The Fourth Phase is the third snowboard focused film / travelogue from Brain Farm, mainly featuring the ideas and riding of Travis Rice and friends.
The very short version: It’s a well shot video of snowboarding and life following the water cycle across the north Pacific with some wit and wisdom from Travis Rice and friends thrown in. I enjoyed it the first time around on my home BD / TV, and I even enjoyed it second time around on my phone during my commute into Tokyo. It’s re-watchable.
Still reading? Thanks, here’s the slightly longer version.
This video came five years after the excellent Art of Flight (2011), and almost nine since That’s it, That’s all (2008). I recommend both of those previous ones by the way.
It notionally follows the cycle of water around the north Pacific, meaning it starts in Wyoming (as ever with a Travis Rice part), then scoots via Travis’ catamaran across the Pacific to Japan, then to Kamchatka and the Kuril Islands in Russia, before heading back to Alaska. The Fourth Phase of the title alludes to some wonderful property water possesses beyond solid, liquid and gaseous phases, derived from the book by Gerald H. Pollack.
That’s the metaphysical bit behind the title, but what about the film itself?
Compared to Art of Flight, there are fewer of the epic slow-motion and dolly shots, and more point-of-view and drone footage. That’s not a bad thing in my opinion, making it feel more personal. As for the other personnel, there are a few guests per region, but it’s anchored around Travis Rice and Mark Landvik. They’re both personable on screen, whereas some of the other riders look overly self conscious. Landvik always comes across well I think, so a good choice there, especially as things develop, but there needed to be more of them together.
The time in Japan I especially liked. I’m biased I know as I live and snowboard here, but those scenes more completely captured what it’s about – great tree runs, hikes out, the very surreal feel in the countryside during the epic amounts of powder snow and deluges of water the islands get, and the people who live in the mountain regions. The standouts were the fire festival footage, and the eerie illuminated night tree-runs, so well done to the team for the location work and cinematography.
Music is always a key part of snowboarding videos, and this one moves from classical to rock to synth pop, and it broadly works, though some bits don’t seem to work as well as others. The orchestral sections in Russia are excellent for example, but some of the synth-pop for the Japan sections seemed a little disconnected to the visuals. Much of the soundtrack was done by musician Kishi Bashi.
The Russian section is interesting even if there isn’t so much riding, just through the geography of the place, yet there are snowboarders there, even if the set-piece of the crew giving some local kids a board feels a little clumsy, a bit more explaining what the local boarder community is up to would have been more useful than the surf scene, which whilst fun, didn’t really add as much as more with the local kids would have.
There is of course plenty of big mountain riding, hikes, great heli-drops and at least a few nice ramps. There’s also the hospital section which is now either a requirement or a tradition at this point.
One minor disappointment with the BD version I have are the extras – not as many fun outtakes as previous discs, and even the behind the scenes sections seemed a little forced.
If you see reviews, reception was mixed – maybe they wanted Art of Flight 2 which is a little unlikely as this wasn’t directed by Curt Morgan, it was from Jon Klaczkiewicz, and as I understand it, there was an Art of Flight series which should’ve covered that?
I think there’s a few things going on here.
Firstly, as this is built around Travis Rice, he’s getting older, and whilst he brought other younger riders in, this is more about his thought process, and what he’s into, which was doing runs he hadn’t done before. Yes, his first world philosophizing about being a seeker is a little cringe inducing, but you can tell he believes it and to his credit, is getting out there and doing it.
Also, given all the snowboard videos available online these days, it’s difficult to know if the sponsors would go for yet another flurry of epic jumps in Alaska by itself, or whether Red Bull, GoPro, Skullcandy and all the other very obvious sponsors would want to do that, given they’re already saturating those markets online.
On the ‘missed opportunities’ side, I actually wanted to see a bit more of Travis Rice on the catamaran, beyond the philosophizing, actually following this water cycle the premise hangs on. I’m always keen to hear more from Brian Iguchi too, who just seems like a very calm chap to sit down with.
Ultimately it’s a great film to watch but it’s straddling two different genres – it’s not an hour and a half of shredding and epic jumps, but it’s not really a travelogue either since there really isn’t enough about what happens locally – even the Russian shutout wasn’t really explained for example.
If you want straight riding and tricks with the odd laugh, probably better to go back to That’s It, That’s All in this series.