Warren Miller "Higher Ground"

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Sunday, January 29, 2006
By Yokota Fritz

This review of the Warren Miller ski movie "Higher Ground" contains no bicycle content.

My ten-year old son nailed it: If you've seen one Warren Miller film, you've seen them all. And when you've watched the first 20 minutes of the film, you've watched the whole thing.

Nonetheless, we attended a local screening of Warren Miller's latest film "Higher Ground." It turns out executive producer Jamie Pentz and director Max Bervy are almost neighbors of mine. Like every other Warren Miller extreme skiing film, "Higher Ground" doesn't fail to disappoint with its formula of stunts-gone-wrong; breathtaking helicopter footage; humor; trips to far-off mountains; plenty of footage of resorts in Colorado, Utah and Tahoe; and short clips with amazingly talented skiers from around the world all set to a soundtrack of various styles of music, all of it loud.

High Definition
Warren Miller has created a ski movie every year since 1948, starting with an old hand-cranked black-and-white camera and moving to modern high-speed professional equipment. With "Higher Ground" -- Miller's 56th ski film -- Miller's team made the jump to digital production and high definition video. Some of the cuts could have been smoother, but the colors are amazingly crisp in HD. The widescreen action pops right off of the screen directly into the viewer's visual cortex.

Another big change is the narration. In the past, Warren Miller narrated most of the film. In "Higher Ground," US Olympic skier Jeremy Bloom provided most of the narration, with Warren Miller pitching in for only a few lines of commentary.

Ads make the movie
Product placement seemed much more intrusive than in other Warren Miller films. Every time a skier or boarder munches on something, it's a Nature Valley granola bar, and the photographer never fails to zoom right onto the package so there's no mistake of what he's eating. A bunch of Alaskan rednecks partying at the Arctic Man festival in northern Alaska are all getting wasted on Grand Marnier cognac. Whenever a Jeep appears, the video zooms in on the front grill Jeep logo and pauses.

Biffs and bumps
Skiers and boarders biffing on jumps never fails to generate groans from the audience. One shirtless guy pulled a real cartoon move, taking a ramp up into a tree, stalling out against the tree, wrapping his arms around the trunk, then sliding -- remember, he's shirtless -- down the rough bark.

Tahoe fixture Glen Plake worked his comic genious by using dress and equipment from decades past as the film paid homage to styles and music of the past. Plake donned old fashioned wooden skis with leather bindings and matched it with old-fashioned knickers, knee-high socks, and knit wool cap then hot-dogged all over the slopes with that old gear. Similar scenes and hilarious commentary from Plake about gear and clothing from the 60s, 70s and 80s provided a nice break from the action.

The Warren Miller team visited Aspen, Colorado. I watched five-year-old Bridger Gile carve turns like a pro. Then I watched professional ski bum Klaus Obermeyer ride the terrain park with high school kids, jumping off ramps and flipping high flying 360 spins. Klaus is 86 years old and has been skiing since 1922 and he's showing teens how to do flips and stunts and smiling big the whole time. When I'm 86 I'll be happy if I can walk to the toilet unassisted.

There was a sequence where skier Chris Anthony attempts to navigate through the passageways inside the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier Nimitz. When he's not bumping his skis against hatches and pipes, we get to watch him scrub toilets and swab the decks. It all seemed a little misplaced inside of a ski video, kind of like this review is misplaced inside of a bicycle blog. The jets were cool, but we've already watched Tom Cruise do it in "Top Gun."

So yeah, it was cool and inspiring and I'll go skiing tomorrow even though I wasn't planning to because I watched the film. If you have two hours to kill, go ahead and see it. It's better with friends. It's better yet just to hit the slopes yourself and have some real fun rather than vicariously not experiencing things for yourself.

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