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Originally published Thursday, May 20, 2010 at 3:02 PM

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Movie review

'180 Degrees South': Trekking — and surfing and climbing — to Patagonia

"180 Degrees South," a documentary inspired by the life and times of rock climber/surfer Yvon Chouinard, follows a beautiful, yet unfocused globe-trotting trek to Patagonia, where extreme sports and environmental fragility meet.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2.5 stars

'180 Degrees South,' a documentary directed by Chris Malloy. 85 minutes. Not rated; suitable for general audiences. Varsity.

Part idyllic travelogue and part environmental polemic, "180 Degrees South" takes a globe-trotting trek to spectacular yet endangered destinations that are alternately overrun by extreme-sport enthusiasts and concerned conservationists. The result is a beautiful mess with a point of view that's way too easily distracted.

The movie was inspired by rock-climbing pioneer Yvon Chouinard and his 1968 trek to Patagonia with like-minded surfer/climber dudes. Their destination was a never-attempted route to an Andean summit, with stops to catch some gnarly waves on the 5,000-mile drive from California to Chile. This was the kind of stunt Chouinard was famous for ever since he practically invented the sport by forging his own pitons and scrambling up the sheer rock faces of Yosemite in the late '50s.

Jeff Johnson, a young explorer/climber and admirer of Chouinard, saw some of the tantalizing film footage from the trip and was moved to light out on his own version of that free-spirited quest. His journey to Patagonia provides the movie's structure. It is flimsily shored up with his very personal journal-like narration of the adventure.

As Johnson waxes philosophic about the call of doing your own thing and the hand of man on fragile ecosystems, the camera that follows him also captures some truly awesome scenes of natural beauty. It's a mixed bag of rumination and thrilling imagery, between which he does a lot of surfing, hooks up with a sexy native on Easter Island, connects with his extreme-climbing buddies in Chile and ultimately with Chouinard himself. Doug Tompkins, one of Chouinard's old partners, is also on hand in Patagonia, where he's devoted his life to preserving vast acres of the Andes from human harm.

The old-timer anecdotes, extreme-sport sequences and proselytizing about protecting nature are only some of the subjects and characters crammed together on this unfocused, yet often breathtaking voyage. There's also the distinct whiff of infomercial for another Patagonia — the sporting-goods and apparel company that made Chouinard a millionaire, albeit one with a soul of genuine social responsibility.

Ted Fry: tedfry@hotmail.com

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