Being a Southern California native, I cannot tell you how many times I've been asked "Are you a surfer?" Since I moved away, everywhere I've been, that question is always posed to me. "Do you surf?" No. No I don't. And I never have. Hearing that stereotypical question for so long has made me hate the sport. I proudly tell people that I've never even tried – but all of that has changed because of 'Storm Surfers 3D.' Via the power of the almighty documentary combined with stellar high-definition video, the unpredictable sport has never been as appealing to me as it is now.
With extreme sports, there's the constant need to take it farther, to raise the stakes. The adrenaline rush that a newbie might experience is going to be much more intense than that of a seasoned pro. 'Storm Surfers 3D' follows two world-renowned surfers – Aussie's Tom Carroll and Ross Clarke-Jones – on their quest to find a bigger, meaner, and deadlier wave to ride.
I know so little about surfing that I was clueless that Sea-doos can be used to pull riders, in the same fashion as wake-boarding, in front of monster waves. Watching Tom and Ross use this technique, they not only do it for the ease of catching a wave, but to give them enough speed to stay caught up with swells and to out-run them if necessary.
The footage captured from their outings is phenomenal, the type of stuff that you'd see playing on the demo televisions in a Best Buy. 3D cameras are literally mounted all over the place. They're mounted into the front tip of the surf boards; the surfers carry long arched camera mounts in their hands as they "shoot the curl" so that you can get the full effect of what it's like to do it yourself; dozens of cameras shoot the waves from amazing vantage points like the towing Sea-doos, cameramen bobbing in the water, surrounding boats, planes and helicopters. The footage shown in 'Storm Surfers 3D' is breathtaking. While watching the Blu-ray, I often found my jaw agape at the fantastic imagery.
The weakest aspect of 'Storm Surfers 3D' is the narrative. The film opens with footage of the duo surfing huge waves 75 kilometers off the coast. (I didn't even know that it was possible to deep-sea surf. Did you?) We're shown some very impressive surfing prior to watching Tom take a spill under the worst circumstances. Fade to black and fade back in several months earlier. As expected, that off-shore surfing shoot becomes the only aspect of anticipation for the entire film. It's the sole element that you're waiting to see resolved. The body of the film teaches the techniques and styles of surfing, gives us the background of Tom and Ross' careers, and explains how these two find themselves surfing swells 75 kilometers off-shore in the middle of a swirling Arctic storm. But as weak as the narrative may be, getting to know Tom and Ross and seeing this unmatched footage is what makes 'Storm Surfers 3D' truly worthwhile.
'Storm Surfers 3D' is a completely family friendly film. Not a single offensive word is uttered. This is a perfect demo disc for showing off your 3D set-up. The imagery is so powerful that it will make anyone who watches it want to move to the coast and take up the sport.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Storm Surfers 3D' hits Blu-ray with a single disc that contains both the 3D and 2D version of the film. As you'll read in the video quality section below, this combined release is a double-edged sword because the 2D version is full of flaws. The disc is housed in a standard blue elite keepcase. Upon inserting into your player, no matter if you're watching it on a 3D or a 2D set-up, you're taken directly to the main menu.
'Storm Surfers 3D' is a tricky disc to review because it contains both the 3D and 2D versions of the film. Unfortunately, while one version has superior video; the other, not so much. But because the title of the film carries "3D" in it, we've decided to base the main video rating on the 3D version. Don't fret, I'll give you my brutal opinion of the 2D version too.
The 3D video quality is near-perfect. You'll never believe how crisp and gorgeous it is. Six different types of cameras were used for the shoot, so the quality isn't always consistent, but it's always strong. Any single frame from one of the many slow-motion shots could be a still photo for a prestigious photography magazine's cover. In them, the waves don't appear to be made out of a liquid, but solid clear crystal. Drops and splashes appear to be pieces of glass hovering through the screen. Colors are vibrant and attractive. I've never seen water so blue. Black levels are rich and deep.
I don't suffer from motion sickness, but I can easily see some of the rocking back-and-forth shots making people seasick. The 3D quality adds a genuine depth to the picture, but if something wasn't shot in 3D – like archival footage – it's not converted to 3D to match the rest of the film. Most of the film is made up of 3D footage that's been brightened to compensate for the darkened 3D glasses. I noticed one instance of crosstalk during a scene shot in pitch blackness. There were also two instances of very minor banding and one brief shot containing digital noise. Aside from that, the 3D quality is brilliant.
Now for the 2D version, which is nowhere near the demo-quality of the 3D version. Sadly, the imagery isn't nearly as impressive without the third dimension. The flat nature of the 2D removes the "ooohs" and "ahhhhs" – but that's not it. Some of the smaller cameras lose their details in 2D. Shots from the tiny board-mounted cameras appear so soft that the quality appears one step higher than a YouTube video. The banding and digital noise is much more prevalent in the 2D version. I'll show off the sharp 3D version of the film to anyone who wants to see what a 3D TV is capable of, but the 2D version doesn't even come close to being demo-worthy. If this was a 2D-only Blu-ray of 'Storm Surfers 3D,' I'd only give the video quality three-and-a-half stars out of five.
'Storm Surfers 3D' has been give a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that compliments the brilliants visuals.
When it comes to documentaries, I always question how much of the audio was recorded at the actual shoot. For example, how would you get a deep audio recording from inside a wave's curl? For 'Storm Surfers 3D,' I'm fine with the assumption that it's all artificial post-production audio because the bassy rumbling and crashing water sounds work harmoniously with the on-screen visuals. When our lead characters (and their cameras) get toppled by the behemoth waves, the churning thunder above them dynamically plays through all channels. There's even the distinctive swirling sounds of rushing bubbling try to float to the surface through indecisive currents. This audio adds to the panic of those scenes.
As expected, there's a lot of glamor footage, montages of sweet shots. All of those are set to music, which always plays full, loud, and clear. The dialog – be it interview footage of from the shoot – also carries a strong clarity. A lack of audibility and cleanliness is never a concern.
You wouldn't typically expect strong or exemplary audio from a documentary, but 'Storm Surfers 3D' does quite well.
Have you ever seen a less-than-perfect film that's so good-looking that your sole reason for loving it is because of how good it looks? I have. Last year's 'Samsara' comes to mind. While 'Storm Surfers 3D' isn't hollow, it lacks a narrative – but that deficiency is completely made up for by creative camerawork and the breathtaking visuals that result. I've never been surfing, but because of this unique and immersing 3D experience, I feel like I have. Both the 3D and 2D versions are contained on the same disc, but I only recommend picking up 'Storm Surfers 3D' for the near-perfect video quality if the 3D version. The 2D version lacks depth and detail – the two things that make the 3D cut so impressive. With creative shooting techniques, I'm disappointed that this release doesn't contain a hearty making-of documentary. Instead, it carries five throw-away EPK featurettes and a trailer, with the trailer being the only 3D special feature of them all. If you need a new 3D demo disc, look no further – but if you need a solid 2D demo disc, you can do better.