So much fuss has been made over Travis Rice and Curt Morgan's movie "The Art of Flight" that it will be a wonder if the world at large thinks it lives up to it.
Morgan, the film's director, has said repeatedly that he has been told that it is impossible to make a snowboard movie that makes sense to a mainstream audience and satisfies the tricky sensitivities of the "core" viewer, but he thinks it can be done. There will be vastly different opinions as to whether he succeeded, and this writer's is only one.
I think Morgan succeeded -- brilliantly.
'The Art Of Flight' Zoom
The gripe of core snowboard audiences when it comes to any Brain Farm production tends to revolve around money: the idea that what they are watching is an extravagant expenditure and that if someone else had access to the same resources, he could purchase the same equipment and produce the same movie. But this is foolish.
No one will know how much this movie cost to make. Estimations are in the range of $2 million, which is far more than any other snowboarding movie in history. This money goes to pay for a film crew and a TV production crew, helicopter time, the cost of getting all the people involved in the production of the movie and the hundreds of cases of film equipment shipped all over the world.
The logistics of a TAOF shoot are intense. The pressure put on everyone involved in the production from rider to lensman to not only "get the shot" but also get the best shot ever put on film is intense. That's why the movie has turned out like it is: intense.
The first time I saw a rough cut of the film, I felt like I needed to go immediately into a long, hot bath with candles and smelling salts, then follow it up with a massage. We were all hoping Morgan would lighten it up for the Aspen, Colo., segment -- which, on the ground, was some of the funniest five days of most everyone on the cast's lives. But Morgan was sick or in the helicopter for most of the comedic events of the trip. So he kept it dark.
Like the best horror movies, there are no "breathers" in this film -- no happy place in which you can sit back and remember that snowboarding is a fun thing to do, not something that's always on the verge of killing someone you're watching on screen.
On an audio level, most snowboard-movie sound tracks are playlists consisting of whatever songs the editor was able to get the rights to. The audio of this movie -- many tracks scored by Morgan, a fan of music who falls on the heavier side of the spectrum -- was digitally mastered at Dolby Laboratories at Skywalker Ranch. That would be George Lucas' place.
But what really sets the movie apart from anything that has come before it, something the average viewer may not fully understand, is not just the quality of the cinematography from a technical standpoint. (They used a Phantom and a Cineflex, the cameras used to shoot the Super Bowl and "Planet Earth," respectively.) It's that no shot made the movie unless it was the perfect trick captured in the perfect light.
If you've seen snowboard movies, they are, with rare exception, all about tricks. If you were a snowboarder on a TAOF shoot and bagged the most technical, never-been-done-before trick, but it was shot in bad light or from a questionable angle, there is a good chance it wouldn't make the film. Or, if it did, chances are there would be a massive argument in the editing bay in which someone might have to threaten to destroy hard drives to get Morgan to agree to put it in.
In the end, every person involved in "The Art of Flight" is a perfectionist to a level almost impossible for the average person to grasp. Every shot in the movie is perfect, the audio matched to it just so. It is not a stretch to say that the movie is almost perfect. Sure, it misses a lot of the "we're just friends who like to shred and have fun" spirit that many snowboard moviemakers strive for. But about 50 movies coming out this year will achieve that. This doesn't need to be one of them.
But will the movie fulfill Morgan's goal of bridging the gap between core and mainstream viewers? One thing that such cutting-edge visual and audio technology achieves in a way that lesser tools might not is that it captures the aforementioned intensity in ways that have never been seen. Whether it's the helicopter-mounted Cineflex chasing Rice down an Alaskan face or the Phantom capturing the dilation of his pupil, when footage like that is paired with such a soul-rattling audio backdrop, it doesn't matter whether you've set foot on snow. It's impossible to be unmoved.