Bustin’ Down the Door
We’ve replaced the cameraman with a great white shark. Let’s see what happens.

Theatrical Release Date: 07/25/2008
Director: Jeremy Gosch
Featuring: Wayne ‘Rabbit’ Bartholomew, Ian Cairns, Mark Richards, Shaun Tomson, Michael Tomson, Peter Townend, Edward Norton (Narrator)

Like its recent brethren, “Step into Liquid” and “Riding Giants”, the documentary “Bustin’ Down the Door” is about a piece of surfing history and director Jeremy Gosch chose to focus on the beginnings of the professional surfing industry and tour via some of its pioneers like Wayne ‘Rabbit’ Bartholomew, Ian Cairns and Mark Richards.

As most people know, Hawaii is Mecca for surfers. The combination of surf culture and legendary waves create a magnetic pull for all thrill seekers and wannabe world champions. So it was that in 1975 a group of Australian and South African surfers descended upon Oahu’s North Shore and changed everything the sport was about.

Before that time, there were only a handful of competitions and the idea of being able to get paid to surf was the farthest thought for most people. The documentary explores how forward thinking surfers put their resources together to create the ISP (International Professional Surfers) – which allowed for a judged tour of surf events worldwide that would attract not only the best surfers but sponsors and fans. Thus, the mega-industry that is surfing today was born.

One thing to understand about this documentary is that while there is a decent amount of surf footage, it’s really about this core group of surfers and the arduous road they paved to bring surfing where it is today. In other words, if you’re looking for a film primarily about bringing the beauty of the sport to the screen, go rent “Step into Liquid”.

Much of this film is told in almost monotone, droning interviews as the surfers recollect how crazy the middle-part of the 1970s were for them and their sport. Every once in a while, a song on the soundtrack will break things up but for a documentary about surfing, there are a lot of people sitting down and talking to whomever is behind the camera.

Not that there aren’t interesting stories. While the first half of the film is rather dry stuff (especially for a non-surfer like me), the controversy that surrounded these young upstarts is almost too surreal to believe. The problem for them, most notably for Rabbit and Ian Cairns, was that their brash talk about how good (legitimately) they were at surfing and how increasingly mediocre the Hawaiians were was published in magazines easily obtained in the 50th state.

Needless to say, the Hawaiian surf community was a little peeved that these crass foreigners would denigrate their ability and via those comments, their culture. Upon returning to Hawaii after making these comments, Rabbit and Cairns were the subject of beatings and death threats that became so serious that an informal trial/conference of their peers was held that quite literally held their lives in the hands of an angry mob. If it weren’t for the inclusion of this story, there would be no way for me to recommend this film to anyone but those who frequent the waves with their pretty boards.

Also, there’s a problem with the narrator – Edward Norton. Now, he’s a tremendous actor and his inclusion in a film gets my attention, no matter how crazy or silly the film’s premise may be (“Death to Smoochy” anyone?). However, I don’t think many people would argue that his manner of speaking tends to be quite reserved and that aside from scenes that call for a huge rant or blow-up, “energetic” rarely is a word ascribed to his verbal gait. As the narrator for this documentary (though he doesn’t have a lot to narrate because of all the interviews), the combination of his voice and the slow pacing of the film lulls you to sleep.

So it is that I’m afraid that I can only give “Bustin’ Down the Door” a 2 out of 5. I was hoping for more surf footage and would have liked for Gosch to find a more lively way of cutting together the story. Repeatedly nodding off only to be awoken by the violent snap of my head as it jerks back shouldn’t happen when you see a film at five in the evening. Sure, I can sleep anywhere, but that’s a little much. Still, if you are a surf history buff or a surfer interested in finding out about some of the legends of the sport, I think you’ll find much more to like here than I did and because of the beauty of some of the surf footage, it would behoove you to make it to a theater to see it on the big screen.