Bombs Away!

Why the giant waves in Chasing Mavericks won’t help Hollywood break its surf-film losing streak

Gerard Butler in Chasing Mavericks.     Photo: 20th Century Fox

The sport has its romantic and exciting moments, but mostly it’s just base, simple.

Chasing Mavericks, this month’s 20th Century Fox surf drama based on the story of a sweet, doomed big-wave rider named Jay Moriarity, will enter theaters without a ripple of acclaim and kick out a few weeks later with minus-tide earnings.

That’s one old surf-geezer’s prediction, anyway.

Hollywood can’t do surfing. For 50-something years now, beginning with Gidget, Tinseltown has muffed it. Overcooked drama. Undercooked characters. Expensive action shots (which, yes, look great on a big screen) stapled to cut-rate scripts. Ride the Wild Surf, Big Wednesday, Blue Crush, Soul Surfer—each one is, at best, a damp approximation of a surfing life.

The problem is, surfing has no hook. You do it—a lot, obsessively even—and in terms of story arc that’s pretty much it. The whole point is to continue. You rode a huge wave? You won the big contest? Great, a week later you’re out there like the rest of us trying to scrape together rides, and the week after that, and the next year, ad infinitum.

Hunger drives surfers. The sport has its romantic and exciting moments, but mostly it’s just base, simple. Hard to get an elevator pitch from that. Making a great movie about surfing should be easier than making a movie about digestion—not by much, though.

Chasing Mavericks won’t move Hollywood any closer to the mark. I didn’t even have to watch the trailer to figure that out. I just listened to it. The ominous single-wallop bass drum, the cymbal crash, the Top Gun wailing guitar riff.

It’s the sound of 20th Century Fox trying to frog-march me to an off-the-shelf, PG-rated climax.

Anybody remember Surf’s Up? The animated one with the cute surfing penguins? No joke, that was the one time Hollywood got it right. Don’t take the sport so seriously, in other words. More penguins, less drama.

Matt Warshaw is the author of The Encyclopedia of Surfing.

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