Brown's documentary "Step Into Liquid". The doc, which places great importance on its lack of visual effects and stereotypes, attempts to try and investigate some of the mythology of the sport, as well as offer some remarkable footage (the final sequence is particularly amazing). Generally, the film succeeds in what it's seemingly attempting to do.
"Step" offers a series of interviews with surfers both famous (Keala Kennelly, for example, who was also featured in "Blue Crush") and amateur. These interviews do occasionally become rather repetitive, as we often hear once again how close a surfer almost found themselves in a dangerous spot or almost got crushed by the waves, but I mean, it's surfing - I'd imagine trouble must be an occurance at least once on nearly every trip to the surf.
The film's cinematography is consistently dazzling and captures the power of the waves, although I thought "Blue Crush" offered a little more in the way of shots in the water where I wondered how they were even accomplished. The film's locations - everywhere from Sheboygan, Wisconsin to Ireland (American surfers the Malloy brothers go to Ireland and teach Protestant and Catholic kids to surf together) and California.
Brown's consistently cheery narration is very sincere, but it's a little overused and can be awfully corny, as well. I also wondered whether the film would have been better served by editing out some of the interviews and taking more of a look at the history of surfing and maybe including more about how surfing has been portrayed in pop culture. Finally, I wondered why this wasn't made as an IMAX feature; the film's score certainly seems IMAX-esque, while the film's visuals would look terrific on the stories-tall IMAX screen. The shorter IMAX running time could have also made for a tighter, more cohesive film.
I liked this film, though. The film does attempt to explain the sort of zen mythology behind the surfing community and while it does manage to do that partially, the whole picture does remain a bit out of its reach. However, the film's spirit is infectious, the cinematography is impressive and some of the stories of these surfers (such as a group of friends who help a paralyzed surfer continue to get out on the waves) are compelling.
VIDEO: "Step Into Liquid" is presented by Artisan in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality does present some issues, but it's otherwise terrific. Sharpness and detail are a tad inconsistent, as some low-light scenes or interviews look a little soft. On the other hand, the surfing scenes have very strong definition and clarity, looking stunning.
The only real issue present in the image was some mild edge enhancement in a few scenes. No compression artifacts or print flaws were noticed. Colors appeared bright, vibrant and well-saturated throughout. A very nice job by Artisan.
The second disc of this 2-DVD set includes a High-Definition version of the film, playable on DVD-ROM enabled computer drives with the Windows Media Player 9 program. I downloaded the program and attempted to watch at least some of the film via this option on my computer. While the presentation seemed to be a little choppy on my computer (admittedly, I certainly don't have the most remarkable computer out there), it did play and the picture quality was remarkable, from what I did see.
SOUND: "Step Into Liquid" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. I was rather disappointed in the film's soundtrack, which is surprisingly front-heavy. While "Blue Crush"'s soundtrack did a spectacular, demo-worthy job of using sound to convey the power of waves and put the viewer into the middle of the experience, "Step Into Liquid" seemed to only put the surrounds to minimal use for some backing of the music and very subtle effects. Audio quality was very satisfying, though: the score and songs on the soundtrack sounded full and dynamic from the front speakers, while interviews sounded clean and clear. While this soundtrack has some positives, I was really surprised that it wasn't more enveloping/immersive.
The first disc offers an introduction by director/narrator Dana Brown, as well as a series of other supplemental features, the core of which are four featurettes - "Let's Go Surfing", "Passion for Liquid", "Making a Surfboard" and, the most informative when it comes to the production, "Capturing the Wave". "Capturing", a 13-minute piece, offers interviews with the director, cinematographer and other members of the crew, as they discuss trying to get the perfect shot in the midst of the surf. The first disc also includes interviews with the cast and crew, the trailer for "Step", trailers for other Artisan titles, footage from the premiere and more.
The 2nd, DVD-ROM disc offers satellite maps of some of the famous surf spots featured in the film, a soundtrack promo, HD/Windows Media Player trailers for other Artisan titles ("Terminator 2", "Punisher"), The Kelly Slater Pro Surfer PC Game, weblinks and more.
Final Thoughts: While some concerns do take away from the overall impact, "Step Into Liquid" is still an entertaining view into the surfing community. Artisan's DVD offers some very enjoyable supplemental features, very good video quality and fine audio. Recommended for surf fans.