Last week on Friday I finally got my copy of the new mountain biking film ‘Life Cycles’ in the post all the way from Canada. The trailer promised some outstanding footage, and understandably I couldn’t wait to get home and watch it. I’ve been sans computer for the past 2 weeks while Apple have been trying to figure out what’s wrong with it, and since my partner and I don’t own a television, we watched it on her computer instead. I was fairly confident that given the various articles I’d read in the lead up to the film being released, that even to a non-cycling fan, this film would be entertaining enough to hold her interest. After all, a couple of years ago when I brought Seasons home and started watching it, within five minutes she too couldn’t pull her eyes away from the screen.
The focus of Life Cycles is quite different from Roam, Seasons, and Follow Me though. These are the only other MTB films I own and thus the basis for my comparison. In Life Cycles, it really is all about the bike. In theory, that sounds like a great idea. We all love bikes, lets get right in there and tell the story of a bike – any bike really – and it’s journey from creation in the factory furnace to ultimate destruction, however that might come about. And along the way we’ll weave a story of how the bicycle is the most noble of all human inventions and allows us to explore, destroy, create and ultimately gain better knowledge of ourselves and our surroundings.
It’s no surprise watching Life Cycles that the directors, at least one of them, is taking his first step into film making, coming from a photography background. The cinematography is breathtaking, that is undeniable. As I understand it, the film was made with the lowest budget possible, and to me, especially working with the format of film making, I find that the result is staggering – they say they spent time not money, waiting long periods of time to acquire borrowed Red cameras to get the quality of shot they desired. And the time spent filming is also evident – especially in one sequence which marks the changing of the seasons through one section of single track – as the rider weaves his way through the woods amongst bright green ferns and foliage, the autumn is right behind him. Fall leaves litter the same trail and the shot morphs from greens to browns in his wake.
Watching this film with Meg, I became slightly uncomfortable as the time ticked on. Beautiful as it was to watch, the story – helped along sporadically by a series of voiceovers by one man, was not enough to really hold our attention. Ultimately, what Life Cycles lacks, is something personal. You can fill the screen with shot after shot of incredible slow motion cinematography, but a film is not a photo album. It needs more. The bicycle itself is inanimate – its the rider that drives it to become something more, and not once having a rider take his helmet off and just share something of the joy of riding was a mistake I think. But I can see that that is not what they set out to do, they have created a masterpiece of sorts – a long series of mountain biking sequences which look amazing, but left me wanting more – or in fact any – interaction with the riders.
I also felt that the slow motion shots outnumbered and overpowered the real-times shots, which I’ve always felt were more entertaining to watch. Sure, get some slow motion in there because it gives you a chance to really appreciate what the rider just did – but Life Cycles uses slow motion far too much, and the over all result is that a film already lacking in a personal human touch, also has no pace and starts to feel very, very slow.
Overall, I’d say watch it for the beauty, but don’t expect it to deliver much else.