NEW YORK -- Armchair athletes (you know who you are) and surfing enthusiasts will no doubt be the most receptive audiences for this documentary about the world of extreme surfing, which has the unfortunate timing to arrive on theater screens not too long after this summer's well-received "Step Into Liquid". While "Billabong Odyssey" ultimately resembles an infomercial more than a coherent cinematic exercise, its spectacular images of well-toned athletes battling with the world's largest waves should find a receptive audience of those so inclined. Tellingly, the film opened Friday in 17 theaters in Southern California and on a single screen in Manhattan.
Shot in both 35mm film and high-definition video, Phillip Boston's docu opens in spectacular fashion, with a stunning shot of Surfer Mike
Parsons dwarfed by a 70-foot-high wave. A succession of similarly breathtaking images follow, though they are interrupted too frequently by dry, public television-style explications of wave formations, high-tech weather forecasting, etc.
Filmed in various far-flung locations including California, Washington, Mexico, Hawaii, Spain, France, Australia, Tahiti and the legendary open-ocean waves of the Cortes Bank 100 Miles West
of San Diego, the film documents the Billabong Odyssey project, created to expand the boundaries of surfing by conquering waves 70 feet and beyond.
Profiled are a colorful array of extreme surfing stars as well as such renowned figures as tow-surfing pioneer Ken Bradshaw
, female surfer Layne Beachley
and hydrofoil surfboard expert Rush Randle
"Billabong", like most films of its ilk, eventually suffers from its accumulation of admittedly spectacular but repetitive images and would probably benefit from both extensive trimming and projection on a large-format screen. And the weak attempts at both narrative cohesion and character development are largely ineffective.
But none of this will matter to those who get stoked at the prospect of finding the perfect wave.