By Dave Flanagan. Thanks to my good friend Ped's reckless attitude towards his credit card and value for money I have recently seen a good few climbing DVDs so I thought as it's coming up to Christmas a review might help others make the right choices (The moral of the story is don't buy DVDs in Great Outdoors, Planetfear is a much better bet).
A climbing DVD should entertain and inspire even after repeated viewings. Some of the reviewed DVDs are more documentaries and lacked lots of climbing footage which is fine but is it worth paying thirty plus euro for something you will watch only once, no matter how enjoyable that one viewing is?
This DVD has two films, Inertia 1 and 2 by Paul Dusatko that were previously released on VHS and contains over a hundred minutes of footage split pretty evenly between bouldering and sport climbing. The climbing is interspaced with mediocre skateboarding, the milk challenge, wasabi eating and kick boxing.
Inertia 1 features mostly American climbs and climber including a young Chris Sharma and Chris Linder. There isn't really much continuity in regards to geography and titles don't give much information away. The music is a blend of rap and rock and is pure nineties.
Nowadays we are used to watching bouldering shot on high quality digital cameras from multiple angles using wide angle lens and pole cams. so the footage in Inertia which was obviously shot on old analog camcorders looks pretty horrible at times.
Sport climbing may be absorbing to do but is (with some notable exceptions none of which are in this film) painfully boring to watch. Chris Linder's ascent of Tusk, 5.14a/b is a prime example, none of the moves look that hard or interesting, he never seems to struggle and it just goes on for ever. The sport climbing is the low point of this film which had too much steep anonymous limestone.
Inertia 2 is geographically more diverse. French climber Fred Rouling does Brad Pit, The Joker and The Buckstone Dyno in the Peak. American Randy Leavitt does the first ascent of Book of Hate, 5.13d an unusual sport route up a featureless corner in Yosemite. Spanish climber Josune Bereziartu does the first female ascent of an F8c+ sport route. Austrian climber Toni Lamprecht climbs a Font 8b+ spotted by the world’s most attentive spotter and then gets literally pushed up a Font 8b by another spotter. We then nip back over the Atlantic to see Midnight Lightning and Thriller in Yosemite. Then a guy climbs a Font 8b in his underpants.
The highlight of the DVD is Spaniard Iker Pou third ascent of Action Direct, the iconic German sport climb. Action Direct is an impressive climb and it would have been hard to make this section boring, dynos between monos on a 45 degree overhang always look good.
These films may have been exciting and cutting edge when they first came out but now they are dated. This DVDs only real value is as a historical document of sport climbing and bouldering in the late nineties and early noughties.
This film is about bouldering in a sandstone area called Albarracin in central eastern Spain. I have seen Albarracin described as the second best bouldering area in Europe, as I haven't been there it's hard to say.
The film moves along at a good pace featuring about thirty problems ranging from Font 6a to 8a in pin sharp digital. All the problems look excellent, the rock tends to be quite steep and reasonably featured with pockets and slots set in pine forest.
There are about ten minutes of extras on the dvd, it's hard to see why some of which wasn't part of the main film, the rest shows some pointless messing around balancing on poles and would more be more suited to youtube than a commercial climbing dvd.
The dvd also contains a pdf document with three pages of useful stuff including a history of the area, an overview map of the bouldering, some basic information for visitors and a list of rules for climbers to follow (Albarracin is an UNESCO World Monument). Unfortunately I think an opportunity was missed to include a detailed guide.
At just over thirty minutes in total this dvd doesn't represent value in terms of quality or quantity. It shows off the bouldering reasonably well without being particularly exciting. It's not something you are going to watch again after again however it may appeal more to those with a particular interest in Albarracin.
Winter Sessions is the second video dedicated entirely to bouldering in the Peak District, the first was Ben Pritchard and Ben Moon's 1994 classic "One Summer". While technology has moved on considerably since One Summer Winter Sessions shares the same homemade look and feel. Winter Sessions was filmed over two winters by Crabstix Productions and is an accurate representation of what it is like to go out bouldering on any given weekend on any given crag. People fall off, say stupid things, wobble and slap their way up problems.
One of the highlights is Ben Moons first ascent of Voyager, 8b which is followed by hotshot Tyler Landman's second ascent. Unfortunately we never get to see a close up of the holds - maybe this is because it is assumed that all the viewers will have seen them at first hand? The film also features Sam Whittaker, Jerry Moffat, Jon Fullwood, Ben Bransby, Adam Long and Leo Houlding among others.
