Skateboard legend Stacy Peralta's directorial debut was the very popular skateboarding documentary "Dogtown and Z-Boys", which chronicled the rise of the skateboard culture, as well as some of its legendary figures. "Riding Giants" is the director's follow-up, a very enjoyable look at the history of the surfing culture, going all the way back, at one point, to when natives of Hawaii were found surfing wooden planks.
Peralta's style is a mixture of talking-head interviews, a boatload of stock footage and the occasional still shot, topped off with a well-chosen blend of different music on the soundtrack. Interview subjects include surfing legends Greg Noll, Jeff Clark and (one of the film's exec producers) Laird Hamilton.
The main part of the first segment of the documentary looks at the surf culture in the pre-"Gidget" era, where surfers camped out on beaches, spending their days looking for the best places to surf, often going on little cash. We learn about some of these locations, places in Califonia and elsewhere that offer, when conditions are right, perfect monster waves (and, in one particular case shown here, giant, sharp boulders waiting to meet surfers on the shore.) Once "Gidget" hit, the sort of tight, cult community of surfers was invaded by waves of newcomers eager to make their way into the water. As the picture proceeds, we see more and more of modern day surfing, including Hamilton's invention of "towing surfing", where a jet ski tows surfers out into the waves, then sends them shooting towards the biggest surf. We also see a picture of Hamilton surfing a massive, almost impossible wave - a ride that changed the whole structure and perception of the possibilities of the sport.
"Riding Giants" is a little too long at nearly two hours, but the picture is otherwise a very strong effort, which offers insights into the sport and its dangers (we hear about some famed surfers who have perished), as well as its community and history.
VIDEO: "Riding Giants" is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen by Columbia/Tristar. Given that there's different film stocks for the newly filmed footage and a lot of stock footage, it's understandable that the film is going to look very inconsistent. Sharpness and detail are generally very good throughout much of the picture, although some of the grainer stock footage does look moderately soft.
The newly shot interview and surf footage looks superb, with no real concerns, aside from maybe some very slight grain and edge enhancement. The stock footage largely looks pretty good, although there are chunks of it that show some noticable specks, marks and other wear. No pixelation was spotted.
Colors remained bright and well-saturated, with no smearing or other concerns. Flesh tones looked accurate and natural, too.
SOUND: "Riding Giants" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. Similar to the surf doc "Step Into Liquid", there are some sequences where surrounds could have been put to good use, but the rear speakers really just offer some subtle ambience. The front soundstage, however, is strong, as the surfing sequences are especially lively across the front speakers. Dialogue remained crisp and clear, as well.
EXTRAS: There are two commentaries included: one with surfers Laird Hamilton, Greg Noll and Jeff Clark, along with co-writer Sam George, and another with director Stacy Peralta and editor Paul Crowder. A 28-minute "making of" documentary visits with the director and the participants - we learn additional elements about the history of the sport, as well as elements on how the new and archival footage was assembled. We also get a 20-minute documentary from Fuel TV that offers a profile of the movie and a look at the film's festival premiere. Finally, there are 5 deleted scenes, two promos and trailers for other Columbia/Tristar titles: "Riding Giants", "Ride the Wild Surf", "Gidget Goes Hawaiian", "Dogtown and Z-Boys", "The Forgotten", "The Fifth Element" and "Godzilla: Millenium".
Final Thoughts: "Riding Giants" could have been cut down by about 10 minutes, but it otherwise provides an engaging and fun look at the history of surfing and its culture. Columbia/Tristar's DVD provides good audio/video quality, along with a nice helping of supplements. Recommended.