Hippo Manchester
December 8, 2005

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Film: First Descent (PG-13)   B-
by Amy Diaz

Snowboarders are just big surf rats at heart in First Descent, a documentary about the phenomenon and all those nifty stunts.

First Descent is very much the kind of movie that begs to be watched on the biggest screen possible. Much of the action takes place in the large, largely uncharted Alaskan mountains. The snowboarders ride through avalanches, jump of cliffs, fly (or rather, fall) through blue skies and create sprays of powder in their wakes. It’s very cool and after a good 20 minutes of this footage I would have been an easy sell for some lift tickets and a board.

Of course, I felt this way after Blue Crush, the cheesetacular Michelle Rodriguez and Kate Boswell surf movie. The two sports are very similar in that they involve standing upright on a board moving across some form of H20 and trying not to let your bravado get you killed. They also seem to attract the same type of kids. You know the ones: scruffy clothes, artfully unkempt hair, frequently having of the munchies. First Descent loves these good-hearted kids with the same Mountain Dew-fueled enthusiasm with which it loves the sport.

We get the story of snowboarding, from its days as something done in secret and to the dismay of skiers, to its current status as a multi-billion-dollar industry. This documentary talks with the people who started the sport and are still a bit ambivalent about its transition into an X-treme vehicle for marketing.

We also get the stories of five different snowboarders, of whom, to be honest, only two are really all that interesting: the enthusiastic Hannah Teter and the world champ Terje Haakonsen. These kids are still young enough to be undaunted in pursuit of a better “line,” i.e. path down the mountain, even if the line is fraught with danger.

First Descent is the kind of movie that snowboarders will watch over and over and those unimpressed by sports that involve the possibility of death will find a little too dry (this is no Murderball, where characters take over the story of the sport). If you’re somewhere in the middle, you’ll probably enjoy this little trip up and speedy ride down the big pretty mountains.