can’t quite seem to decide whether it is a sports documentary, a travelogue,
a love letter to nature or a piece of geo-political agitprop – but it
succeeds fairly well on each of those levels.
There is some gorgeous
and rather exciting footage of both surfing and mountain climbing. The film
climaxes in the solitary Patagonia region of Chile and offers many stunning
mountain and ocean views. The main characters followed by the film are all
passionate adventurers and conservationists who are trying desperately to
stem the tide of civilization on the last unspoiled enclaves of nature.
While this wide canvas allows the filmmakers many wondrous moments, the lack
of focus somewhat detracts from the power of the film’s arguments. One
minute we are on the sea looking for a perfect wave, next minute we are
looking at animations of dams, then we are climbing mountains, then we’re in
a van in South America, then we are singing by a campfire, then we are
talking to protesting natives. There is even a short side trip to Easter
Island, just to make a point. A valid point, perhaps, but the audience is
shaking its collective head wondering how we got there.
Maybe this is because – it seems – that the focal point of the movie changed
as the filming progressed.
The sports segments – though undoubtedly originally the focus of the film –
actually are some of the least intriguing here. Not that the nature they
are experiencing isn’t stunningly beautiful, but this stuff has all been
Perhaps I am the wrong audience for that, though, because I have little
interest in either surfing or mountain climbing. Perhaps it is simply the
lack of skills, but I find it hard to get as geeked up about the experiences
as the people in 180° South obviously do.
mean I get surfing. Despite the fact I am not going to try it out at this
point in my life, I can see that it would be such an adrenaline rush that
people could become enraptured with it. The whole idea of mountain climbing
leaves me completely cold, though – and I lived on the foothills of the
Rocky Mountains for a year as a child, so believe me I do understand the
sheer utter beauty of mountains. There are ways to see them without taking
your life in your own hands and suffering great hardships, though.
The essential storyline of the documentary comes from wannabe-adventurer
Jeff Johnson, who finds a 1968 film about surfer/mountain
climber/philanthropists Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins’ trip across Latin
America to climb a famous mountain in the Patagonia region of Chile.
Johnson decides to track down the older men and have them help him relive
While taking the several-month journey – by ship, by cars, by planes – and
meeting the natives of areas he passes through, Johnson comes to love nature
and becomes passionate about the conservation of the wild areas in the
The narration, mostly by Johnson, is interesting and ardent for the
like-minded, and yet for the Palin-generation he comes off sounding like
someone that the “Drill Baby Drill” corps would deride as a “tree-hugger.”
I personally agree with Johnson on most of his views and even I occasionally
thought he sounded like a do-gooding weenie.
The regular soft-folk-rock interludes don’t help shed that apprehension
However, the scenery is stunning and the information imparted, even if
occasionally overwrought and at the same time overly dry, is very important
to human survival.
Sure, 180° South could – and should – be more interesting and
all-inclusive if it wants to push its rather vital agenda. However, the
intentions of the movie are so good that you wish to forgive its little
Copyright ©2010 PopEntertainment.com.
All rights reserved. Posted: May 7, 2010.