Warren Miller has enjoyed a lengthy career putting out movies that highlight skiing, and filmed skiing and snowboarding for fifty years (see "Warren Miller's Fifty".) While still under the Miller brand name, "Higher Ground" is one of the films done since Miller has retired. Still, this documentary offers a mix of impressive skiing and snowboarding footage shot around the world with interviews that attempt to get to the bottom of the zen of barreling down a mountain located often in the middle of nowhere.
The documentary travels to various locations around the world in order to capture some skiing and snowboarding footage that offers moments of slick action footage, which highlights the grace and skill of the athletes shown and still manages to work in a lot of the background scenery. The editing does get a little too choppy for its own good here, but it's never too terribly distracting. The film goes from British Columbia to Aspen to Switzerland and elsewhere and visits with everyone from 85-year-old Klaus Obermeyer to five-year-old ace Bridger Gile and those in-between (such as World Cup mogul champ Jeremy Bloom.)
However, one of the concerns with "Higher Ground" is that Miller does not provide narration, aside from a few lines here-and-there. Instead, Miller shares narration duties with mogul champ Jeremy Bloom. Unfortunately, while Bloom's talents on the slopes are in evidence on-screen, his narration comes off as rather generic. The other irritation is that the product placement in the picture could have definitely less obvious (a couple of scenes look like ads and really stop in the film in its tracks.) Additionally, a poker scene also goes on too long and appears to be added just because of poker's recent rise in popularity (nothing against poker, but a long poker scene doesn't seem particularly necessary in a ski/snowboarding doc.)
I'm certainly nothing close to a skiing expert, but I've gotten into some of Miller's movies recently because I appreciate the cinematography of the films, the talent on display and the way that the best moments of Miller's films manage to look like a sleek giant-screen picture and yet have the warmth and personality of a friends' home movie. If someone who's certainly nothing close to an expert on a sport like skiing can be hooked on a 90-minute documentary about it, that's saying something. However, "Higher Ground", with its so-so narration, product placements and some segments that don't add much to the proceedings, just doesn't hook the viewer like the earlier Miller films that had his involvement do.
VIDEO: "Higher Ground" is the first of the Warren Miller films to be filmed in HD and is presented here by Shout Factory in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. Presentation quality was generally quite good, although some scenes looked better than others. Sharpness and detail were often excellent, although wide shots and some older footage understandably appeared a bit softer in comparison.
The footage did show some minor shimmering and edge enhancement at times, as well as a few marks on the print used. Colors looked rich and well-saturated, with no smearing or other concerns.
SOUND: The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is enjoyable, with the rear speakers providing reinforcement for the tunes on the soundtrack. Keep in mind that the 2.0 version of the soundtrack is the default option for some reason, so change it prior to starting the show.
EXTRAS: The brief "Glen Plake Through the Ages: From the '50s to the Present" featurette and trailers for other Miller titles. For a DVD labeled the "Collector's Edition Deluxe DVD", there's not much here at all in the way of extras.
Final Thoughts: "Higher Ground" offers moments of spectacular sports footage and some fun little sideline bits, but the film suffers from a few considerable issues, including product placement that calls too much attention to itself. The DVD edition provides satisfactory audio/video quality, but minimal extras. A light rental recommendation.