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First Descent

Universal // PG-13 // February 21, 2006
List Price: $22.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Scott Weinberg | posted February 27, 2006 | E-mail the Author
The Movie

Half history lesson and half sports video, this Mountain Dew-sponsored documentary takes a look at the fine art of snowboarding, from its birth in the mid-70s to its appearance as a million dollar baby in the X Games and the Olympics.

If you're a diehard snowboarding freak, then welcome to your new favorite movie.

If, however, you're not all that familiar with the sport, First Descent will certainly give you a solid history lesson and dazzle you with some amazing boarding ... but the flick starts to feel like an advertisement after about 40 minutes, and unfortunately the doco still has an hour to roll.

First Descent is two flicks in one: Movie A sees five of the world's finest snowboarders meeting up in Alaska to brave some of the nastiest mountains around. Movie B aims to give a Dogtown and Z-Boys-style history lesson to those who don't already know and revere the sport's (admittedly brief) history.

It's a good thing the five 'boarders chosen for this adventure are a pretty eclectic bunch: Included are "old school" snowheads Nick Perata & Shawn Farmer, up & comers Shaun White & Hannah Teter, and the seemingly immortal Terje Haakonsen. (The young Mr. White just won a Gold Medal at the 2006 Winter Olympics, so I guess he's not such an "up & comer" anymore!)

Like I said: If you're an avid snowboarder, you certainly won't mind the flick's deliberate pacing and somewhat overblown opinion of the sport, but at over 110 minutes in length, First Descent feels like twenty pounds of snow spread across fifty pounds of mountain.

One special batch of admiration is due to the directors, cameramen, and technicians who worked on First Descent. The cinematography in the snowboarding footage is quite simply breathtaking ... for the first hour or so, anyway.

The DVD

Video: It's a really crisp widescreen (anamorphic, 2.35:1) transfer that brings the Alaskan mountaintops home in fine fashion.

Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, with optional subtitles in English, Spanish, and French.

Extras

AK and Beyond is a 20-minute behind-the-scenes featurette full of technical info, cast & crew interviews, and some laid-back goofiness.

Top of the World: Wescam Featurette gives you a five-minute lesson on the "wescam," which is a chopper-mounted anti-vibration camera that delivers most of the movie's most amazing cinematography.

A Thousand Words is a 5-minute automated photo gallery set to some lame-o rock tunes.

The 6-minute Big Mountain Riding featurette covers the safety precautions employed on the FIRST DESCENT shoot ... and there were lots of 'em.

Snowheads will also enjoy several minutes of Extended Snowboarding Footage, and the platter winds down with a pair of deleted scenes.

Final Thoughts

Hate to sound like a broken record, but if you love snowboarding, you'll probably love this movie. If you're among the uninitiated but curious, FIRST DESCENT will hold your interest, albeit somewhat sporadically. It's a good-looking and fairly sincere piece of sports doco, and I was pleasantly surprised to notice that there were no Mountain Dew cans caught on camera.

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