With its touchy-feely first-person focus and propensity for staid, bullet-point factualism, Kevin Harrison and Kemp Curley’s snowboarding documentary First Descent comes off as an overlong, overstuffed promo for an “industry” that hasn’t needed promoting since the movie’s target audience was in diapers. Blame Stacy Peralta: His rigorously self-mythologizing Dogtown and Z-Boys proved that subjective sports docs could make milkable cash cows. But Descent—split awkwardly between home-movie-spiked historical background and new footage of five pro snowboarders tackling virgin Alaskan slopes—fails to duplicate the defiant exuberance that made Peralta’s flick such a hoot. The Alaska sequences, featuring predictable but still-stunning snowboarding money shots, work best; their juxtaposition of the affable nonchalance of young ‘boarders Shaun White and Hannah Teter with the terrifying near-vertical descents they make is inspiring, and Harrison and Curley capture the quintet’s individual moments of doubt and triumph with real intimacy. The decade-by-decade history bits are a slog, though, and the (unintended?) cumulative effect suggests that snowboarding has been so tamed by corporate sponsorship that its adherents are forced to go ever farther afield in order for kicks. It’s a point worth making, but neither PepsiCo (which funded the film via its newly minted MD Films) nor Harrison and Curley (whose company, Transition Productions, includes such clients as Burton Snowboards and ESPN) are best suited to make it.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 29, 2005