Featured Image: Teddy Merellec/Red Bull Content Pool
Many years ago, when I used to write a Christmas list because I wholeheartedly believed it would be sent to Santa Claus for his studious perusal (and not because I needed to be really explicit about what I wanted, in order to avoid my relatives buying me pointless tat, which is the case now), at the top of every list for nearly a decade was a Scalextrix set.
For those of you not old enough to know what this is, it was kind of like a high speed train set with racing cars, and was, without any shadow of a doubt, the single most desirable consumer goods item of the late 1970s and early 1980s (before the home computing powerhouse that was the ZX Spectrum was launched).
Year after year I would lie awake, expectant, on Christmas Eve, knowing that I had been really good for the last 12 months and eaten all my greens, and that THIS YEAR I absolutely HAD to be rewarded for all my goody-two-shoes-ness and spelling test success with the arrival of the latest and greatest Scalextrix set at the end of my bed, magically delivered by reindeer after my eyelids finally lost the battle against the sleepydust that my mother had sprinkled over me.
And every year, when I woke at 5am, full of bristling excitement at the prospect of setting up my Scalextrix and watching the Ferraris speed around the winding race track, I would be disappointed because Santa, the stingy mother fucker, never EVER brought me what I most desired.
And that’s exactly how I felt on Tuesday 20th September 2016, when one of my heroes, one of my actual heroes - of whom there are only three in the whole world (the other two being Terje and Chris Waddle) brought me not a Scalextrix, not even a game of monopoly or a Blue Peter annual - but a pair of second hand socks that smelled of ripe cheese, and which looked like they hadn't been taken off for the last three years.
"I’ve become so numb to the constant stream of three-minute edits that I was desperate for a movie of real substance"
Travis Rice is a legend, and as I just stated above, a legitimate hero of mine. He is superhuman both in his ability to snowboard, but also to make radical shit happen. He is the most incandescent catalyser of the gnar that exists on the planet. He is like a giant Hadron collider-sized magnet hanging around the neck of Jesus, such is his ability to get people, money, helicopters, drones, WW2 bombers and a mountain of expectation to follow him around the planet. Such is the force of his personality and snowboarding talent, that the laws of physics literally bend around him when he wants to get something done.
So if he, with all his industry might, with all the financial backing of Red Bull, with all the follow-cams and film crews and bag carriers and three years of footage and everything else that he has been able to amass in order to make The Fourth Phase… if even he can’t make a long-form snowboard movie that’s going to get people to stop flicking through pictures on Instagram or fast-forwarding through videos of cats falling off fences on YouTube, then we might have just seen the end of the snowboard movie. If Trice can’t make it work, who else is going to convince Red Bull to part with millions, convince the world’s best riders to travel with them in a cramped camper van and convince heli-pilots to risk their lives?
"To a cynical British ear, the epic voiceover stuff was just overwrought nonsense"
And the sad, disappointing, miserable truth is that The Fourth Phase just wasn't that good as a snowboard movie. God knows how much I wanted it to be amazing. I’ve become so numb to the constant stream of three-minute edits of very good snowboarders sliding on rails or spinning off jumps, that I was desperate for a movie of real substance – something that could hold my attention for 90 minutes, tell me a story, inspire me with feats of inhuman accomplishments and get me pumped to strap on my snowboard again. But it didn't happen. Instead, I left the BFI Southbank, having gratefully accepted my free beer and branded wireless headphones courtesy of Skullcandy, feeling a little bit lost and melancholy.
Firstly, the movie was just too damn cheesy. To a cynical British ear, all the epic voiceover stuff that was smeared like mouldy peanut butter over The Art of Flight was just overwrought nonsense. I didn't think Travis could make the same mistake twice, but then, no more than 10 seconds into The Fourth Phase a deeply earnest voice (so earnest, that even Hermione Granger would probably think he was being a douche) declared:
“To seek is not to be content… I am a seeker."
Now, either Travis thinks he is playing a game of Quidditch or no-one he knows has got the balls to tell him that he sounds like a right plonker when he speaks like someone auditioning for a walk-on part in Game of Thrones. No, I don’t think he is a Harry Potter fan either.
"Snowboarding really should be about two things: dicking about or posing. It’s not more important than that, no matter how much you want it to be"
I suspect the trouble for Travis is that, like most of us, as he gets older he has started to question what he has been doing with his life. Is what I do just totally frivolous or does it have meaning? Have I spent the last fifteen years doing something worthwhile or was it all just a bit silly and pointless? And in searching for a higher purpose – in following the four phases of water around the planet – I think Travis just got a bit carried away. I think he forgot that snowboarding really should be about two things: either dicking about or posing (and preferably both). It’s not more important than that, no matter how much you want it to be about your inner soul’s connection with trans-planetary weather cycles or the particles of the universe coalescing to create all-too transient moments of kinetic beauty.
Recognising that snowboarding is fun is why Afterbang has had such longevity and remains a totemic inflection point in snowboarding’s movie almanac (and more recently, why the fist-bump movie combo of The Bad Seeds and Boom by Nitro have been such a breath of fresh air). We snowboard not to leave our legacy on the planet or change the course of history, but to get that nice feeling when you land sweetly in a tranny or hang in the air and bone out a grab, or impress someone we’ve always wanted to impress so they might like us more. That’s it. That's all. Don’t complicate things.
Secondly, we are already over-stimulated.
In the last three years, since Travis started making The Fourth Phase, the world of content has mutated and accelerated and atomised and been desiccated into titchy little pieces of nano-sized, entertainment-flavoured snuff powder. Snowboarding is no different, so if I want to see 100 amazing triple corks, all I have to do is open Facebook or Twitter for about 20 seconds and let the shred-stimulation splatter me in the face like a teenage go-kart champion celebrating his first victory with a bottle of fizzy Tizer and a PornHub premium subscription.
