Riding Giants is a brilliant documentary that dives deep into the world of one of the most under-appreciated sports and brings to the surface a very human and raw emotion that only director Stacy Peralta could capture. Everything from the structure, to the players, to the amazing stock footage, to even the style in which this was filmed only reinforced the beauty and power behind the sport of surfing. Of all the surfing films that I have seen (Endless Summer, Billabong Odyssey, and Step Into Liquid) this was the most consistent and relevant. Beginning with the early ages of surfing (a brief history lesson) lasting all the way till Laird's infamous ride, Riding Giants goes further into the mind, heart, and soul of the sport than any of these other documentaries. How does it do this? By giving us the whole story, from start to finish, without fictionalizing or jig jagging from wave to wave.
To begin this film was structurally sound. In the other films that I have seen about surfing, you sometimes find yourself jumping from new person to new person, wave to wave, event to event, without any knowledge of why or who? In Riding Giants, we have a very small cast of veterans and newbies. This allows you to really go deeper into the mind of each one. Also, instead of just riding waves, we are handed more history and more personal insight to the world than before. This is what really attracted me to this film. I was impressed that instead of showing all these big waves (because it is a big wave movie), we listen to stories and see first hand what these surfers had to overcome to get to those waves. I loved the information about the "beach bums" or father's of surfing. I am still floored by the amazing tales of Greg Noll and his early adventures into the harsh deep blue. Then, to see him in person, talking about what was going on in his mind, only added more fuel to the fire. The straightforward structure that Peralta followed allowed me to follow and walk away with more knowledge of the sport than with any of the earlier films. Peralta shows so much emotion and passion that you cannot help but be amazed by what these brave people have done, and where the sport is going.
Add to a immaculate structure some intense and creative cinematography, and you have darn near perfect film. Using techniques that I last saw in The Kid Stays in the Picture, Riding Giants creates some scenes that almost feel as if they are jumping out of the screen. While it isn't 3D, it is that flat dimensional feeling that you get when you put two pictures on top of each other. In this film, it worked. It created more depth to the scenes, and really added to not just the shock value (man these waves were huge), but also the danger that these guys constantly faced. If it broke differently or they maneuvered wrong, these waves would kill them. Some did die, but it didn't stop the sport. It only created more excitement and more passion to do better. It is this love of the ocean and sport that leads me to my final point.
The human element. So many of my earlier adventures in the world of surfing documentaries left me with beautiful waves, but very little about the people. The films knew that people were watching for the waves, so it would basically go from wave to wave to wave and the maybe a short second about the person. This film was the direct opposite. Peralta created this masterpiece by still giving us the waves, but devoting so much more attention onto the surfers and the immortal question of why they do this everyday. What rushes through their minds, what pushes them to go further, and the bonds that are formed while out there on the wild blue yonder. I felt like after watching this film that I not only knew more about big wave surfing, but also about the emotional side to the sport. This was an element not as developed in the other films and pushed Riding Giants to a whole new personal level.
Overall, this film was brilliant. Never have I witnessed so much passion, devotion, and love wrapped in a structurally sound film. From beginning to end, I was impressed. I would be very happy if this film won the Oscar this year for Best Documentary, and to see a new rebirth in the surfing world and open more doors for films of this nature.
Grade: ***** out of *****
Documentary / History / Sport
Documentary / History / Sport
A semiserious, often rollicking, multigenerational insider's look at the origins of surfing, the colorful and subversive birth of surf culture, and the mythology and lure of the big wave. This passionate and fluid film is without question the first authentic history of surfing from its humble Hawaiian beginnings to the big business it became to the still-rebellious universe it inhabits today. Riding Giants is a study in individuality and freedom, the pursuit and techniques of pure kinetic pleasure, and the risk taking and attitudes that characterize its leading figures. For some viewers, this is perhaps more than they ever wanted to know. But Peralta's detailed knowledge of the surfing lifestyle, its icons and locations, its boom and exploitation by the media, and the fascination it has held for young men for more than five decades is unparalleled and fuels this expedition for the expert and initiate alike. Closely chronicling the sometimes-life-and-death drama that big-wave riding ...
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April 27, 2019 at 10:26 PM