Has there been a more eagerly anticipated film in the history of snowboarding than The Fourth Phase starring Travis Rice? The hype train has been full steam ahead on this for years now, ever since Travis stunned snowboarding audiences and non-snowboarding audiences alike with the The Art of Flight way back in 2011. After the first trailer dropped for The Fourth Phase, at the end of 2015, the hype train got transformed into a warp speed rocket ship and it's been go, go, go ever since.
Finally though, the wait is over and the film that Rice has made clear he doesn't want labelled as 'The Art of Flight 2' is here. We went along to the London Premiere at BFI Southbank to see if the new movie could possibly live up to our unreasonably high expectations.
It starts off with some laugh out loud pretentious bollocks. Waves crashing, water transforming, and Rice saying hilariously abstract things like "I am a seeker" (which as Harry Potter fans can testify is literally the most important position on a Quidditch field). Some of this bit is so overdone, so trying to be artistic, so trying to be deep and meaningful that it feels like a parody of a big budget snowboarding movie starring Travis Rice rather than the real deal.
Much has been made in the run up to The Fourth Phase, of hydrological cycles. And we'd be lying if we said we weren't more than a little bit curious to see precisely how this particular angle played out in a film genre that no matter how much it's dressed up will always be fundamentally about snowboarders going to places and, well, snowboarding.
As Dr Gerald Pollack's voiceover, whose book inspired Travis Rice to make this film in a particular way, tells the audience during the intro: "We all learn that water has three phases. The solid state, the liquid state and also the vapor state. You can’t explain all the known properties of water with three phases alone. You need a fourth phase," before going on to state that "...scientists have become more hesitant to challenge perceived truth. If we want to get real truth, we have to dig beneath the foundations." Painting Rice here as some sort of snowboarding scientist who's teetering on the brink of a Nobel Prize.
After what feels like a lifetime's worth of build-up (about five minutes), we finally get to see the thing we've all come here to see - the snowboarding. Joining Travis in the Wyoming backcountry, we're treated to a visual feast of him sessioning on a truly enormous kicker. The long lens drone shots, the close ups, the slow-mo, the killer soundtrack; all the ingredients are present and correct. It's the perfect antitode to what's come before it, and a reminder of why it's so easy to love a Rice film.
Pat Moore, Cam FitzPatrick and Ben Ferguson soon rock up, and it's not long before the crew are going all-out attack on the mountain in Rice's backyard. Double corks, perfect stomping, and snowboarding wizardry that illicilts multiple cheers from the audience. Yeah, this is what we came to see to. This is what the mob came to see, and we're lapping it up like thirsty puppies in a record breaking heatwave.
A moment to catch our breath, and then Bryan Iguchi comes into the picture. Iguchi talks about his Obi Wan Kenobi-like connection with, not just Travis Rice but, the forces of nature that surroud them both. There's another shout out for hydrological cycles, before we're treated to a jaw-dropping montage of the pair going big time in the Tetons. More cheers from the crowd, and it's clear that everyone's fires have been well and truly stoked.
From here, The Fourth Phase journey begins in earnest. Travis Rice talks about how The North Pacific Gyre movements are driven by wind and the Earth's rotation and that this phenomenon fuels "the storms that drive our winters." It's like being back at school, albeit a school where you know your mind could be blown any second by someone sending it to the moon and back on a snowboard.
Rice reveals his plans to combine his love of the ocean with his love of being in the mountains, and opens up about how he wants to follow the wintery flow around the Pacific. Japan, Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula, Alaska. Three steps, 16,000 miles, and one genuinely epic adventure that the crowd is now itching to see unfold.
First up, Japan. Rice is joined in the "Land of the Rising Sun" by longtime pal, and total powder hound, Mark Landvik as well as the Norwegian prodigy Mikkel Bang. The riding segments in Japan had us drooling on ourselves, with shot after shot of some of the best powder conditions you're ever likely to see. Pow. Pow. Pow. So. Much. Powder. And tree bonks. So many tree bonks. If this bit doesn't have you grinning from ear to ear like a kid in candy store, you might need to make an appointment with the doctor as you could be medically dead and not yet know it.
Things do drift away from the snowboarding genre a tad in Japan, as Travis dons his Judith Chalmers hat and goes a little bit 'Wish You Were Here' travel programme on us. But that's ok, the powder bombardment has left us more than satisfied with this part of The Fourth Phase.
And so onto the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia, where Travis, Mark, and bearded entertainer Eric Jackson join forces in some of the gnarliest terrain we've ever seen on film. Volcanoes, wind, ice, and mountains that look like they belong on that planet in Interstellar; the one where Matt Damon's been knocking about. As Jackson puts it: "Dude, where are we?"
We don't want to give too much away, but this part of the film is arguably the most insightful about the realities of shooting such an enormous snowboarding project. There's riding, frustration, bureacracy, some really entertaining chemistry between the guys as they try to make the best of some crappy situations, and surfing.
And then finally to Alaska and the US of A, where things really do go up a notch. Heart-in-the-mouth POV footage, scenery so beautiful it makes you want to cry, an emotional departure, season-ending injuries, monstrous Stegosaurus-like spines, narrow chutes, luscious cinematogrophy (the Jackson tracking shot is particularly good), and a straight-liner that seemingly defies the laws of physics. This sort of stuff is a Rice movie at its most Rice-ish, in that it somehow manages to be both terrifying and enjoyable in equal measure. Keep an eye out for the avalanche late on. It will make you feel sick with dread.
So, what did we think of The Fourth Phase? Well, in the same way that movies in the mafia genre need to at least appear to be about something more than just old Italian men in suits threatening other Italian men in suits; so must the modern day snowboarding movie appear to be about something more than snowboarding. At times, the existential and hydrological cycle elements fitted nicely within the film. At other times, they felt like Christmas lights in August (out of place and surplus to requirements).
In many ways, the success of The Art of Flight has boxed Rice into a corner; one from which he can never again just go off and make a normal snowboarding movie. To say he's a maker of his own downfall is stretching it somewhat, but it's going to take something pretty extraordinary to surprise audiences after The Fourth Phase. We're curious, and excited, to see where he goes from here.
Conclusion: If you loved The Art of Flight, you'll love this. It's everything we've come to know and enjoy about films featuring Travis's snowboarding. It takes itself a little bit too seriously at times but look past all the posturing, and what you'll discover is an epic snowboard piece with moments guaranteed to immerse and inspire.
You can watch the global premiere of The Fourth Phase on Red Bull TV at 9pm on 2nd October, http://www.redbull.tv/thefourthphase