Thursday, June 17, 2010

Review: "The Ultimate Wave Tahiti 3D"

Professional surfers are people who turned goofing off into a sport and a career.

I don't say this to be dismissive of surfers like Kelly Slater, considered by many the best surfer ever and the star of the new IMAX film, "The Ultimate Wave Tahiti 3D."

Just as there are now folks who make their living playing video games, and even a few people (though not nearly as many as a few years ago) watching movies as a livelihood, Slater and his kind found something they loved to do and willed it into more than a pastime.

On the surface, "Wave" is the story of some surfers looking for really gnarly tubes off the beaches of Tahiti. But it's also about the friendship between Slater and Raimana Van Bastolear, a native who helps elite surfers find that ultimate wave.

Van Bastolear had the talent to be a world champion, Slater says, but chose to stay near his family and his people, who feel a spiritual connection with the ocean that combines respect and fear.

Director Stephen Low, an IMAX veteran, uses his high-resolution cameras to capture the amazing action, including some shots that were photographed with a camera mounted to the surfboard itself.

The action is familiar: We've seen these sorts of shots of surfers racing through a closing wormhole of water, or shredding the wave with fancy acrobatic patterns. But having it come at you on the big screen in 3-D is something else.

Low also uses computerized graphics to show how waves form in the ocean, and how the special geography of places like Tahiti bends them into "The Demon Wave," as the locals call the man-crushing liquid tornadoes that can dump 20 tons of water onto anyone unlucky enough to slip off their board.

The movie gets a little hippy-dippy with some animated sequences about the special relationship between the Tahitians and the island, using the big ceremonial masks as cartoonish stand-ins for the pioneers who first settled there centuries ago.

I'd love to see a documentary about their journey and history, but this sequence feels shoved into the middle of a movie about surfing. The really serious wave-riding doesn't start until about halfway through the film's 45 minutes, and it arrives not a moment too soon.

But we're soon caught up in the magnificent footage of Slater, Van Bastolear and others cutting through the surf with expert grace, and we forgive the film for dallying. "The Ultimate Wave Tahiti 3D" is the best water ride around that won't leave you soaked.

3 stars out of four

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