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BLUE CRUSH

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Kate Bosworth, Michelle Rodriguez, Matthew Davis, Sanoe Lake, Mika Boorem
Director:  John Stockwell
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Universal
Features:  See Review
Length:  105 Minutes
Release Date:  January 14, 2003

“You’re gonna want someone gentle.”

“And you are…?”

“Not.”

Film ***

I grew up and still live on Florida’s First Coast.  We have beautiful beaches here.  That being said, I never was a surfer, nor were any of my closest friends.  Surfing always seemed like another world to me…it was more than just about waves and boards; it was its own subculture, with its own language, ideals and sensibilities. 

Blue Crush is a solid surf movie that both endorses and debunks the surfer mythology.  Yes, it is its own world, and those of us who’ve never surfed will probably never fully understand that…but the people who do it, despite their image in other films, have the same worries and cares as the rest of us.  They have bills to pay, they have problems with love, friends and families…they just have the added benefit of being able to forget about it all for a while when they ride high on a crest.

The story is extremely simple, and not the main attraction.  Anne Marie (Bosworth) is a talented amateur surfer with an invitation to compete in the most prolific (and dangerous) surfing contest in the world: the Hawaiian Pipeline.  The problem?  Three years earlier, she had a horrific accident and almost drowned surfing that same stretch of water.  That’s not an easy fear to overcome, because those infamous waves crash down on surfers with incredible weight and force, and beneath the shallow surface of the waters are all kinds of jagged reefs waiting to cut and mangle the unlucky.

With only a short time to prepare, she gets help from her stalwart friends Eden (Rodriguez) and Lena (Lake).  The three live for the water, but have a tough time making ends meet working as maids at a ritzy hotel…a job that ends for Anne Marie when she engages in a confrontation that will doubtless win the hearts of any audience member who’s ever worked in service.  But it also brings her into a distracting new romance with handsome pro quarterback Matt (Davis).  He’s a great guy, but can he and Anne Marie share anything other than a brief week-long summer romance?  And if so, is it worth the time she’s giving up for him when she could be training for the big competition?

There are other points that make the story interesting, including an angle that Anne Marie’s mother had long since vanished, leaving her to care for herself and her troubled younger sister, Penny (Boorem).  And thankfully, this movie spares us the obvious route of the tearful mother and child reunion.  But as mentioned, I’d be lying if I said any part of this story was the hook.

The real prize is the amazing surfing footage which, more than anything I’ve ever seen before, puts you right in the middle of the action so that you see, hear, and feel every moment of exhilaration and danger.  Director John Stockwell used some impressive techniques to capture his images, including mounting cameras on Boogie Boards and taking them right into the heart of the Pipeline.  The waves are all real; the only computer generation was used in putting Ms. Bosworth’s face onto those of professional surfing women (I don’t blame them; the Pipeline is not where you want to put your novice surfing actresses!).  On the other hand, Michelle Rodriguez did her own Sea-Doo stunts, quite impressively.

Combining the outstanding and exciting surf footage with the simple tale of blue collar workers escaping into the one thing they do best (think:  Saturday Night Fever) makes for an entertaining combination.  And like that breakthrough 70s film, Blue Crush originated from a series of magazine articles about women who surf professionally.  It seems at one point, the Pipeline was considered too hazardous for female surfers…HA!  They now spit on your puny boards…

In other words, Blue Crush isn’t just another mindless sports movie that celebrates its characters as athletes, but not as human beings.  It’s one that catches the biggest wave and rides it through to its conclusion…as the movie would argue, few sights are more enthralling.

Video ****

This is a gorgeous anamorphic transfer from Universal.  As you might expect from a beach movie, it’s sunny, bright and colorful throughout, with lots of activity going on in and out of the water, making for a vibrant viewing experience which the DVD never shortchanges.  Every detail, every subtle shade, every image is crisp, clear and stands apart, whether in the sun or beneath the moonlight.  The transfer is crystal clear, with no distracting grain, compression, softness or anything to spoil the pleasure.  Very deserving of highest marks.

Audio ****

This 5.1 track is simply one of the best I’ve heard…and I’ve heard a lot of them!  The rear stage doesn’t just add a little ambience here and there…apart from the forward centered dialogue, the back channels are almost as important as the front.  They add life to crowd scenes, street scenes, and yes, the obligatory background we-are-near-the-beach types of sounds. 

But man, oh, man, when you get into those waves, you’d better batten down the hatches, mates.  The thunderous crashing and spilling of water explodes through your subwoofer, and the surrounds keep you right in the middle of the action.  You are under those pipes, and you feel it when the surfers wipeout.  The intensity of the sound sometimes made my floor, couch and walls vibrate and vibrate hard.  Consider this the first reference quality disc of 2003, and one that has raised the bar for the next 11 months.

Features ****

This disc boasts a strong supporting cast of extras, with my favorite being the short bit about how the movie was filmed!  With optional John Stockwell commentary, you can see just how these cameramen with their Boogie Boards and such got right in the middle of the action and danger…after seeing how spectacular their work was in the film, you’ll really appreciate this!

There’s also a regular production featurette with cast and crew interviews, plus two commentary tracks.  The first, by John Stockwell with some of his crew (including his young son), is the more informative and technical; it will give you the inside track on the production.  The second features cast members Kate Bosworth, Michelle Rodriguez and Sanoe Lake, and it’s the more relaxed and fun listen…not a lot of serious info.

John Stockwell also lends optional commentary to extra footage of surfing and wipeouts, compiled into short, action filled clips, plus about 18 minutes worth of deleted footage.  There are also bits of information and footage on professional women surfers, the surfing fashion, lifestyle and vocabulary.  Rounding out are production notes, a trailer, DVD ROM content, recommendations, talent files, and a promo that was especially constructed to show the studio execs what the movie was going to be like.  All in all, a fun, informative, and highly appropriate collection of features!

Summary:

Blue Crush is the first great DVD of 2003…if nothing else, it proves that the format, as good as it is, can still get better.  And it proves that a critic can pen an entire review of a surfing movie without once using the word cowabunga.  Oops…well, almost…