STEP INTO LIQUID is as exhilarating and refreshing as a summer day at the beach, and at times as exasperating as the long, sandy drive home. Through a series of loosely connected vignettes, Dana Brown showcases some of the finest surfers and most spectacular waves in the world. Numerous interviews feature world champions of the sport attempting to distill the essence of surfing’s allure. Their shallow and sometimes silly explanations cannot match the grandeur and majesty of their subject. None of these athletes so in tune with the creation references the Creator on camera, and the Christian viewer wants to “connect the dots” for them.
Breathtaking surf footage is the staple of surfing movies, and Brown treats his audience to lavish slow motion and fast motion sequences. In settings as exotic as Costa Rica, Vietnam, and Tahiti, world-class athletes perform impossible moves shot from every conceivable angle, even underwater. Thanks to fine sound editing, viewers experience the thunder of giant waves off Maui and San Diego as expert surfers are towed into the swells by jet skis. In one astounding sequence, the sound stops entirely as Peter “Condor” Mel catches and rides a 66-foot wave. Occasionally one camera picks up shots of divers with cameras, providing a glimpse of the painstaking techniques that blend so seamlessly to create the surfing sequences. Oddly, when the camera is stationary for simple headshot interviews, it is often out of focus, as if the camera operators have become so adept at surf photography that they can no longer film on dry land.
In seeking to explain surfing’s appeal, STEP INTO LIQUID reveals as much about the lifestyle of surfing as it does about surfing itself. The wide diversity among surfers is depicted by contrasting world champions challenging huge waves on cutting-edge hydrofoil surfboards with giggly preteens competing at a beginners’ level contest at a family beach. Brown profiles Dale Webster, the solitary northern California man who has surfed every day for nearly 30 years. The light-hearted goofiness of surfing is exemplified by a group of Texas coast surfers who surf for miles on the wakes of supertankers and “freshwater” surfers who experience the “stoke” of Lake Michigan shorebreak. Surfing’s recent history is portrayed through a profile of characters featured in ENDLESS SUMMER and ENDLESS SUMMER II, who show that they can still ride longboards like the pros. Unfortunately, for a sport whose popularity is growing fastest among young women, Brown gives only a few minutes and scant footage to world-class female surfers.
In several heartwarming vignettes, STEP INTO LIQUID attempts to display the international brotherhood that surfing engenders. A Vietnam veteran travels to southeast Asia with his son in order to spread goodwill through surfing. At the end of his trip, he makes a gift of his surfboard to the ten-member Da Nang Surf Club. In a particularly moving vignette, three brothers from Ojai, California, the Malloys, use the draw of surfing lessons to bring together Protestant and Catholic children who would otherwise have nothing to do with each other. In another vignette, Jesse Billauer, a promising young champion who suffered a crippling injury, is helped back onto his board by loving friends.
Dana Brown has proven himself to be the equal of his Academy Award-nominated father, Bruce Brown (ENDLESS SUMMER), as a maker of beautiful, fun movies about serious surfing. STEP INTO LIQUID spans the globe, not in an elusive search for the perfect wave, but in search of the essence of surfing. However, the essence of surfing may be merely that it is an exhilarating sport that brings its adherents into close contact with the creation, and, if they are sensitive to Him, with the Creator. None of the surfers interviewed in the film quite gets to that point. Instead, some attribute surfing’s allure to the fellowship that develops among surfers, a “tribe of people that feed off the energy” of the sea. Others credit the sublime experience of surfing to the mysterious urge called “the stoke.” Ultimately, though, the deepest meaning the interviewees can give their experience is hedonistic, expressed in statements like, “I get out of the water happier than when I get in,” and “all I’m looking for is a smile.” This is far removed from the simple eloquence of missionary Eric Liddell’s declaration, “When I run I feel His pleasure.” While we cannot expect those who are not Christians to appreciate this depth of communion between Creator and creation, it is sad to see those who are so in tune with the rhythms of the sea miss the Author of those rhythms. Despite its weaknesses, Christians will appreciate the majesty of the creation depicted so effectively in the surfing sequences in STEP INTO LIQUID. Perhaps, they may understand surf culture more deeply, too, the better to minister to surfers.
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SUMMARY: STEP INTO LIQUID is an engaging series of surfing vignettes seeking to describe the essence of surfing. Lavish cinematography of breathtaking feats set against gorgeous scenery combine with surfing’s trademark goofiness to make this the most enjoyable surfing movie since ENDLESS SUMMER.
(PaPa, BB, C, ACap, E, I, LL) Pagan worldview with characters attributing mystical qualities to natural elements while some characters perform biblical acts of charity and peacemaking, including uniting some Protestant and Catholic surfers; five uses of “God” as exclamations and 12 mild to coarse obscenities; and, characters refer to global brotherhood of surfing and vague anti-capitalist environmentalism.