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Universal Studios Home Video presents
First Descent (2005)

"Biggest thing that would bum me out is if somebody got hurt or killed up here, in my backyard, in the place that I've been riding for 15 years."
- Nick Perata

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: March 15, 2006

Stars: Shaun White, Hannah Teter, Shawn Farmer, Nick Perata, Terje Haakonsen
Director: Kevin Harrison, Kemp Curley

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language and a momentary drug reference
Run Time: 1h:50m:15s
Release Date: February 21, 2006
UPC: 025192844928
Genre: sports

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B-A-B+ C-

DVD Review

What I don't know about snowboarding could fill a two-hour documentary, and... hey, what do you know? Sponsored by Mountain Dew (extreme?), First Descent combines a scattershot history of the sport with newly produced footage of some of its biggest stars doing their thing. Snowboarding is the only part of the Turin Olympics watched this year other than figure skating, and this movie is filled with more footage of fearless stunts than an entire week's worth of obsessive NBC coverage.

Part of the movie (the less successful part) is an extremely (woo! EXTREME!) superficial history of the sport. Some of its old-time heroes appear in interview footage, and tend to agree that it began sometime in the 1960s or 1970s, but that no one really invented it, it just sort of came into being when a bunch of different people all decided they had lived too long, so why not? Or maybe that was my interpretation. Anyway, it's hard to feel like you are really learning anything, because the emphasis is definitely on showing interesting archive footage of nuts strapped to rudimentary snowboards, and it jumps from topic to topic every few minutes.

The reason to watch, though, is the newly produced snowboarding action that is intercut throughout. Basically, five current and former top snowboarders—Terje Haakonsen, 30, from Oslo and a three-time world champ; Hannah Teter and Shaun White, both 18 and members of the USA Olympic snowboarding team; and Shawn Farmer, 40, and Nick Perata, 39, two snowboarding pioneers—travel to Alaska in search of untouched mountains that have never been ridden before, what's known as a "first descent." Perata and Farmer are very familiar with free riding down Alaskan mountains, having done so decades ago, but Teter and White, known for their freestyle tricks, are a bit nervous.

It's easy to see why, because mountain free riding seems to involve little more than climbing to the top of a mountain, pushing off, and hoping for the best (despite comments to the contrary by a few of the boarders). You can plan a run, but you never know how things will turn out—witness the footage of a boarder racing an avalanche down the mountain. Often, a boarder will shoot off of a small incline and drop 30 feet or more before hitting the ground again, and they don't always manage to stay upright.

The footage, shot from a helicopter with a special camera rig, is insane and impressive, but after a while, it gets a little monotonous, at least for this boarding layman (as in, I was laying on the couch while watching). Footage of the boarders chatting and goofing around back at the lodge is amusing, but didn't really hold my interest either. As an extreme sports performance piece, First Descent has plenty to wow you (the technical crew deserves all the credit), but unless you're a huge fan, it's a lot to take.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The quality of archive footage varies somewhat, but the newly shot snowboarding footage looks outstanding. A very bright landscape tends to highlight print flaws and grain, but neither is visible here. A highly detailed, beautiful image.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital
English, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1 audio does a nice job recreating the Alaskan mountain atmosphere , with snow crunching and wind whipping through all the channels. The rock music on the soundtrack also sounds great coming from the front and the rear.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
2 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
3 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Extended snowboarding footage
Extras Review: Alaska and Beyond is a 20-minute behind-the-scenes piece filled with crew interviews explaining technical challenges, more segments with the snowboarders, and some general, Mountain Dew-approved hijinks.

Top of the World (05m:29s) provides some technical information about the special, jiggle-proof camera rig used to shoot most of the documentary's aerial footage. Big Mountain Riding (05m:36s) provides a few safety tips for snowboarding down mountains (my tip is: don't do it); there is also some information on safety precautions taken during shooting. A Thousands Words is an animated photo gallery.

Five minutes of extended snowboarding footage offers all tricks and no talk, while two short deleted scenes are the opposite.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

As a history of snowboarding, First Descent is, shall we say, a light flurry, but there's a whole blizzard of totally insane footage of some of the sport's best athletes. For the uninitiated (like me), it will probably seem pretty long, but boarding freaks will savor every last jump and grab.


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