Surf's Up Review
After being a stanch supporter of HD DVD, choosing that as my preferred next generation format, I have finally taken the plunge into Blu-ray. Why? Simple really, I love film, and there are films that are only available on Blu-ray and I want to see them. There is no prejudice between the formats, well other than living room space, so when it was time to move into the blu I opted for the Playstation 3 and its vertical standing. Connected via HDMI and fully updated via the web I was ready to go; only the one problem, no discs had yet arrived. Oh, I may allocate everyone their review material but that doesn't mean I have discs lying around the house. It's at times like this I wish I did. What is a poor reviewer to do? In my case take the first disc that turns up, no matter what. It just so happens that that first disc has a ludicrous premise and when I saw the cinema trailer I really had little desire to see it. I mean surfing penguins? Ladies and gentlemen I give you tonight's feature; Surf's Up.
Cody Maverick lives in Antarctica with his older, bigger brother and mother. In his daily life he sorts fish, but in his dreams he is a champion surfer; inspired by the legendary surfer Big Z when he was just a chick, Cody spends all his available time surfing the waves to the ridicule of his peers. One day his chance arrives in the body of the Big Z Memorial Surf Off scouting party. Determined to join Cody bullies his way into the competition not taking no for an answer and trying desperately to live up to the words that have inspired him all his life. However, his first tryout ends in humiliation and nearly costs his life. He recuperates with Geek, a recluse, but through a series of unfortunate, or otherwise, events the pair form a mutual bond and both come to realise the potential in each other and when Geeks actual identity is revealed both take a journey of discovery that neither intended.
I was really surprised by this film, I guess I was expecting some sugar coated inane story aimed direct at the youngest of the cinema going audience and I was pleasantly surprised. First up the style used to present the film is quite different than any other of the animated adventures around. It takes a documentary style, i.e. it uses a 'hand held' camera complete with shake and pans and the characters tell their story through a series of interviews, back ground information and fly on the wall shooting. It is quite unique and I really enjoyed its distinct feel.
The basic story is actually quite simple and the best of the other studios (primarily Disney/Pixar and Dreamworks) follow the same course. A young upstart learns humility and, whilst coming to terms with those failings, teaches the same to an older guardian figure. It's a story that has seen the light of day time and time again, yet told in this way it comes across and new and refreshing. Cody is desperate to impress a father figure since he lost his own at an early age; no one at his home is prepared to do that so when Geek steps up he unwittingly becomes that figure. Cody both loves and hates these new feelings, he doesn't allow himself to be taught how to make his first surf board, like any teenage son he knows everything. Geek, to his credit, tries and tries to breakdown that barrier, but ultimately it's Cody himself that has to make the first move. As to Geek, a self imposed exile due to his hiding his true nature, Cody was the son he never had, and through his enthusiasm Geek finds that drive he lost, that need to please, that showmanship and ultimately that courage to step from hiding and embrace his legacy. There are moments between the two that really tug at the heartstrings and I really was not expecting it, I had to catch the lump in my throat when Cody sacrifices himself for the sake of a friend only to find himself in dire peril and then Geek coming out of the blue to save the day. As much as the story delves into the father/son relationship it is as much about enjoying life too, taking the wave as allegory, if life knocks the wind from you, get right back on the board and start to take the risk again because if you don't you'll end up scared, lonely and never really live. Cody's final talk to the 'camera' says it all, “I've had enough of talking about myself; I just want to get out there”.
The voice talent used brings life to the many character of the film, Shia LaBeouf voices Cody and imbues him very much with his 'Transformers' 'maverick' nature, he is likeable enough and plays with enough pathos to really endear him to us. We feel his longing, his sadness and his joy upon the waves. The delicious Zooey Deschanel (Elf, Bridge to Terabithia), who voices the life guard Lani Aliikai doesn't have a huge amount to do, but the shared chemistry between her and Shia is infections and their attraction always believable. Jon Heder (Blades of Glory) voices Chicken Joe as a stoner and fast becomes Cody's friend; they share a distinct chemistry and their real life friendship shines through the screen. Geek is voiced by the ever dependable Jeff Bridges whose mature and dulcet tones lend an ear of peace to the manic chatter of the other characters. The filmmakers chose a novel way to record the voice actors; traditionally each actor is recorded separately and then mixed together, on Surf's Up, all the actors were together and encouraged to improvise around the script. This gives the dialogue a spontaneity and naturalism; I was reminded of Aardman Animations early animations and their realistic approach to dialogue especially with the three chick penguins and their interviews together. This together with the innovations for the 'hand held' camera gives the film a very unique look and sound. The fact that a personal story is being told in this very personal way draws you into the picture, plot holes such as penguins nearly drowning and needing a life guard (aren't they swimming birds ...?) notwithstanding.
I was pleasantly surprised by Surf's Up, its mature story wrapped up in a ludicrous idea really works. The film makers really manage to convey the excitement, thrill and just plain joy of surfing through the tunnel; the last panning shot around Cody under the tunnel looking over to Geek and the sunset encapsulating the moment. Amazing as it may seem I don't think I could have wished for a better disc for my first dive into Blu-ray. It had everything that I wanted from a film and was presented with passion. Blu, blu, blu welcome.