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I first saw this film in 1978, my father took me to see it with my
at the drive-in as a double feature with "Every Which Way But Loose." It's
movie that I have never forgotten. It combines brilliantly heart gripping
surfing action, heart wrenching emotions, and heart uplifting humour, all
set against the back-drop of the Vietnam War, teenagers growing up, the
wisdom of elders (Bear) and of course, the surfing.
I've never surfed a minute of my entire life (although whenever I watch this, I feel like I should), so don't think of this as a "surf movie". It simply is an excellent piece of cinematic history that you will feel you missed on if you never see it.
Recommended with 2 thumbs way way way up.
"This movie is too good for surfers." Quentin Tarantino was asked about "Big Wednesday" once and this was his answer. Tarantino grew up in southern California and surfers, he says, were mean to him and his friends. Tarantino, however, knows a good movie when he sees one. This truly is Hollywood's "perfect wave", the only time the surf culture was portrayed accurately in a studio film. The surf community consistently refers to this film with reverence, citing it's depiction of the "soul" of surfing as being worthy of their hallowed endeavors in the water. After years of Frankie and Annette or, God forbid, Keanu Reeves, this is one they can be proud of. Writer-director John Milius was a surfer himself referring to it again in his most celebrated screenplay for "Apocalypse Now" ("Charlie don't surf!"). One of the keys to this film's authenticity is the fact that the three stars did a lot of their own surfing. Actually seeing their faces as they stand up for a ride is a bonus. William Kaat, Jan-Michael Vincent and Gary Busey (actually pretty big names from this era) were accomplished surfers, Busey learning for the role. The fine cast is rounded out by cuties Lee Purcell and Patti d'Arbanville and Sam Melville as the mystical mentor Bear. Keep your eyes peeled for legendary surfer Gerry Lopez, "Perry Mason"'s Barbara Hale, future Freddy creep Robert Englund, Larry Talbot from "Miami Vice" and Charlene Tilton and Steve Kanaly who both ended up on "Dallas". If you ever had a group of friends who did stuff together, you'll find this film has a lot of depth and soul. As Matt says after riding Big Wednesday "we drew the line". The three friends have validated the thing that consumed them as young men, that is riding waves and promising to be together when the big one hit. But they also acknowledge the need to embrace adulthood and put surfing where it should be. As Bear himself said "nobody surfs forever". Sad but true. It applies to all of us, no matter what we do.
This is a great film. I won't say that everyone would like it, because there is always someone who will hate it. But I love this movie and cannot imagine hating it. I watch it again and again, mostly for Jack who is wonderful in his personality and development. I can't rate this highly enough. The surfing scenes are spectacular, and watching the characters slowly mature and try to cope with life as an adult is always worth watching. Seeing Matt in particular struggle with his unwanted hero status and seeing his friends grow up, move away or die is really something to see. What he would have done without the capable, beautiful, indefatigable Peggy is anyone's guess. However, I must say that you either get it or you don't.
Down the street from my house is a restaurant/bar called RT's Longboard grill, which was opened by family as a tribute to a brother lost at sea. Adorning the bamboo laden walls, amongst yesteryear photos, boards, posters, and memorabilia, are TV screens which endlessly show classic surfing movies. The feeling one gets in this environment is similar to what one gets watching Big Wednesday. This isn't a surf movie in the sense of the word. You see, the trendy, infantile children that drunkenly roam the streets of Pacific Beach (where I live in San Diego)for the most part don't have souls, sadly, living in the very town in which many surf legends have been born. Hard pressed to find are the light hearted conversations over a good burger, malt, and a good set of waves. Big Wednesday contains such an epic story. OK... I seem bitter. It's because I am. I know the word "dude" and a nose covered in sunscreen is an easy stereotype... but the spiritual life altering experience behind surfing is most often misunderstood. What is your passion? Do you have one? It may be your children. It may be horses. It may be hockey. But no matter what goes wrong in your life, or who dies or what happens, at the core is your passion (translated : spirituality)... something pure. At the heart of this movie is this purity... and after the draft, relationships, addictions, and just plain adolescent insanity, the characters find that their friendship is still alive because of a common love. Don't try and make too much sense of this review. This isn't a restaurant review. I can't explain the feeling nor would I expect the 95% of America that doesn't live near a surf-able wave to get it...just watch the movie.
