I’m going about this entry a little differently than normal. I’m going to tackle two movies at once because I think they make for an interesting compare and contrast case.
Pedal to the Midnight Sun is the first documentary produced by the team of J.J. Kelley and Josh Thomas, the same guys that would later create Paddle to Seattle, one of the best movies I saw last year.
In Pedal to the Midnight Sun, J.J. and Josh bike across Alaska, from the Pacific to the Arctic Ocean, in order to witness the midnight sun of northern Alaska. They document all of the ups and downs, the beauty of the landscape, as well as its harshness (the swarms of mosquitoes are borderline chilling). In 180° South, we follow Jeff Johnson, an adventurer who, after finding some old 1968 footage of a group of men taking a trip down to Patagonia (southern tip of South America), contacts them and embarks on a journey to Patagonia of his own.
Both of these films feature people who enjoy adventures for the sake of adventure. It’s not about just accomplishing some big goal in the end. It’s about all of the crazy stuff that happens along the way. It’s about being in environments that are still hardly touched by mankind. It’s a spiritual journey to discover who you are and what you’re capable of. J.J. Kelley and Josh Thomas just happen to inject a lot more humor and charm into their documentary than Jeff Johnson does in this case.
That’s not to say that 180° South isn’t a good movie. It’s definitely worth a watch. But, mostly for the scenery, educational moments, and sense of wanderlust it creates, rather than for its high entertainment value. Pedal to the Midnight Sun, while not as well made or polished as Paddle to Seattle, connected with me more, and managed to really take me along for the ride with these two guys. The experience of watching 180° South was more like that of watching a fictional movie. It’s much more cinematic, less detailed, and rarely did I feel any connection to Jeff on his journey. We didn’t get all that much of a look into his personality or any of the other characters, except for his heroes, Yvon and Doug. After seeing glimpses of them in the 1968 footage, we finally meet them in the last third of the movie, and they actually provide some interesting commentary, and their stories are the most interesting in the movie.
While I don’t think Pedal to the Midnight Sun quite measures up to Paddle to Seattle, it’s still a fun ride. It’s clear that J.J. and Josh learned a lot from this first film and used it to make their next one better. Apparently they’re currently traveling down the Ganges river for their next movie, and I can’t wait to see how that turns out.
I can’t quite say the same for Jeff Johnson if he decides to make another documentary. I’m sure it would look nice and make me want to be at the various locations it features, but it probably won’t be as memorable of a ride as J.J. and Josh could provide.
Pedal to the Midnight Sun – 7.9
180° South – 6.5