I don't see many action sports films, though whenever I do I imagine what it would be like for my intermediate level surfing/skiing self to fly down huge waves and colossal mountains. It's terrifying, really, watching world-class athletes do things that would most likely kill you… and yet they conquer 100-foot crevasses with such grace and ease you instantly want to imitate them anyway.
Two and a half years in the making, spanning multiple continents, 'The Art of Flight' is ex pro boarder turned filmmaker Curt Morgan's attempt to make an action snowboard film that crosses over into the mainstream. Set in such exotic locales as Jackson Hole, Alaska, Chile, Aspen, Patagonia, British Columbia and more, this film is part nature documentary, part travel show, part helicopter porn, and of course, a treasure trove of death defying snowboard action.
Visually, 'The Art of Flight' is beyond amazing. Epic is a word I admittedly use too frequently, but it's perfect for the landscapes and stunts on screen here. I can't get enough of craggy mountains, waterfalls, and glaciers. Also, the script itself is well written. Narrator Travis Rice and interviews add context and just enough world philosophy to elevate the whole picture. It's also a really well structured film; it builds up and down from highs to lows, from success to failure and back again.
Slow motion is becoming art form all in itself. Thank to modern high definition cameras shooting thousands of frames per second, helicopters hover upside-down in front of a moon. Water droplets float through the air like stars in space. Powder rolls like an ocean wave. Borders purposely collide with a rotting tree branch 40 feet in the air, and then hang for what seems like hours. It's visceral and poetic and beautiful to watch, especially when combined with a 7.1 soundtrack mixed at the legendary Skywalker Sound.
Boarders featured include Travis Rice, John Jackson, Mark Landvik, Scotty Lago, Jake Blauvelt, Nicolas Muller, Gigi Ruf, DCP and Pat Moore. A valiant effort is made to let the audience into the lives and mindsets of these young extreme sports icons, but I could have used a little more day in the life footage to get to know them more. It's hard to tell everyone apart when faces and heads are hidden by protective gear. The only thing, I suppose, that could have possible made the story better was if one of the guys (or all of them) had been trying to achieve a goal or set a record. Something toward which we are getting closer or falling away from that would have given us emotional goal posts.
And, as the last few minutes pass, I felt the film start to drag a little; believe me, I LOVE mountains and glaciers and guys soaring through the air on boards, but it can get a little repetitive. And the film seemed to end rather abruptly.
That aside, 'The Art of Flight' is enthralling. If you've ever skied or snowboarded or know what it's like to be in the snowy wilds -- any man vs. mountain situation -- this film will take your heart and ram it into the back of your throat. You'll be sitting forward on the edge of your seat.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Art of Flight' is a two disc set, with one BD50 containing the film and all the special features, and one DVD (housing identical standard definition content). The case is DVD-sized and, sadly, does not lock shut. There are no forced trailers or mention of Region locking in the disc's packaging. 'The Art of Flight' is available for purchase online and in some local snowboarding / sporting good stores. It will also be available from Best Buy starting November 15.
Sporting an MPEG-4 AVC encode (aspect ratio: 16x9), 'The Art of Flight' looks terrific on Blu-ray, save for some minor compression issues and differences in camera source material.
After watching 'The Art of Flight', you'll know how well your television is calibrated because there is so much white snow and ice on screen in all but a very few scenes. And yet, detail and resolution soar, giving the whole world depth and texture. Slow motion and time-lapse photography are jaw dropping. And even though this is a 2D film, it feels almost 3D at time. The picture here is reminiscent of the snowy sections of 'Planet Earth'. Colors are rich and bold, with crisp blue skies, aqua glacial ice, and a number of neon snowboards and other gear. Faces seem to have a red tinge, but for guys who spend long hours outdoors in the winter, it seems natural to my eyes.
In terms of problems, there are three minor issues: 1.) Some of the cameras used (like the helmet cams) use a less than ideal compression algorithm. 2.) There are occasional misfires on focus. 3). Minor aliasing and few moments of banding (on things like stripped shirts, ore mountainsides – there may have been some edge enhancement, but definitely not a deal breaker.
Overall, this is some very creative, eye candy high definition video. Though not perfect, it's a treat for any high definition display.
[NOTE: Before we start this portion of the review, I should openly say that the first time I heard this soundtrack, I was sitting in the Dolby Laboratories San Francisco headquarters theater, which easily puts every other surround sound environment I've ever heard to shame. Also, Dolby flew me up there, hosted a cocktail party, and then showed us the movie. However, I didn't expect the film to look and sound this amazing. Though my system can't compete with Dolby's, the audio experience is damn close.]
What a year. With 7.1 becoming more common in theatrical and Blu-ray catalog releases, we're living in the heyday of home cinema surround sound. It feels like the last few months have seen back to back reference surround sound tracks. Well, here's another for your listening pleasure. And let me say this, if anyone reading this is every making a film, and Dolby approaches you and says, "hey, we'd love to mix your film in 7.1 at Skywalker Sound." You must immediately shout, yes! Because that's what happened here.
'The Art of Flight' sounds brilliant in 7.1 Dolby TrueHD. It's not as technical as 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon', but it's an immersive, enveloping experience. Voice over and interviews are clear and well centered. Music, ranging from pop rock to orchestral dance remixes, is super wide, opening up not only the front channels, but sides and rears as well. LFE is killer, but not obtrusive. It fills the room with thudding helicopter blades and rumbling avalanches, supporting the action on screen and exploding when necessary. Sound effects are minimal and often second to the music, but they are exactly and discretely placed all around the listener as needed. Panning effects are not overused, but there are a number of nice moments where sounds arc in full 360-degree circles. This is a track I've heard a few times now, and I can't wait to listen to it again and show it off to friends and family.
Because the filmmakers shot thousands of hours of raw footage on and off the slopes, 'The Art of Flight' is jam-packed with several high definition special features, including documentaries, extra footage, and music videos. While none of this material is 'exclusive' to the Blu-ray, the filmmakers are only releasing a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack.
Curt Morgan and his team of filmmakers set out to make an action sports film that appeals to the masses, and I think they've succeed. 'The Art of Flight' is twice as long as most snowboarding films, features stunning HD photography of exotic locations and heard-stopping stunts, and a reference quality Skywalker Sound mixed 7.1 Dolby TrueHD surround sound track. If you enjoy extreme sports or beautiful footage of glacial capped mountains, you'll most likely enjoy watching this one again and again -- it's an easy Recommend. At the right price point, the soundtrack may be worth the price admission for some. And, if you're not a real big fan of this type of film, you may want to see if you can rent or borrow this. It's a winner. A must hear!