What is it about Big Wednesday that inspires so much affection? I won't
repeat the many tributes that have been made here, and yes, I was a
surfer, and yes, this is in my top five of all time movies, and yes, I
watch it about once every eighteen months.
But something others don't seem to mention much is the perfect score that Basil Poledouris wrote for the movie, sound which echoes and complements the action throughout, and reminds me strongly of artists and music of the time like Jack Nitzches "Lonely Surfer", and "Beyond the Break". Not, for heaven's sake, the Beach Boys or Jan and Dean.
But isn't that a big part of good movies? When music, image and story all combine? (Discuss)
The other four of my five are "Andrei Rublev", "If..." "The Piano" "Journey to the Center of the Earth"
A rite of passage film comparable to Stand By Me. The film follows the lives of three men through their late teens and twenties during the troubled period of American history that was the Vietnam war. The bond between these men is exemplified by their shared love for surfing and one another. With creative photography, Jan Michael Vincent (of Airwolf fame), Gary Busey (who makes a sneaky surfing appearance again in Point Break), and William Katt (who went on to star in such films as House) doing much of their own surfing, complemented by a professional team of surfing stunt doubles including Jerry Lopez make this one of the surfing all-time classics along-side Bruce Browns 1966 Endless Summer. Whether you're into surfing or not, you'll enjoy this for its story, feel good factor, and of course the surfing footage. Watch it.
Gary Busey's career high as the insane "Masochist" with the irrisistable quote "More Beer!". Okay, this is a little patchy, but it's beautifully shot and has that old fashioned innocence that most modern teen films lack. The surfing rules and the leading trio is well played. Oh and I forgot to mention, the entire narration is by none other than Elm street's Fred Kreuger, a.k.a Robert Englund, which just makes it uber-cool in my minds eye; but I am biased. A great feel-good movie from when movies still felt pretty good.
A movie about surf, friendship and the hardness in growing
The movie has great surf pictures, great surfers (Gerry Lopez himself), it has a beautiful script and was very well directed.
I think this movie is already a classic for surfers and non-surfers... ;-)
I watch the movie in VHS long ago, and i´m waiting for the DVD (next month)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I can't say enough good things about this film. It's poignant, funny, intelligent, and beautifully filmed. It really captures the feeling of the California surf culture quite well. It makes you feel like you can hear the waves outside as soon as the movie ends. Perhaps the beginning surfer party goes on a bit long, and yes there is a Tijuana scene that's a bit pointless too, but the movie gets stronger as it goes along. There is an interesting Vietnam War crossover in a recruiting 'barracks' - the surf guys come up with all sorts of outrageous ways to get out of going to Vietnam. Some of their antics work (like a Nazi regalia outfit, or JMV's injured leg), and others don't (Waxer's failed 'homosexual'). The crux of the movie really relies on William Katt and Jan Michael Vincent. They seem to be the closest buddies in the film, and the movie revolves around their changing and sometimes turbulent relationship - the common thread being their love of surfing. William Katt (Jack) is more of a straight-arrow character, whereas Vincent's (Matt) is frighteningly like his true off screen persona (a drunk who ends up sleeping on the beach - which actually happened to him!). Jack goes off to war willingly - and Matt stays behind, uncomfortable with the strangeness of the 60's culture around him. Jack returns from the war in one piece - and the first thing he does is go out to the ocean to find Matt and surf. The film ends in the 70's with the 'Big Wednesday' moment - a gigantic swell on the coast. All three buddies (can't forget about the unforgettable Gary Busey in this!) all meet at their usual beach and surf better than ever. They part ways at the end. Jan Michael Vincent is very good in this film, but in a quiet way. He's a pensive character. He has a great emotional scene at a cemetery, mourning a lost friend in the war. His brooding eyes carry the film - and you are always watching him and his reactions throughout. He also actually does a lot of his own surfing in the film, as did Busey and Katt. Katt is excellent as well - I wish he'd done more films like this one!
This is one of my favourite films of all time. It has such a feel good factor that I get it out and watch it at least three times a year and have done since I was kid, surfing with my friends in Cornwall in the early eighties. Following the lives of three friends from 1962 to the "great swell" of 1974, this is a beautifully shot movie with warm characters that you grow to really care about. From the opening credits with, believe it or not, the wonderfully mellow voice-over provided by Robert England, to the final mega surfing scene the story pulls you in with it's glorious scenery, great acting and superbly shot surfing scenes. Based around Milius's own experiences this is a classic and in my opinion, the best surfing film ever made.
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