On the plus side in the 1 hour 45 minutes of this DVD there is huge amount of bouldering, about 120 problems are climbed, some are well known classics others a bit more esoteric. The camera work is very straightforward but in spite of this the problems look excellent. However I'm not sure that seeing a few climbers do the same problem in succession really adds anything apart from length to this DVD. The main film is 70 minutes long with 20 minutes of extras and 15 minutes of outtakes.
The graphics are ugly but maybe this is ironic. Either way I didn't like them. The sound track is low profile and unobtrusive electorica. This low key approach to the soundtrack is best as you can never satisfy all tastes.
Winter Sessions pales in comparison with other recently released DVDs (Dosage) in terms of a professional polished product. It will be best appreciated by those looking for inspiration for or beta on mid to hard Peak District bouldering. Considering the popularity of bouldering in the Peak this is probably not as small a niche as it might appear. Others should look elsewhere.
Dosage 3 is the third in Josh Lowell's series. Big Up's approach of having chapters of different action is the way to go. Few of these doses would justify releasing individually but together they make for interesting and varied viewing.
Starring Dave Graham climbing in Ticino, Switzerland. Dave is strong in a skinny kind of way. This is my favorite dose, the problems and routes look great and there isn't too much talking. It is probably some of the best filmed bouldering I have seen. There are plenty of cuts where they quickly digitally zoom in on a hold and then cut to a close up of the hold from a different angle which is something I haven't seen before and looks great.
Chris Sharma and friends in the Orzaks, Arkansa. Chris is strong in a chunky kind of way. Features Chris's "hardest problem" Witness the Fitness which is a 'rad' roof problem (see front cover). The moves look hard and Chris lets out a few roars.
Deep water soloing in Ha Long Bay in Vietnam. This is a nice balanced section, less hardcore than the Majorca DWS dose from Dosage 2, it would be easy to imagine this on TV as an exterme/travel/lifestyle thing.
It's immediately obvious that the image quality is inferior in this dose which takes away from it a bit. We see a few boulder problems being climbed and then an interesting section about soloing.
Sport climbing featuring Tommy 'stumpy' Caldwell and Beth Rodden. Documents the process of Beth doing the first ascent of a very technical sport climb in Smith Rock, Oregon. Interesting the first few watches, my favorite bit was the rope trick to clip the first draw. The chauvinist in me can't help think that Tommy would of pissed up the route and makes me wonder why he didn't do the FA especially when Beth said that she didn't care about the FA.
Return to balance
Shot on High Definition and looks great. A slow paced reflective piece featuring Ron Kauk (first ascentist of Midnight Lightning) climbing and philosophising on the voice over. If you hate fluff don't watch this, you will go mental.
The two extras features filmed by Cooper Roberts are excellent both are about 10 minutes long, one features Australian bouldering and the other Castle Hill. The Australian problems look very hard and very good and Castle Hill looks great.
This DVD follows American boulderer Lisa Rands in her quest to complete her 'hitlist' of mostly highball problems in California. This video is bad value at only 25 minutes long for 36EURO. The music is almost unbelievably bad, I can only assume it was an in-house job. On the plus side some of the problems look nice but this is the standard of a web download not an expensive DVD.
Watch the trailer here
Action Adept is about big wall climbing and slacklining in Yosemite Valley with only a tiny bit of (boring) bouldering. Some of the rope jumps/swings in this might impress your non-climber mates (if you have any) but are the kind of thing you would only watch once. This contrasts with the section about getting rained out on a portaledge half way up El Cap which is about as boring as its sounds. Also once you have seen one person highlining (slacklining way above the ground) you have seen them all.
Another Sharma vehicle this time shot by Mike Call (Movement Films). Sharma and buddies were planning to go to Castle Hill in New Zealand but one of the main sectors was closed so they delayed their trip and went to Heuco in Texas instead. Poor things.
Sharma is a wad no doubt about it and as usual his strength, determination and motivation shone through. He is great to watch and carries the film.
Heuco is two things before anything else, steep and crimpy. The rock is a beautiful streaked orange. Heuco, which is national park, was closed in the nineties and now only some areas are accessible with a guide.
Boone Speed does some bits to camera and for the first time in climbing film I've seen it comes across well and very natural. The music is great, low key and varied. This film is well shot, it's easy to see what is going on - and what's going on is usually very impressive - and the image is sharp and rich (a big step up in quality from Hit List).
The DVD is 65 minutes long and ends with a promo of their trip to Castle Hill, New Zealand which was also made into a DVD called Big Game. The 15 minutes of extra scenes include Chris doing a 8a and a 8a+ second go and effortlessly flashing a 7c+. It is obvious why this extra footage didn't make it into the main film as some shots are quite dark and in others there is lots of wind noise despite this they are well worth watching and add value.
