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Film Review: Last Paradise

“We’re all gravity addicts,”

Last Paradise

Directed by Clive Neeson

“We’re all gravity addicts,” says Jeff Campbell in the award-winning documentary Last Paradise. “The tool you pick—who cares?”

Campbell, a middle-aged adventurer, is one of many aging thrill-seekers featured in New Zealand filmmaker Clive Neeson’s decade-spanning production. From the revolution of surfing in the 1950s to jet-skiing in the second millennium, Last Paradise chronicles the role of nature (and the beach bum) in the development of the adrenaline rush.

Neeson’s documentary is part-autobiography, part-surprising historical account. While the narrative spans various aspects of the director’s life—including his nomadic existence as the child of two wildlife filmmakers—it focuses largely on the development of surfing and other marginally unsafe adventure sports (like snowboarding, skiing on active volcanoes, and hang-gliding over avalanches) by a group of like-minded friends in isolated New Zealand.

“New Zealand is so far away from everything,” says long-haired bungee pioneer AJ Hackett, “if we wanted something, we had to create it, make it . . . We had to improvise.”

Coupled with stunning scenery, a Cat Stevens-heavy soundtrack, and the type of vibrant, grainy ’60s footage Instagrammers would pay to reproduce, interviews with innovators like Hackett make for a developmental history that is both aesthetically appealing and pretty fascinating. Even more interesting, however, is the conflict- and responsibility-renouncing counterculture created by these graying adventurers. The beatific lives of the surfers, traversing through deserts and across continents in search of the perfect wave, lend some real meaning to the pink-and-orange “Endless Summer” posters scattered on dorm walls across America. Neeson’s film, in fact, has a tendency to elicit a profound longing for the good ol’ days, even if audiences weren’t alive in the ’60s and ’70s.

In the final portion of his documentary, though, Neeson shifts focus from nostalgia-inducing thrills. The relationship between man and nature that bore such wild adventures, Last Paradise suggests, is in jeopardy due to overfarming, pollution, and other environmental ills. While this depressing conclusion is fairly typical in the documentary world, the juxtaposition of ’60s-era and contemporary footage provides unnerving contrast.

Neeson and his team, however, are not without hope. “The gypsy spirit and the freedom of safari . . . we know it’s still out there. By rekindling the innovative spirit and a love of the wild, we could restore the wilderness to its rightful magnificence.” Yeah, bro.

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