Travis Rice look out over Galena. All photos: Andrew Miller
They say that addicts have to hit rock bottom before they can start their road to recovery, and there’s an argument that’s where Travis Rice got to last year with The Fourth Phase. Creaking under the weight of the dollars and expectation that had been piled on top of it, and soaked in Red Bull’s sugary caffeine, The Fourth Phase was the inevitable conclusion to a decade of mega-production, mega-mo, chopper-on-chopper, wilderbeast herding, avalanche-dodging, never-been-done-before, edge-of-the-known-universe snowboarding.
"Travis is back. And he has started his 12 steps to recovery with Depth Perception"
It was the Waterworld of snowboard movies; out of control and over budget. It ended up being a scene-chewing not-snowboarding snowboarding movie that left a lot of people wishing for the good old days of a Super-8 filming some sketchy backside 5s in a hand-shaped quarterpipe.
I know, it was supposed to be a movie for the masses, a chance to introduce the legions of the un-jazzed to our world, it wasn’t ever intended to be a core movie… but it just didn’t work. The ingredients got all jumbled up and, I thought at the time, it was going to be the snowboard movie to end all snowboard movies.
Thankfully, it wasn’t.
Because Travis is back. And he has started his 12 steps to recovery with Depth Perception.
We should always be careful what we wish for, particularly when asking for money. Whether you are an entrepreneurial spark seeking out venture capitalists to fund your dream, or someone struggling to pay the rent each month (or both), the moment you take someone’s money, you either put yourself in their pocket, or at the end of a piece of string they can jerk at will.
Even the mighty Travis, who – as his co-stars described him in Depth Perception – is an animal capable of bending the laws of physics, found himself in the middle of what looked like a very well-funded logistical nightmare of visa complications, crew meltdowns, shitty snowpacks, injuries and annoying emails from his paymasters…whilst chasing an impossible vision of perfect snow in all corners of the globe.
I am pretty certain that during those four years when The Fourth Phase was being made, I will have done more actual snowboarding than Travis. To a much lower standard of course, but I am certain I made way more turns, with a lot less stress. Because no one else gave a shit, no one had any expectations of me, and they certainly hadn’t given me any money.
Depth Perception is the opposite of The Fourth Phase. It’s the antidote. You should watch it. Here’s why…
The common thread is of course that they all ride for Quiksilver, but it's so refreshing to see some new faces basking in Travis’ reflective aura: Austen “Sweet T" Sweeten, who makes Mikey LeBlanc look like Giant Haystacks, is a little powerhouse of pow-slaying and pop. Bryan Fox, who paints some of the most delicate and thoughtful stripes across snow-laden mountains, and Robin Van Gyn – who is a forest-foraging cold-press-making yoga snowboarder of the fairer sex, who makes men look like pussies when she rides.
They actually looked like they were having fun. Travis actually let them drop first (apart from when he busted out a massive front 7 at the start of the movie and landed it first try). I actually wanted to hang out with them. Travis’ Brain Farm crew had started to look like a mix between a frat house and a Hollywood A-lister winter vacation, lots of testosterone and one-upmanship. The Depth Perception crew looked happy and relaxed in each other’s company.
"It's so refreshing to see some new faces basking in Travis’ reflective aura"
The whole premise of the movie is that it was filmed in one place, Galena, in the depths of British Columbia. Home to the first ever heli-ski operation, it looks like a snowboarder’s paradise.
A perfect combination of glades, pillow lines, spines and near-Alaskan faces – it had hitherto rejected the advances of professional crews, and thus was completely new terrain being captured for the first time on snowboard movie celluloid (or whatever the equivalent is now everything is digital).
Just being in one place, literally the opposite of the premise of The Fourth Phase, worked so much better. At no stage did anyone say “You’ve got to be fuckin’ crazy to go there". The intimacy and simplicity of place translated into a much more interesting spectacle.
There actually was snow, and lots of it (hence the title, I suspect). Last winter’s non-stop mega dump was Mother Nature making up for being so shit the year before (when I was on a pow trip in BC, not that I am bitter), and it unloaded onto Galena in a big way. Travis and the crew had originally only intended to be there for a short while, make a little edit and then move on. It turned out to be so epic, that they doubled down and stayed for most of the winter, and that was a very, very good decision.
In Depth Perception, we didn’t see anyone riding slush on a random slope miles from anywhere, before rushing back to a fuel-starved heli so they could get to the next shithouse spot. We just saw turn after turn after turn in beautiful, marshmallowy, oh-my-God-I-want-to-be-there powder perfection. So much nicer.
There were no Never-Been-Dones in the movie, but it was instead the perfect blend of relatable pow turns through beautifully spaced trees, that-looks-doable-but-daunting pillow drops, and fuck-me-I’d-shit–my-pants super steep lines across fluted spines.
There is absolutely no doubt that what the crew were doing was heavy in spots, but it wasn’t self-consciously HEAVY, DUDE. I found myself wanting to be involved.
And the blend of styles - Travis’s balls to the wall, Fox’s curves, Robin’s steely steeze and Sweet-T’s bundles of energy - all worked in unison. They are all snowboarders who make you want to go snowboarding.
"One follow-cam on Bryan Fox was just about the most perfectly tantalisting 30 seconds of snowboard footage I have ever seen"
In the last 5 years, video tech has moved on leaps and bounds, and that showed in Depth Perception. The incredible follow-cam footage made it feel like you were in a virtual reality video at times. I almost got motion sickness, such was the immersiveness of the experience.
I think there was one follow-cam on Bryan Fox which can’t have been more than ten feet behind the whole way down, which was just about the most perfectly tantalisting 30 seconds of snowboard footage I have ever seen.
Five years ago, that shot just wouldn’t have been possible, no matter how many helis you had. No brain farm, no problem.
Thank goodness, Travis has stopped taking himself too seriously in his movies. He is able to laugh at himself again, and was even comfortable letting his crew take the piss out of the “this cycle we ride" mumbo jumbo from The Fourth Phase.
Trice in the flesh is much more like the guy you see in Depth Perception; confident, but self-deprecating and actually quite humble. Maybe he has mellowed with age, or maybe one of his good mates just told him he sounded like a plonker when he was trying to be too earnest and he should lay off – either way, the general vibe in Depth Perception is one that most people will warm to much more easily.
There are however a couple of moments where the irreverence felt a bit forced, where the sub-Wes Anderson voiceover erred on the wrong side of annoying. But then doing humour is really hard, so the missteps are forgivable.
Thank god, it wasn’t shit – and in fact it was pretty damn good. The majority of the score was actually created specifically for the movie by a couple of bands that Travis knows, and despite the potential for that to have gone badly wrong (how do you tell your mate his music sucks?) it actually delivered a great soundtrack.
The sweeping orchestral moments and rhythmical pounding complemented the energy of the riding, and had me foot tapping like a granny who is desperate to dance at a wedding reception.
"Depth Perception isn’t the best snowboarding movie ever made, but then it wasn’t trying to be"
So… I’ve spent quite a lot of time comparing Depth Perception to The Fourth Phase, which is kind of annoying but was inevitable really, given that film's anti-matter sucking gravitational pull. But what’s so great about this new movie, is that we never have to mention The Fourth Phase again.
Depth Perception isn’t the best snowboarding movie ever made, but then it wasn’t trying to be. It’s just the coming together of a fun crew, in a great location, with amazing snow.
As a consequence, I think Travis has created a perfectly imperfect little movie, and set himself on a more wholesome, more relatable path - one that I am sure will see him rightly positioned at the heart of snowboarding’s affections for many years to come.