Chasing Mavericks has a villain. As a young kid, he is seen walking down the pier smashing rear view mirrors with a baseball bat. Flash forward seven years, that kid is now a ’90s teen, still sitting on the pier threatening people with the same bat. That’s not much character growth.
In stock villain’s way is surfing icon Jay Moriarty (Jonny Weston), an impossibly happy teenager who strives to one day surf a Maverick, a wave of substantial size that only comes around every few months under the right conditions. Why does the stock villain hate Jay? Who knows. Droll conflict creation is something Mavericks does well, pushing the melodrama forward to up the odds.
Jay is trained by a local, a veteran of the surfing scene, Frosty (Gerard Butler). Frosty is getting older and sees a teen struggling internally. Despite the positive outlook, Jay’s mother is suffering with addiction, unable to pay the rent. His father has been missing for seven years.
Frosty then becomes a father figure who pushes Jay hard. With a family of his own, Frosty has to find his own balance. It becomes a power struggle for attention and predictable events as the film lurches forward.
To be clear, riding a Maverick is not competition, but more of a test for self-worth. Jay pushes himself, dabbles in the usual high school drama, and finds romance. The film usurps itself of any legitimacy thematically, struggling to produce sensible, real character. Jay was a real person who inspired countless others, yet here is saddled with mid-tier dramatic impact of little consequence.
These characters are notable more on their familiarity than their individualized characteristics. Stock females have feelings for the wrong guy, the drunken mother falls to the wayside in her job search, the mentor harbors resentment for part of his life, and yes, the town bully loves his baseball bat.
Chasing Mavericks falls back on its surfing footage, genuinely impressive – and real – as killer waves pop out of the water. Surfers are hammered over the head with giants of weather, and outstanding use of multiple angles makes sure the edits are smooth. Even without surfing knowledge, what is on screen is obviously a work of love and daring. It almost pulls the film up from going under.
Mavericks becomes a celebration of a positive person. As a piece of cinema, it is refreshingly bright and hungry to inspire. If it works on someone, great. As a genuine piece of cinema, it comes across as forced, and lacking the depth the material is calling for. This is all surface level to keep Jay spirited. Admirable, if not much of a feature.
All of the daytime footage of Northern California beaches is spectacular. Naturally tinted to reflect the chill of the water and warmth of the sun, flesh tones are able to stay consistent in the daytime light. Colors still breathe with zest, rarely feeling subdued. Contrast is especially powerful to keep a continuous stream of bright images leaping across the screen.
On the other side are the black levels, gloriously deep and rich. While often approaching a crush point, their complete consistency is a true rarity, and across all scenes. Inside homes with low lighting schemes or a van late at night, the blacks reach absolute black. The density they offer the image is stunning, and help push out any errant noise. Imagery is clean across the board.
Add one for clarity too, the digital photography never at a loss. While the surfing footage is of varying quality dependent on the array of angles used (and some shots are incredibly brave), the core drama is presented with a pristine, window-like effect. Images are startlingly natural, even into the mid-range. There is little sense of any fidelity loss. Banding is a minor plague, usually held to underwater shots. The compression is otherwise transparent.
Out of everything it is doing right, it comes back to facial detail for the topper. Absolutely perfect definition sprawls across the screen with a seemingly infinite number of fully textured zooms that use the lighting to display enormous fidelity. It is possible that Chasing Mavericks is right on the precipice of a reference disc with all of the visible, sharply defined imagery on display. The source photography never stops giving, and easily makes one forgot about the often foggy quality of the surfing footage, all due to the complexities involved in the shoot.
The audio scenery here is water and lots of it. Waves crashing overhead, to the sides, into the stereos, and the two additional surrounds thanks to the 7.1 mixing. Importantly, the mega waves feel as such during the key drama of the finale. Bass, while wonderful for most of the film, picks up new life as it swallows the room much like the water is swallowing inexperienced surfers. The effect is whole, battering the LFE with a tremendous rumble.
Even downtime is usually fitted with something. Light waves hit the shore during conversations, and small dialogue out at sea is heightened by mild splashing, enough to sell the idea of character placement. Music, most of it ’90s grunge, finds a full place within the mix, spread around into the surrounds and elevated with bass. Great mix.
Commentary time, this one from the trio of director Michael Apted, and story writers Brandon Hooper & Jim Meenaghan. That concludes and runs into five deleted scenes and four 10-minute featurettes. Shooting Waves is a showcase of the cinematography, Surf City is all about the location, Live Like Jay discusses the real life Moriarty, and Surfer Zen discusses the feeling of being on the waves. Trailers pack it in.
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