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(2003) (Kelly Slater, Taj Burrow) (Not Rated)

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Documentary: A look at surfers and surfing locations from all around the world.
Documentary filmmaker Dana Brown showcases various surfers and surfing locations from all around the world - including Gerry Lopez, Kelly Slater, Taj Burrow and Rochelle Ballard -- all while dispelling stereotypes surrounding the sport/activity and its participants.
OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
In Francis Ford Coppola's Vietnam film, "Apocalypse Now," there's the classic scene where Robert Duvall's deranged Col. Kilgore berates a G.I. for questioning the safety of surfing at the edge of a battle. At the end of the scene the night before their big incursion, Duvall yells, "Charlie don't surf!"

For culture-centric people in the U.S., the belief is that those in other nations follow suit since many Americans equate that sport and lifestyle only with Southern California and Hawaii. Yet, if they had seen Bruce Brown's classic 1966 documentary, "The Endless Summer," they would have learned that surfing occurs around the globe.

Now, Brown's son, Dana, has followed in his old man's footsteps with all things surfing in the fabulous documentary "Step Into Liquid." Shot in a number of countries over several years, the mesmerizing and even moving film is arguably the best surfing documentary ever made.

It's undeniably the most technically impressive as Brown's water and air-based crew offer the most astonishing footage of surfers and waves ever captured on film. As noted by the onscreen tittles that also identify the locales, surfers and aficionados, the film states that neither special effects nor stuntmen were used in the production.

All of which makes the film that much more impressive. It also proves that nature can deliver as much drama and "special effects" as any Hollywood filmmaker and/or effects crew. Oddly enough, despite the surfing footage being crystal clear (including the mesmerizing underwater moments), some of the static (and presumably easier to shoot) interviews are a bit out of focus. And those looking for traditional surf music will be disappointed by its absence.

One needn't know much of anything about surfing to appreciate the offerings, although beach, big wave and surfing fans - as well as the real thing - will probably eat it up the most. They'll certainly appreciate Brown's goal. Beyond showcasing nature's watery awe and spectacle, the filmmaker is out to shatter many viewers' perceptions about surfing and surfers.

Most films, save for documentaries and a few dramas such as the recent "Blue Crush," often portray the latter either as territorial cretins or longhaired, laidback and/or stoner simpletons who use terms like "Whoa" and "Dude" (Sean Penn's Jeff Spicoli from "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" being the prime example of that type).

Instead, they're everyday people like you and me who - through sport or profession - get "stoked" by riding the waves. There's Dale Webster, a school custodian who's done that for 9,182 consecutive days (as of when his part of the film was shot) and has a goal of 10, 407.

The father and son team of Jim and Alex Knost return to Vietnam where the former surfed back in the war and has returned to be greeted by scores of curious and then enthusiastic kids. The Brothers Malloy - Chris, Keith and Dan - travel from the U.S. to Ireland where they help Catholic and Protestant kids come together and forget their differences through surfing.

That might sound contrived and/or hokey in written form, but on the screen, it comes off as quite moving. As does the segment about Jesse Billauer, a paralyzed surfer who broke his neck five years ago. With the help of his loyal friends, he continues to surf, albeit in a modified fashion, and the result is truly inspirational.

That's part of Brown's goal. Despite the sport obviously being a solitary experience, it's all about sense of community, a common appreciation among the participants, and simply having fun in and with life. Of course, there's also a focus on those who surf professionally - both male and female - but that sense of communal involvement still runs beneath the competitive nature of trying to win titles.

Most of all, the film is all about showing what these varied people love to do and to what extent they'll go to "hang ten." While most surf in Hawaii or California, there are those who do so in Lake Michigan when the circumstances are right, and others who ride - sometimes for miles at a time -- the wave-inducing wakes of passing supertankers off the coast of Galveston.

When Brown - who oddly but soothingly sounds like Jeff Bridges in his voice over narration - showcases Hawaii's Pipeline near the start of the film, I worried that he had shown the best waves too soon and that the rest of the film would be a letdown.

Needless to say, I was wrong as he, his crew and some courageous surfers end the film by heading one hundred miles off the coast of San Diego to ride some mammoth waves caused by the Pacific colliding with an undersea mountain. The sight of man and beast - in the form of a 66-foot wave - is worth the price of admission alone.

While I knew I was going to love the footage of such watery monstrosities, it was the unexpected human element that really blew me away. "Step Into Liquid" makes you want to do just that and thus rates as a 7.5 out of 10.

Reviewed July 15, 2003 / Posted August 22, 2003

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