This is a documentary about climbing on the South Island, New Zealand and it features trad, sport, bouldering and alpine climbing. From the start it feels like a New Zealand tourist board ad (which isn't a good thing). The main point of interest for us boulderers in New Zealand is Castle Hill but you will be disappointed as there is only a few minutes of bouldering and it's boring, in short they don't do one of the best bouldering areas in the world justice. The rest of DVD is no better, while I don't doubt that the routes shown are great and interesting to climb they aren't interesting to watch, this is the kind of DVD that you don't pause when you need to go the toilet (even for a poo).
I'm sure the filmmakers put alot of effort making it but when you compare their product to some of the other DVDs on offer it looks a bit shite.
Watch the trailer here
Dosage 4 is the latest in Josh Lowell's series and is the best climbing film I have ever seen.
Features Chris Sharma (suprise!) climbing a new sport route called Dreamcatcher on a massive boulder in Squamish. An amazing line with brilliant looking moves, this dose is one of the best. The first few moves are on a slab followed by a backwards dyno to a slopey ramp on a very overhanging wall. Then loads of campus moves lead to a fingery finish up a steep groove. This dose was filmed over 12 days which contrasts with the 16 days it took to film all of Memento .
Return to Swizzy
We revisit Ticino, Switzerland to see Dave Graham take care of some unfinished business in the form of his route Coup de Grace, this is familiar ground to anyone who has seen Dosage3. Sharma does an incredible Mission Impossible style campus crossover trying to complete a problem that starts with a big jump from a farmer's trailer. We also see the unknown Randy Puro (great name!) show two of the best climbers in the world a few tricks as he beats them to two first ascents.
Two in a day
Tommy Caldwell frees two El Cap routes (Nose and Freerider) in 24 hours. doing 61 pitches (6000 feet). Not too shabby, the crux of the Nose (the changing corners pitch) looks absolutely desperate, squeezing and bridging up a blank granite corner. At least he has the decency to look tired at the end at least. Five cameramen were used to film this dose and it was worth it as it looks great.
The usual suspects, with a guest appearance by Ben Moon, bouldering in Heuco, Texas. If you have just seen Best of the West there won't really anything new here otherwise it is some strong climbers dong some very hard problems (first ascents of a 8a+, 2 8b's, repeats of a 8b and 8b+ and attempts on a Fred Nicole 8c).
Lisa Rands headpoints Gaia, E8 in the Peak District. It is interesting to see the process from start to finish with Lisa battling rain and struggling on the crux moves.
This film shows Bernard Zangrel and friends as he climbs some hard problems in Tessin and Magic Wood in Switzerland and the mountains of Silvretta in Austria.
When I heard that Memento was filmed in 16mm I was pretty hyped and the trailer looked good. This film is artfully shot and the tracking shots using the massive boom look great. The image quality is that rich sharpness that one only gets from real film. The real flaw with this film is that we just don't get to seen enough interesting problems. The film was shot in 16 days and this lets it down.
I think that there might be an easier way to get a different viewpoint than using a huge boom, a camera mounted on a remote control helicopter (as done here).
For me Bernard's talk about the soul of bouldering contrasts with the clumsy and crass product placement. If there were more hard problems and less philosophy this film would have been excellent.
E11 is the story of Scottish climber Dave MacLeod's quest to climb his project in Dumbarton, This DVD is really a documentary, there are lots of interviews with various people and shots of Dave doing normal life stuff. Obviously after loads of savage falls Dave climbs his route. I think this style of film is more suited to a general audience on TV than a DVD so its not really fair to compare it to some of the other DVDs.
This DVD shows arguably the world’s best trad climber, Cumbrian Dave Birkett climbing some of his routes in the Lake District. The trailer looks very interesting and it won Best Climbing Film and People's Choice Award at the Kendal Mountain Film Festival this year. Unfortunantly I fell asleep a few minutes into this one so can't really comment on it but it wasn't the films fault, I was very tired.
Buy it from Planetfear
Specimen is shot entirely in High Definition in the Rocklands, South Africa. Rocklands looks awesome, huge orange blocks all over the place. There are plenty of first ascents in this movie and some of the lines look amazing however the film is just too long. We are treated to shots of climbers walking up to problems, putting down their mats and tying their laces...not exactly riveting stuff. There is also too much talking and this film illustrates the point that just cause someone is good at climbing blank bits of rock it doesn't follow that they have anything interesting to say about it.
The only really interesting/impressive bit is when Fred Nicole does an incredibly powerful looking move on a steep wall of course they talk about this for about five minutes before they show it (once).
I have one final gripe with this film, it follows a big wall climber called Cedar Wright as he quests to climb a V10. This is as most sensible people know a pointless and arbituary goal. However it is only at the end of the film that the filmmakers and their star seem to realise this.