To be or not to be, what is The Fourth Phase anyway?
I honestly still don’t know but the film The Fourth Phase has been out for a little over 24hrs as of me writing this review. I have watched it 2 times. The overall reception can be best described by the shoulder shrug emoticon. Some people seem to enjoy it but no one loves it, some people seem to hate it, but will admit it wasn’t that bad. The general public watching this movie is also 95% snowboarders and what the hell do you guys know about film making anyway!
To figure out how to judge The Fourth Phase, we have to take a step back and realize what the movie really is. Some would say it’s a shred flick and I would say you are wrong. I would say it’s a story driven film with snowboarding meant to be on par with the likes of Warren Miller but most would disagree because it’s the Internet and we all have opinions that matter. The fact here is that neither of us is right but it may not be our fault. The Fourth Phase had too many identities going on at one time and simply couldn’t pick where it wanted to stick the landing.
On one hand we have some of the greatest big mountain riders in the world sending it off massive booters in Wyoming, dropping some super sketchy lines in Russia, floating on powdery bliss in Japan, and trying to go where no one has gone before without dying in Alaska. The riding is hands down amazing. Love it or hate it, you have to admit when you watch these guys sending 80ft rodeos in the back country your jaw drops a little. The lines they pick when heading about 70+ mph down a cliff face stops your heart. They make it look so easy some of us tend to say, “That doesn’t look too bad. I’d try it.” But you wouldn’t, because if you saw these features in person you would shit your pants before you strapped a foot in. This being a post-Art of Flight era now, should we have expected more from Travis when it came to these set up jumps? Should he have gone for a quad cork over a mountain? Would that have got everyone more stoked? The answer is no one knows.
It’s probably our fault we wanted something bigger and better than Art of Flight. Taking a step back to realize Art of Flight was pretty big already and for Red Bull and Travis to top that would have been a near impossible mission. Maybe the crew making this movie knew that and we stayed safely blind behind our computers waiting until Travis dropped in on Mt. Everest from outer space. At this day and age, Internet and all, we come to expect do or die for our entertainment. If we aren’t witnessing history being made on screen then we better be witnessing history going up in a glorious flaming crash to be remembered forever. We know we got the latter and we all sat quietly in that moment, heart racing, waiting to see what happened next. That same exact moment for Travis’ friends, film crew, and support team will be forever remembered differently, as the moment your friend lay dead at the bottom of a mountain. When you watch the movie you remind yourself he’s not dead, in fact he’s narrating the film so yeah it’s just a movie guys, calm down. In this line of work, there seems to be no limit for what these guys do. They probably see the limit a little differently than how we see it. We want to see a backflip over an active volcano, they just want to try a new line and survive another day. These riders push themselves as far as they can, risk it all for conquering the next giant mountain and we get to sit back and judge every turn and flip they make safely from a chair. Travis did in fact push the envelope in this movie riding places that had never been ridden before. Finding impossible lines that even his good friends like Mark Landvik were unable to comprehend and thus leaving him no option but to leave the crew for his own safety and sanity. To be a little disappointed with the film is understandable when we expected something bigger than Art of Flight. Realistically, we must respect what these riders achieve, the tricks they throw, the lines they make, and the fact that they all do come back alive and willing to go out and do it all over again next year.
Now on the other hand we have a movie with a deep philosophical concept about the magic of nature and how it works. Travis’ narration sometimes gets a little too deep and lost in translation. After my first viewing I totally missed the point, but on my second viewing I started to see the idea. Essentially the movie is about going on this adventure following the “Pacific Gyre” around the ocean. When one giant storm hits the North America the ocean current will carry that same style of moisture and wind to Japan, then up to Russia, and finally back to North America creating a big cycle of “predictable” snow fall. I want to believe him with all the charts and philosophical babble that maybe he is on to something with this. Much like your local weatherman, it’s still a shot in the dark truly predicting how weather is going to turn out. This is especially true in the mountains. So off Travis goes to sail around the Pacific becoming one with this flow of nature in hopes of predicting the unpredictable. To no one’s surprise it does not work exactly as planned. Wyoming was good, Japan was good, Russia was not so good. Apparently that predictable gyre in the pacific ocean is not a fan of Russia. Then back to Alaska for a “bad year” so we wait a year and go back and it’s good again.
What did we learn from all of this? What was the take away? When the snow is good, it’s good. We all know that already but Travis tried to prove there was a system we could be in tune with and that didn’t work. We also learned that Japan has a fire festival where the locals smack each other with burning grass or something. Would like to spend more time on that, Warren Miller would have. Geographically speaking we learned that Russia has a bunch of islands run by a part of some military that won’t allow you to take pictures on the ground. Also snowboarding is alive and well in these very secluded locations, another thing I would have liked to learn about. I want to believe that Travis is just a “whoa dude” kind of person who is just looking for the unexplainable answers in life. Some will follow in these explorations of becoming one with the world and the rest of us will hit rusty stair case rails leaving the world behind. He may sound a little looney but he did survive a massive avalanche that would have killed most of us on any other day so maybe he is on to something.
Finally my breakdown of editing and filming. These guys are professionals, it was all beautiful, moving on.
At the end of the day The Fourth Phase made a basic film making mistake. They took two ideas and could not settle on one. More time spent on snowboarding would have given us a greater sense of a shred flick and that is what almost all of us wanted. More time spent on story telling and culture would have given us a true documentary style film and the snowboarding would be a nice compliment to it. I believe they wanted to tell more of a story then focus on snowboarding but it was clouded by a lot of philosophy that was hard to follow between each chapter. I still have tons of respect for the film makers and riders in the movie. Both teams risk their lives to get the shot everyday they go out and that is something we should all appreciate in the end. Red Bull and Travis had some big shoes to fill after Art of Flight, maybe that was their “piece de resistance” after all. We will inevitably set the bar higher and higher for every company movie that comes out, for every variation of a trick that arrives. More importantly though, we should all probably take that step back from our computers and remember that this is snowboarding and no matter who’s len we see it through, we’re all in this together. Whether you have Red Bull money or a simple backyard park.
Overall Rating: 2.5 Energy Drinks of out 5