New Zealand surfer, filmmaker and forensic engineer, Clive Neeson as he took the Arlington stage Wednesday night, tipped the Santa Barbara audience that they were in for an experience far beyond the conventional surf flick.
More accurately billed as an “Eco-Adventure” Last Paradise is part chronicle, parable, physics lesson and exotic travelogue, weaving its characters, locales, and narrative subtly and cleverly to a full-circle, big picture conclusion.
And it definitely delivers on the big picture. From the spectacular P.O.V. opening surf sequence along Australia’s untamed southern coastline, to a stunning ski-hang gliding sojourn (complete with avalanche) above Antipodean glaciers, Neeson engulfs his audience (with the help of the Arlington’s epic movie screen) in experiences and environments few will ever see. And that’s the point.
LastParadiseUtilizing footage he shot over a 45 year span, the filmmaker chronicles his childhood, from early rugged African safaris with his parents, to his upbringing in idyllic Raglan, NZ (now a renowned surf spot) and how the arc of innocent fun with his mates in this unspoiled Eden, gave birth to a nation of innovation and the evolution of extreme sport. Ever snowboard, wakeboard, kite-board, jet-ski, windsurf or bungee-jump? Thank the Kiwis. Neeson’s incredible footage not only underscores the theme of ingenuity present throughout, but also renders the film a minor technical miracle, considering most of it was shot pre-digital, pre-waterproof and pre-jet-ski. (The seamless inclusion of classic footage featuring Santa Barbara surf and film maverick, George Greenough plying his trade, is a nice touch).
Almost by default, the footage serves another purpose; to document the changing relationship humans have had with Planet Earth. Glaciers disappear, suburbia sprawls, industry encroaches. Once-legendary surf breaks like Petacalco, Mundaka and Kuta are now overrun with humanity and the by-products of “progress.”
The parallels drawn to California’s path are no accident either. In fact, Neeson’s epiphany arrives during the 1960’s in the form of disillusioned surf god, Mickey Dora. Living in self-imposed exile in a VW combi-van on the Raglan shore, Dora extols his sage advice on the young surfer that New Zealand may go the way of Malibu without proper vigilance, spurring the filmmaker to set out on his epic global odyssey.
Clive NeesonIt’s here that the film employs an unlikely, yet logical alliance; science and surf – specifically physics. Invoking an encounter between protégés of noted Kiwi physicist Ernest Rutherford and a group of surfers, Neeson extols the power of fusion locked away in the energy of the earth’s oceans as a clean solution to today’s fuel and sustainability concerns. He also looks to the source of his earliest inspiration and innovation – his childhood mates. Bungee inventor AJ Hackett sees the smart money on, “Investing in the restoration of nature, because that’s where the demand is.”
At it’s core, Last Paradise is very much a surf film in that it deals with the search for elusive unspoiled perfection – whether Eden, Shangri-La or Santosha. But Last Paradise is no “Paradise Lost.” Instead of doom and gloom, it finds inspiration in the spirit of Kiwi innovation, extreme sport and the pure, inherent connection of man, nature and yes, fun. Filled with breathtaking visuals and Kiwi tunes from the Black Seeds and others, the movie ultimately finds its salvation in sharing the stoke — of surfing, science and sustainability.
At a time when interest and aptitude in science is waning, family dysfunction is rising and kids would rather surf keyboards, Last Paradise should be mandatory viewing in every classroom.
Written by Chris Johnson