"We have seen so much gnar in the last three years that even the insane levels of riding we saw in The Fourth Phase were only occasionally enough to get the auditorium hooting"
There was some ridiculously gnarly stuff in The Fourth Phase, unbelievable snowboarding of which only superhuman beings are capable. Insanely steep faces in AK. Incredible tree-bonking double corks. Double-deep pow turns in Japan. Massive hits off backcountry booters that would make you piss into your pants and cry for your mommy if you saw them in real life. Literally, some of the most insane snowboarding that has ever been committed to video, ever.
But we have seen so much gnar, so easily and so often in the last three years, that even the insane levels of riding we saw in The Fourth Phase were only occasionally enough to get the auditorium hooting. Like Mark Kermode’s “six laugh test" for a comedy, I think you need at least six “hell yeah’s" in order for a snowboard movie to work. I counted three, and two of those moments had been in the teaser.
The moment which wasn't in the teaser, which was a genuine “fuck me" moment, was the mega-massive double-MASSIVE avalanche that Travis triggered in AK and miraculously survived. That was the gnarliest thing I have ever seen, full stop, ever, and would have grabbed the attention of even the most over-stimulated Pokemon-go-playing legal-high munching dickwad whilst he was sexting his best mate’s girlfriend.
Watching Travis emerge from an avalanche that stripped an entire mountain of its snow cover, heaving, groaning in pain, was THE moment of the movie. Humbled, defeated by the forces of nature that he had been chasing and so ostentatiously mastered, Travis allowed us to see a little chink of weakness that added millions more lines of code to his personality profile than any of the chest-beaty or chin-strokey stuff that was littered throughout the rest of The Fourth Phase.
Thirdly, the music was rubbish.
That is clearly a completely subjective statement, but I really didn't like it. I want snowboard music to make me want to go and smash a window, eat a slab of raw red meat and then go shred. The music in The Fourth Phase, on the whole, just made me want to shout at my sister to turn her record player down.
Fourth, it was betwixt and between three things.
It was neither a snowboard movie, nor a snowboard documentary, nor a National Geographic special investigation. It didn't fully commit to delivering “core" snowboarding footage, it didn't really offer that much insight into Travis and his crew and it didn't really explain the four phases of water concept very well.
"I want snowboard music to make me want to go and smash a window, eat a slab of raw red meat and then go shred"
If it had been a straight up pumping-soundtrack shred movie, that could have worked really well. If it had been a fly-on-the-wall insight into Travis and his buddies – getting to properly understand his motivations and desires, seeing more of the glitches in the team spirit, getting under the skin of the filming operation – that could have worked really well. If it had been a more in-depth analysis of weather patterns and hydrological cycles and provided a real sense of how the world was changing around us, that could have worked really well too. But it didn't know what kind of movie it was supposed to be, and as a consequence did all of the above a bit half-heartedly, and thus failed.
I actually think that “The Making Of…" might turn out to be a better watch (which was sort of the case with The Art of Flight), if it spends more time exploring what was going on behind the scenes and gives us a proper insight into whether Mark Landvik was just bored when he bailed on Travis and E-Jack (after weeks of waiting for a weather window), whether he was a bit scared of dying, or whether he finally decided to head home and get a hair weave (as a proud slap head myself, I have resisted, to date).
Finally, we’ve already been here.
"If you can watch the Art of Flight on Netflix, there’s not really any need to watch The Fourth Phase"
If you can watch The Art of Flight on Netflix, there’s not really any need to watch The Fourth Phase.
Here’s the check list to prove it:
• Scenery-chewing voiceovers and philosophical mumbo jumbo – got that
• Epic, sweeping shots of nature – got it
• Legendary snowboarders backslapping one another – got that too
• Rad booter session in Wyoming – yep, check
• Silly down-day bad-weather behaviour – yes thanks
• Lots of people telling us how gnarly and driven Travis Rice is – yep, plenty of that already
• Safety dude saying Travis is crazy – got that
• Heli’s shooting heli’s – yep
The one thing that The Fourth Phase did have which was novel and thus worth the price of admission was Victor de le Rue. He steals the movie in an all-too brief cameo with some of the most ridiculous straight-line descents, by absolutely TANKING it down gnarly Alaskan faces. He, like his brother, is a boss and I bet he has his snowboard boots done up very tight indeed.
"On the whole the movie was crying out for more fresh blood, more gladiators to rise up and challenge the king"
What The Fourth Phase needed was more Victor and less Guch. Travis needs someone to push him, to make him up his game, to challenge his status as the alpha male. The huggy bromance with all-round nice-guy Pat Moore and pay-it-back respect for the elders is to be lauded, but it’s been done before, and isn't shifting the needle. Ben Ferguson also makes a slither of an appearance, hinting at what a legend he could go on to become… but on the whole the movie was crying out for more fresh blood, more gladiators to rise up and challenge the king.
As I said at the outset, it feels like this was the snowboard movie to end all movies. No-one could amass the resources that Travis has been able to amass, and I suspect that in the final analysis, some skateboarding dogs or fat people slapping each other and falling over will get more hits on the internet on the day that The Fourth Phase is released. And so the financial plugs will be pulled, it will be the end for “proper" snowboarding movies, and we will have to be content with webisodes and “full movies" that are nine minutes long.
So I guess I never got my Scalextrix, I never got the thing that I was wishing for. But I still believe in Santa Claus, and I still believe in Travis. I still believe there could, one day, be another epic movie made before I die.
I guess I am never content. I guess I am a seeker too.
The Fourth Phase is available to view on Red Bull TV on 2nd October at 9pm (www.redbull.tv/thefourthphase