Vertigo reviews ‘The Art of Flight’

John Jackson in the Tordrillo Range, AK

Vertigo is a weekly blog by Kieran Dahl covering the action sports and wilderness adventure world. Kieran is a sophomore in Davenport College.

You wouldn’t expect a snowboarding movie to be a bestseller on iTunes, nor would you expect one to have a red-carpet premiere at a Broadway theater in New York. Then again, The Art of Flight is no ordinary snowboarding movie – it transcends every one of its predecessors in action sports cinema – The Art of Flight appeals to snowboarding fanatics and mainstream audiences alike.

The film’s two-year production time is unheard of in the action sports world, as is its eighty-minute running time (most snowboarding movies have run-times less than half as long). Also unprecedented is its two-million-dollar budget, which allowed for filming with the same high-definition, slow motion video cameras used at the Super Bowl – $120,000 cameras capable of making a hummingbird’s beating wings effectively freeze in time.

The result of this technology is that every scene in The Art of Flight is literally breathtaking. From the viewpoint of a helicopter, we see snowboarders chased down near-vertical chasms by roiling avalanches in Alaska. We see flips over frozen rivers in Austria, spins over deep mountain crevasses in Patagonia, grabs over fifty-foot cliffs in British Columbia. In slow motion, we see powdery white plumes of snow kicked up from the ground as snowboarders carve down precarious ravines.

Throughout the film, scenic shots of jagged peaks, brown bears under snow-capped trees and icy pillars shadowing untouched terrain are widespread. But even when snowboarders are present, the mountainous backdrop – always impossibly hostile yet impossibly stunning – remains the forefront of the scene.

The soundtrack, a mix of indie rock and electro-house music, is excellent, perfectly complementing the film’s jaw-dropping cinematography. In a remix of Deadmau5’s electronic “Ghosts ‘n’ Stuff,” the bass drops right when we see a snowboarder begin his perilous ascent of an alpine ridge; during less intense parts of the film we might hear the bouncy The Naked and Famous or the ethereal Sigur Rós.

Diehard snowboarders will value The Art of Flight for capturing the world’s best snowboarders performing impressively technical maneuvers – tricks with names like “double corked 1260” and “McTwist 1080” – off monstrous jumps. So, too, will they value the film’s elevation of snowboarding as something artful, even beautiful. But for those who don’t know the difference between riding a snowboard goofy or regular, the beauty of The Art of Flight will come from its overwhelming visual appeal.

It would be a stretch to say that The Art of Flight is perfect – there’s only so much slow-motion footage a person can handle before growing impatient. But The Art of Flight, while ostensibly a film about snowboarding, manages to be a film about adventure, about risk and reward, and about the inherent beauty of unsullied nature. The Art of Flight is, to use snowboarding parlance, wicked epic.

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