Tom Carroll and Ross Clark-Jones ruled the 80s and 90s as champion surfers, amongst the elite in extreme sporting. Now nearing their 50s, the lifelong friends have pushed away from competitive scenes run by younger contestants, although Carroll and Jones’ drive remains within them.
Storm Surfers exists as a showcase, a pair of legends teamed with predictive meteorologist Ben Matson as the rush through a four month Australian winter, peak season for storms and waves. Jones maintains the excitability of a child, forging for ocean wide freedom despite risk, and internally screaming for unfound surf.
Carroll carries what minimalist narrative Storm Surfers has, an aging family man conflicted between spending testosterone for thrills, or considering more passe bonding time with his three daughters. Injury forces Carroll out of spotlight scenarios during early winter, and it becomes a wonder whether future damage to his shoulder is worth a run under ocean crests.
Ingenuity breeds Storm Surfers. Documentary crews are crafty as they build makeshift 3D rigs to bridge this kinetic nature sport with a sedentary audience. Handheld cameras, aerial footage, locked down boat lenses, and underwater photography blend into this mixed, often first-person account of wave taking.
Storm Surfers’ crescendo takes place in unknown ocean, long rumored actionable waves dormant from surfing exhibitionists. Built as an extravagant monument of work, money, and risk, laymen will struggle to carry the awe experienced by Carroll and Jones. In terms of visual impact, little sells this mid-ocean landscape outside of passe conservation regarding its exploratory locale. Eighty minutes in, Surfers has splurged on any number of dips into chilly seas and slow motion close calls. Ending the season feels of little consequence.
Camera crews worked diligently on 3D set-ups, leaving Surfers handicapped without proper equipment. With no tug on narrative disciplines or inventive storytelling angles, this documentary languishes, sidelined by its admittedly creative focus on fresh technology. Surfers represents IMAX features, only bloated to feature length without content to support this fragile backbone.
With a push toward surfing fanatics, the film will likely carry personal weight, spotlighting dormant stars in what may be twilight time for their careers. Observers outside of these circles, those who still latch onto comedic stereotypes of bronzed California beach combers as total reality, should only stay for 3D.
Shot from lenses of numerous cameras, Storm Surfers is a wash, with some irony intended. Footage feels resolution constrained, certainly bumped below peak 1080p for any surfing scenario, and interview sequences are likewise pieced together in murkiness. Fidelity is of little consideration anywhere within this often ugly frame.
Surfers has quality images; shots of sunset strewn beaches or surfing material under sunny skies are beautiful, with or without low resolution artifacts such as aliasing. Deep panoramas of oceans set scale without dominating visual impediments, and regardless of camera quirks, being situated behind a pro surfer deep into the wave is thrilling.
Black levels are hoisted high into relevancy, one specific moment featuring the moon’s glow reflecting off water on a peak darkness is extraordinary in its density. Depth can hide heavy halos, which will run wild. Unavoidable complications are everywhere, and even compression from Xlrator Media seems sound; it’s the source camera work proving insubordinate in image replication. Videotape footage from decades earlier is best left unconsidered.
Despite those misgivings, touting 3D rigs onto ocean surf has proven its worth. Waves bounce into a layered frame to set stunningly real scale. Underwater cinematography, often haphazard as surfers hold cameras themselves, bring bubbles or ocean debris into the forefront.
Skirting waves bring kicked up drops of water toward the lens. Jumbling perspective – with no earthly possible means of correction – is a fog of water condensing on lenses. End results make focusing difficult, even uncomfortable. Logically locked tightly on the field of view, droplets strain eyesight given their intended proximity. What may weaken in terms of appreciable depth is often minor. Storm Surfers has plenty to give, even when troublesome.
Note no conversion has been applied to vintage footage, as if wandering quality of low grade tape recordings were ever conducive to 3D anyway.
Waves make a crashing return below with amazing punch in the subwoofer, highlighting this stupendous DTS-HD 5.1 mix. Sounds of water rushing, flawless when underwater, creates full bodied space which never becomes repetitious or tiresome.
Surround work is precise, an adjective which seems feeble in describing how lushly layered this audio presentation can be. Jet skis pan around the frame consistently, and do so with marvelous aggression. Ambiance proves superlative, creating contrasting dryness to interview moments.
Storm Surfers’ audio work has no pinnacle; all of its action is contained beautifully on equal surround footing. Pick any sequence amongst growing surf and the disc provides plentiful and ample material to soak up, pun intended proudly.
In one of the more bizarre Blu-ray occurrences, every bonus feature (except one) runs exactly three minutes and nine seconds. The outcast lasts 3:02, a peek into Carroll & Jones’ penchant for vehicle racing on land.
Elsewhere, the brief behind-the-scenes featurette skimps on length yet crams enough insight to prove its worth. Individual video profiles on both featured surfers and Matson join trailers at disc bottom.
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Note: Due to complications, time stamps are not available for these screen captures.