Director: Greg Martin
Riders: Jake Blauvelt, Eric Jackson, Kazu Kokubo, Fredi Kalbermatten, Shayne Pospisil, Nicolas Muller.
When Jake Blauvelt and his team set out to make Naturally their goal was to make something different, a new kind of snowboard movie. The aim was to move away from ‘The Format’: essentially intro – rider’s part – footage of riders falling over – another part – someone playing guitar – part - etcetera etcetera. Jake himself is a man defined by his unique approach to snowboarding - refusing to spend more than ten minutes shaping a hit and instead using the mountain as it is - a uniqueness the movie aimed to reflect. So have they achieved that?
From the opening sequence we’re made fully aware that this is going to be a film about the man himself. We’re treated to a montage of footage from the upcoming movie spliced with some photos of Jake’s life projected onto some logos. Oh no wait, that’s Jake himself! It's not totally groundbreaking, but it is cool and the quality of the shots and especially editing is standout.
For this project the studio skills of Aaron Morris were enlisted - someone with zero background in snowboard movies. Even though it’s obvious he probably watched a few before and took notes, and it no doubt helped that one of his assistant editors, Richard Prendigast, is an old-and when it comes to shred flicks. But there is a difference in style from your average snowboard movie. It’s in the way the cuts are made between shots - they follow the tone of the music and footage rather than just the rhythm or editing to the beat. This style follows us through the whole film, linking it together almost seamlessly, a bit like Mr Blauvelt’s riding.
For this project the studio skills of Aaron Morris were enlisted - someone with zero background in snowboard movies.
And oh my can he ride. Putting together a full 3-4 minute part in a season is no mean feat in itself, but Jake has somehow come up with almost a half hour’s worth of pure gold shots. Yes there are other riders, but they only make up around a quarter of the film, and yes it was filmed over two years, but as we learn in the movie he was injured for almost half of that.
Whilst there are a couple of double upside-downs and mega spin-wizzles, he mainly concentrates on smooth and stylish powder riding with super slow and nicely tweaked spins; the front one to hand drag to switch back five off the house in "France" is a particular favourite. The Japan segment that kicks off the actual riding is full of slashy turns and weird tree jibs that make him look like he’s having the time of his life, and reminded me of nothing more that Nicolas Muller’s epic Japan opener from Absinthe’s Neverland.
Muller himself actually features in the film - his physical presence amounts only to a couple of shots in the Swedish section but he’s obviously been teaching Jake a few things: Witness his totally Swiss guru-style backflip-chicken salad midway through. Kazu Kokobu also appears and throws a few heavy spins of some pretty big features, and childhood best bud Shayne Pospisil joins in with some styled airs.
Out of all the ‘extras’ of course it's Adidas teammate Eric Jackson who stands out the most. There’s some crazy big drops and pillow lines, plus an unreal ‘thread the needle’ straightline through the middle of a gnarly couloir. He also gets the most screen time out of the others, and it’s refreshing to see the usual Rice/Jackson mad backcountry booter combo of the Art of Flight replaced with a new duo.
So how does Naturally compare against "The Format?" Well, I have to say it’s not as groundbreaking as some of the hype surrounding it suggested. The afore-mentioned skits have instead been replaced instead with nuggets of information about Jake, narrated by Jake. We now know that Jake likes yoga, but he doesn’t like being injured. Jake also enjoys and carpentry but... you get the picture. There's also a Rocky-esque rehabilitation sequence of Jake working out which reminded us a bit too much of the montage song from Team America.
Jake looks like he’s having the time of his life, and reminded me of nothing more that Nicolas Muller’s epic Japan opener from Absinthe’s Neverland.
However, he’s actually quite a good spokesperson. His mellow soothing tones don’t jar in the way that the voices of other commentators for snowboard documentaries/Spinal Tap tributes (who shall remain nameless) do. And the chat doesn’t get much in the way of actual riding, putting this bang in the middle genre-wise between the traditional shred flicks like Robotfood and Think Thank and the more Planet Earth-y style Art of Flight. You can get hyped for the next powder day watching it with your friends, without having to cringe at "I’m soooo gnarly" backslapping drawl. But you could equally show it to your Mum and she'd get it.
Cinematography wise, it's gorgeous with well-thought out shots from all sorts of angles. In this it's at the RED-camera-using cutting edge, alongside the likes of the Nike and Burton movies this year. In fact if you pulled out individual shots of say Muller from all of them, you’d be hard pressed to say which movie which was from. Where this does break truly new ground however is (as I've mentioned) with the editing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen something flow so well in tune with the riding shown on the screen before.
The music choices are excellent, with the right mix of recognisable tunes (DJ Shadow's awesome Organ Donor - how has that never been used in a shred movie before?!) and lesser known tracks. But best of all, the editing reflects the way Jake and E-Jack carve and glide over the mountains, enhancing the impression of smooth natural flow. And it's this combination of technical, tasteful editing with technical, tasteful riding is that makes Naturally really stand out. The production is super-proficient but never looks like it's showing off. The snowboarding is simple, understated and creative but still gnarly as hell. If you want an antidote for recent year’s doubles and triples-fests, this is it.
Whitelines rating: 8/10
Have you seen Naturally? Let us know what you thought in the comments below. You can read about the making of Naturally (including interviews with Jake and director Greg). And if you haven't you can watch it here.