Take one part “ Endless Summer”, a pinch of “The Hobbit - There and Back Again”, (the animated version), a couple of teaspoons of “Into Thin Air”, throw in a dash of Blue Hawaii, and you have the film “180 Degrees South”. If this outdoor documentary doesn’t whet your appetite for adventure, then, perhaps you need to check your hunger for life.
Film maker and adventurer, Jeff Johnson ponders the question that many of us do. What is left to do that hasn’t already been accomplished? Instead of dwelling on the negative, he determines to recreate a journey made first by Yvon Chounard, founder of Patagonia and Dave Tompkins the creator of the North Face. Like the title of the film, the goal is to head south 180 degrees. Johnson doesn’t mimic the outdoor pioneers exactly; instead he makes his way to the bottom of the world a bit differently, but by means no less difficult or intriguing.
Choosing water over a Volkswagen Van and the open road, he hires on as crew on a ship heading south. A decision he initially regrets due to his propensity towards sea sickness. Although he later overcomes the nausea, video of him retching, sprawled out on a filthy cot deep in the ship’s bowels is moving. Feelings not lost on those of us whom has suffered the same fate. It’s not long before the craft itself is disabled as its mast is broken.
We are rewarded with great surf footage as the crippled vessel arrives at Easter Island for repairs. Of course a South Pacific surf goddess named Makohe lives and teaches others on the island how to ride the waves. A hint of a relationship surfaces between her and Jeff, and another person is added to the journey.
Upon arrival in South America, we are introduced to Yvon and Doug. Over tea, they educate us on times past, and the wanderlust they shared. Both men now are multi-millionaires many times over. Yet, they reminisce with fondness over days past that were void of money, but bursting with adrenaline. Businessmen by accident, they are now environmentalists and conservationists by design and intent. They chose to follow their dreams, living life on their terms. A thread which plays strongly throughout the documentary. To say which man returns more towards the preservation of wild lands is a tossup.
The film unintentionally shows the viewer how quickly extreme sports have grown. While the men are now in their 70’s, the 1960’s was not that long ago. Developing clothing and equipment to solve the problems of their passions for climbing, surfing and other outdoor sports they in turn inadvertently launched an industry that was nonexistent.
The cinematography of Patagonia is unparalleled. The story continues with more action. Two of Jeff’s friends arrive. One is an accomplished climber, the other an equally adept surfer. Minus Tompkins and the surf buddy, the others gear up and set out to reach the summit of Mt. Fitzroy. This last part of the trek is filmed in detail, yet the movie leaves enough time to educate the audience on the eco-abuse going on in this southern continent, as well as around the world.
Without doubt the film takes liberty to editorialize the views of the producers and cast, however the message does not drowned out the entertainment the movie provides. It is without question one of the best outdoor documentaries to be aired in reason times.
Other great movies and documentaries along the same lines you might enjoy are:
1. Endless Summer II
2. To The Limit
3. Born Free