180° SOUTH: CONQUERORS OF THE USELESS (Blu-ray Edition)
Magnolia Pictures | 2010 | 87 min | Not Rated | Jun 08, 2010
Written by David Hillyer
June 23, 2010
“180° South: Conquerors of the Useless follows Jeff Johnson as he traces the epic 1968 journey of his heroes Yvon Chouinard (founder of Patagonia Clothing) and Doug Tompkins (founder of The North Face) to Patagonia. Along the way he get shipwrecked off Easter Island, surfs the longest wave of his life, and prepares himself for a rare ascent of Cerro Corcovado. Jeff's life takes a turn when he meets up in a rainy hut with Chouinard and Tompkins who, once given purely by a love of climbing and surfing, now value above all the experience of raw nature – and have come to Patagonia to spend their fortunes to protect it.”
Thus reads the box of the Blu-Ray edition. When this landed in my review bin, I looked at it with great interest. The title put me off a little, but the description on the back sure sounded like a great adventure.
180° South is kind of road trip film. It starts off as a retrospective with Chouinard and Tompkins providing the narration to their 1968 footage they shot on their 16mm Bollux camera. But then the titles come up and Jeff Johnson comes on the scene. Suddenly we have HD footage shot on jib arms and helicopters.
Johnson decides he wants to follow the footsteps of the 1968 trip that Chouinard and Tompkins took to Patagonia. They call Johnson a “dirtbag” and as you watch this lost flower child throwback you'll probably agree. I guess I expected something more along the lines of “Into the Wild”. But that portrait of Chris McCandless had a point. I can't say that for Johnson's journey to Patagonia.
There is interesting scenery, but listening to Johnson talk endlessly about his philosophies on life while he surfs and the various environmental messages along the way isn't exactly riveting. About a half hour in, I realized my hopes this film would get better would be dashed. Great scenery doesn't make up for bad filmmaking or bad storytelling.
At its core, 180° South is a plea for people to do what they can to save the natural ecosystems we have all around us. There's not much unique in what they are saying or showing. But as with most adventures, it's about the journey not the destination.
I've never been to Patagonia, but I have visited 37 National Parks. Patagonia (in Chile) looks amazing with mountain after mountain and challenging terrain everywhere. The surf is beautiful but after awhile waves look like waves. The menu system is very basic for 180° South. The Blu-Ray menus are the same as the DVD with a still shot and menu selections at the bottom and looping music. In several sections of the movie there are odd black and white cartoons to illustrate the potential of industry or dams in the Chilean countryside. I laughed when these Monty Pythonesque drawings first came up on the screen. It completely doesn't fit the topic of this film. In a similar way that the music doesn't fit the film either.
180° South is dominated by a strange mix of what I would call “lost boy” music. Others may call it traveling music I suppose. It's mostly songs you might hear someone composing around the campfire. It just doesn't fit this type of film. The voiceover is clear but there is virtually zero activity in the surround sound, side, and rear speakers. There was certainly good potential there with crashing waves and wind over huge prairies and mountain ranges. But we usually just get a straight voiceover and oddball music.
One of the few good points of this disc are the extras.
The Making of 180° South (23:49, HD)
This is another case of the “making of” film being a whole lot more interesting than the actual film. It contains a mix of 1968 footage and new HD footage interviewing the principals about the what, how and why this movie was made.
Deleted Scenes (18:06, HD)
Includes 5 scenes either extended or cut from the movie. These are a mix of interviews and extended surf scenes... and the search for Yeti.
The Music (37:35, HD)
There's a reason the music soundtracks sound like campfire songs. They were! The music extras include video shot literally around a campfire, some behind the scenes in a studio, and photographs from the recording sessions.
A Look at 180° South (2:08, HD)
This is a short sneak preview of the film.
Trailer (2:22, HD)
A short trailer, which is another case of the trailer being far better than the movie.
I'm still not entirely sure what the point of this film actually is... though I suspect it is being used to fund Jeff Johnson making another trip to Patagonia to make a second attempt at the mountain climb. I can certainly appreciate a good adventure. I can respect a good cause even more. But I can't respect poor filmmaking. With 180° South we get a mixed bag – some amazing scenery but a mixed up bunch of music and thoughts from a perpetually lost individual.