Nosebleeds seem a distinct possibility for more delicate viewers of “The Art of Flight 3D,” a globe-hopping, avalanche-eluding, downward-plunging sports travelogue that follows extreme snowboarders from Alaska to Chile to Wyoming to British Columbia. Like most of the skiing and surfing docs that have come before it, the pic oversells its subject, the virtues of which are obvious. But armchair athletes will get a charge out the pure sensations here, and the stereoscopically enhanced film should thrive within its appointed niche.
Boasting as many corporate logos as acts of insanity, the film is transparently a manufactured project. Its participants lack any imperative other than making this movie, and thus the tone of the voiceover and interviews, implying that snowboarders like Travis Rice, John Jackson and Mark Landvik are on some kind of mission, is hard to swallow. Still, there’s enough glorious motion against staggering landscapes to justify what these thrill-seekers are doing.
The troupe, which also includes snowboarders Scotty Lago, Eero Neimela and Kyle Clancy, begins in Alaska, where the film’s m.o. is established: The skiers are helicoptered to otherwise unreachable peaks and have to board down, often outracing avalanches as they fly vertically along mountain faces. The photography is gorgeous: Lensers Jared Slater, Gabe Langlois and Greg Wheeler make it almost possible for viewers to feel the snow and the windchill in their faces. The locales, which provide miles of uninterrupted travel, are virginal terrain, ripe for an incursion of madmen.
Had “The Art of Flight 3D” limited itself to these visuals, it could have been an art film; improbably enough, it shares certain characteristics with the recent art doc “Samsara,” which similarly explored the geometric/philosophic relationship of humans to their world. But when the inclement Alaskan weather necessitates some downtime, the snowboarders amuse themselves with snowmobiles, shotguns and even propane tanks, and the film starts to stray into “Jackass” territory. Helmer Morgan corrects himself shortly thereafter, and sticks to showcasing the suicidal snowboarding.
One can’t help but notice that extreme snowboarding is an expensive hobby; helicopters, one of which is wrestled off a mountaintop by pilot Ken Plotts, do not come cheap. It’s also not a sport for the faint of heart, and its practitioners do not always escape unscathed: To Morgan’s credit, a couple of people are shown getting hammered by Mother Nature, who wants to show who’s boss every now and then. As “The Art of Flight 3D” points out, she does nice work.
Tech credits are mostly tops: Spectacular as the visuals are (including footage shot via helmet-cam), the emo/ambient/anthemic/auto-tuned soundtrack is about as subtle as a rock slide.