By Seb Kemp
Movie reviews died a quick death as soon as movies became 'edits'. Now that videos are free to watch and about as regular as a Swiss clockmaker’s daily defecation there seems to be no need to review them. The general consensus is that no matter how good or bad an 'edit' is, it deserves nothing more than a 'Like', a share or some 'props'. Even if something is awful to watch it is considered poor form to point this out because it is free and we are lucky to be given the opportunity to watch it.
That’s crazy logic; if I had some very bad sex AND was given herpes then I think I'd be within my rights to point it out to the provider of said rubbish intercourse and viral disease that perhaps they should clean up their act. But that's just me, I'm old school; a cranky aging git who couldn't give a flying Frisbee about the youngster's LOLcats and ROFLcopters. So, here's a review, a terribly subjective and opinionated judgement of Anthill's NotBad movie.
NotBad is a Trek C3 Project team video that was filmed over the course of thirty days in and around Queenstown, New Zealand. Sounds like a simply great recipe for a video, especially when the team in question is made up of Brandon Semenuk, Cam McCaul, R-Dog, Brett Rheeder, Rene Wildehaber, Andrew Shandro, Brook MacDonald. However, it's a rather radical recipe. For mountain bike videos at least.
Generally, mountain bike videos have either settled into the one of the well established templates:
Bike Porno – Full of crazy big hucks or blisteringly-fast riding, a heavy soundtrack and with sections built around each individual rider.
Art House – Beautiful and rare pieces of cinematic majesty that attempt to retell the story of a mountain bikers emotional motivations.
Event Diary – Following a season as professional riders travel the world getting drunk (not shown on film), being promiscuous (not shown), complaining about how difficult riding a bike is (90 percent of the film) and commenting on how "weird" the local customs are in the countries they visit (the last 10 percent).
Two other themes have emerged in mountain bike movie making: the advent of cheap, accessible cameras for everyone (Hurrah for the western world! Cheap electronics and expensive health care!) and the introduction of really expensive, clever cameras that make real life look really boring in comparison.
These two advances have affected the presentation of the three basic recipes in that we are now:
A) Bombarded with lots of low budget riding, filmed on low budget cameras with excessive emphasis on sweeping, gliding, flying shots and on-camera personalities with the charisma of a fart in a jar.
B) Inundated with glacially slow-motion shots that attempt to fill the void left because no one can think of a good narrative arc to craft or there is no budget to get creative now that potential sponsors believe that any Tom, Dick or Harry can knock out daily VODs.
However, Anthill really are brave enough (and smart) to try something entirely new. Anthill are made up of some of the members of The Collective, the righteous dudes that brought the world the epoch changing, mega movie of the same name, plus subsequent hit DVDs, Seasons and Roam. They changed the game and since then every movie seems to utilize rope swings and clicking freehubs in their own movies. However, no one was able to do it quite like The Collective so we have been stuck with a lot of grainy Xerox copies of the same dull platitudes.
BC's finest mountain bike filmmakers have done some amazing work since their regeneration as Anthill, but NotBad is by far their best work and marks a massive step for mountain bike movies.
For this movie they kept it simple. Using just Queenstown (and sleepy Winton) as their stage, gathering all of their actors on stage at once and then to just semi-conduct a series of scenarios that would allow the true personality and talents of the individuals – and the team – to appear. I suppose it could be suggested that this was the first well executed, improvisational sit-com mountain bike movie.
Throughout the movie we see Semenuk smiling, Brett Rheeder poopin his pants at the prospect of doing a bungee jump (but shrugging off the danger of doing a bizarre backflip loop thingy), gentle banter between friends, and pokes made at the differences between XC and DJ which is so cutely done that it actually makes you think, for a moment, that we do all exist on the same planet.
It's a fun movie, from play to replay. I don't think the simple pleasure of indulging in mountain biking's inherent goofiness has ever been so well captured and presented. This movie made more sense to me as a mountain biker than any big summer release that has gone before it. Even though I can't quite imagine hucking a backie over a road gap I can imagine how much fun it would be to rip through a field of rutabaga alongside four accomplices.
Technology isn't the devil but the use of technology is often why storytelling gets relegated to the appendix. After watching some of the teasers for NotBad leading up to the premier I was nervous that it could be a lot of slow-motion for slow-motion's sake. However, although the full movie uses a lot mega slow-mo it's rarely ever been used so wisely. The intro credits and skits were brilliant. High watchable and also actually helped tell the story of the trip and the characters.
Anthill also utilized some crazy black magic camera trickery. In the first section of the movie – Skyline DH – there is some really good looking head cam footage (which you know couldn't have been shot with a consumer head cam) and I was surprised how enjoyable it was to watch and how well it worked with the scenario, the tune and the editing. But then, WAAAAAAHAT! The camera appears to swivel 180° so that instead of filming Brandon Semenuk's gyrating hips we now see Brook MacDonald mashing the trail. I lost my mind trying to figure out how they did that and thankfully a little bird told me that they had used Immersive Media's 360°, full-motion, interactive video camera. This little gubbin is more than gimmick though, the way Anthill used it helped create a sense of place, motion and what riding in a pack of deadly speed geeks feels like. Expect this technology to be used by every Mountain Bike Production Company within earshot from here on out. Oh well, it was good the first time we saw it.
Also, the introduction artwork by Brian Romero was a smart choice. Unicorns, impossibly blue skies and fluffy clouds really added to the movie. It added to the lighthearted nature of the film and helped cast the viewer down into a sort of fantasy land. Which is exactly what the movie and New Zealand are.
As soon as Anthill and the Trek C3 Project team have taken a bow I believe it should be New Zealand's turn. While it could be argued that with enough time or money the locations could be found or constructed anywhere and that the whole world is full of guys with a great riding scene, I don't think there's anywhere that would allow, nay encourage, the sort of ego-less, laid back shenanigans to take place. The Frew family are a right bunch of GCs and the Queenstown Mountain Bike Club are welcoming and generous (with the certain exceptions…[cough] Satan [cough]). Eel sports, big vistas and well established, world-class trail networks, New Zealand is calling. It's only so far away so it doesn't become crowded.
The movie is divided up in locations rather than rider sections and this really helps generate a sense of place and playfulness as the riders "feed off each other" (actually, props to the C3 crew for never saying that, at least not in the final cut). The casual interplay of the different riding styles and characters shines through, making it feel much more like a genuine session down the dirt jumps, DH track or Rutabaga patch.
And finally, unlike this review, the movie's duration was absolutely perfect. Twenty-five minutes used to be the length and breadth of every action movie, and it seemed to work. There was no time for b-roll to slip in, it was short enough for Ritalin deprived minds to keep occupied and you could start watching a VHS at any point in the movie and it was still understandable. In more recent years there seems to be the idea that movies should be epic (60-minutes plus) and edits should be snippets (three-minutes max). There is no middle ground. POPPYCOCK!
Let's cut the crap out of epics and edits. Don't fill 45 of the 60 minutes with to-camera talk of how you are "really getting into the backcountry now" and instead of making three minutes of throwaway, here-today-gone-tomorrow, nonsense that took an afternoon to film and a night on the couch to edit, make something that affects the hearts and minds of impressionable young boys and girls. Otherwise we might be breeding a generation of overly serious and disinterested mountain bikers.
Rant over? Yes. But, please, the real takeaway points from this should be that Anthill still run the show, NotBad is a lot more than just not bad and I urge you to go to iTunes and purchase this movie.
Old school storytelling mixed with new school riding and technology. It's been done before, but never before in mountain biking.