Miller heads for the hills, again

By Scott McLennan
Globe Correspondent / November 3, 2010

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Gratuitous voyeurism trumps plot and character in two kinds of film. One type requires you be at least 18 years old for admission; ski movies are the other.

And nobody makes ski movies like Warren Miller, whose annual productions have been ski-season harbingers for 61 years now.

“Wintervention’’ is the new film made under the Miller imprimatur. True to form, it shows mind-boggling skiing (with a little snowboarding tossed in for good measure) in locales most of us can only dream about ever dropping into.

The movie’s title alludes to the “help’’ needed by poor souls addicted to snow sports. Narrator and ski champ Jonny Moseley acts as the host of a radio station helpline and fields calls from pros who can’t get enough of hopping out of helicopters onto perilous peaks or scouring the earth for perfect patches of powder.

Sure, it’s a thin conceit for scene setups, but it’s enough to move the action along, literally from South Pole to North. The notion of laying down ski tracks in areas heretofore only marked by prints from penguins and polar bears is a nice bookending device. While those scenes do not serve up the most daunting skiing, they do provide beautiful scenery and insight into the how-tos involved in skiing such remote destinations.

As for gnarly runs, Miller’s crew outdoes anything a CGI master can muster simply by training the lens on Chris Davenport as he fearlessly bounds down summits in Alaska’s Chugach Range.

Miller’s films typically capture human-interest angles beyond the obvious fraternal bonds of ski nuts. In “Wintervention,’’ we peek into the family life of world-class mountaineers raising kids. And there is a heartfelt appreciation for the free-spirited skier Arne Backstrom, who died this year, skiing in Peru.

At times product placement seems a little too forced, and the bit on Vail looks like a chamber of commerce promo reel. But for the most part, “Wintervention’’ succeeds in bringing mere mortals into places reserved for alpine gods. And those deities come across as being more passionate and skilled than simply hooked on a thrill.

Scott McLennan can be reached

Directed by: Max Bervy
Narrated by: Jonny Moseley
At: Somerville Theatre, tonight and Thursday; Berklee Performance Center, Friday and Saturday; Endicott College Auditorium, Sunday.
Running time: 102 minutes

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