" How are things in Moscow?”
“Very good. The last mass trials were a great success. There are going to be fewer but better Russians. "
— Felix Bressart & Greta Garbo, Ninotchka

MRQE Top Critic

Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace

Does the original trilogy justice in terms of heart, action, and fun —Marty Mapes (review...)

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The Endless Summer was made in 1966, almost as a home movie. Brown and two companions spent one year surfing, switching hemispheres as the seasons changed, and circling the globe in the process. The year of the endless summer was clearly the best year of his life, and thanks to his 16mm camera, we got to see it all.

Nearly three decades later, Brown arranged for the once-in-a-lifetime adventure to happen again. Even if this movie were less interesting on its own, the comparison between the two would make it worth watching.

The most apparent difference in production is that the sequel is shot in 35mm color widescreen. This time, Brown had a budget and sponsorship, making the experience less personal than the home movie of his previous journey. Because of the previous trip, Brown and his new companions knew more what to expect, so the tone of the sequel is less awestruck and more anticipatory.

(Leonard Maltin reminds us that an important difference between the films is that in this one, you get to see some breasts. Thanks, Leonard.)

Surfing has changed in 28 years, too. A few major developments have arisen. The “short board” allows surfers more maneuverability so they can ride bigger waves, and the “boogie board” allows beginners to get their feet wet without mastering the balance needed to surf. The composition and manufacture of surfboards has also gone high-tech, making use of lighter and less brittle materials.

In 1966, when there were only “long boards” the best waves were little curly ones that don’t collapse, and great surfing meant long rides. Now, especially for shortboarders, the best waves are the biggest ones you can find, and great surfing is as much determined by the size of the waves as by their shape.

Two new companions “star” in The Endless Summer II. Patrick is a shortboarder who exactly fit my stereotype of a surfer, and “Wingnut” is a longboarder, identifiable because he’s not Patrick.

This film, like the previous one, starts off on shaky ground. Because the first movie was so personal, the bright colors and wide screen made me think that this would be a cheap ripoff. Also, because Patrick fit my surfer stereotype so perfectly, I thought I would hate the smug, shallow, airheaded dude. But once the world tour started, I got swept up in the story, and I realized my stereotype was as shallow as I thought the surfers would be.

Brown and the surfers follow the same route as before, traveling along Africa’s coastline, hopping to Australia and Fiji, and ending in Hawaii. They didn’t make a point to visit all of the same spots, because not all the spots had good surfing (especially by the standards of 1994). But they did revisit the best spot on the globe for surfing: the little beach in South Africa that they found in 1966.

It’s not the best spot anymore.

This time, as they made their way over the sand dune, they found not a beach but a housing development. Because the development had changed the nature of the dunes, the sand no longer blew so easily into the ocean, which changed the terrain of the ocean bottom, which changed the structure of the waves. The surfers gave it a try for old times’ sake, but it just wasn’t the same.

This scene made me appreciate the footage from the first visit even more. Because Brown made that trip in 1966, we all got to see a beautiful little spot, the best in the world for a short time. (If a wave breaks on the best surfing spot in the world and nobody rides it, is it still the best spot in the world?)

The new best spot for surfing seems to be on an island in Fiji. Near the end of their world tour, Wingnut and Patrick follow a rumor to Fiji, where the waves are supposed to be awesome. For several days, our tour guides don’t surf at all because the weather and the waves just aren’t cooperating. After a few days they are ready to head to Hawaii, when finally, the waves come up.

The brightly lit blue of the 8-foot waves mix with the green of the island and the neon of the wetsuits to form some beautiful pictures. Brown’s camera is waterproof this time, and we get to see the surfers close up. We get to ride along with them. We get eaten by waves. And the exuberant photography matches the mood of the surfers, who after jonesing for days on end, spend nine hours playing in the water without even realizing it.

The last stop in Hawaii showcases some of the best surfing (and surfers) in the world. The footage is great but the story has lost its focus. The sequel ends more with a sigh of relief than an exclamation of wonder. The world is smaller now than it was 30 years ago, so the accomplishment isn’t as great. And with sponsorship comes the responsibility of completing a film, whereas before, the film was a labor of love.

All of this serves not to detract from the sequel, but to embellish the original. The second movie succeeds but it is more apparent how much work goes into a project like this. To have accomplished it the first time with two friends and no backing is an amazing feat.

Two times around is probably enough for Brown and his audiences. But there’s no doubt that the second time was worthwhile. Even if you don’t like surfing, there are lessons to be learned about how people and places and customs change over a span of 28 years.

Brown was a wonderful tour guide for two of the most interesting tours on film.