In God's Hands

Lushly photographed but critically flayed 1998 TriStar big-wave drama, directed by erotica specialist Zalman King (9 1/2 Weeks), starring California surf journalist Matt George (who also cowrote the script) as an aging surf hero and defender of wave-riding purity; world tour pro Shane Dorian as the young big-wave ace; and surfer-actor Matty Liu as their teenaged sidekick. 1977 world champion Shaun Tomson costars. Big-wave surfers Brian Keaulana, Darrick Doerner, and Brock Little have small parts. The In God's Hands travelogue plot, such as it is, takes the three friends on a color-saturated surf quest to Madagascar, Bali, Hawaii, and Mexico.

The thundering big-wave climax was filmed at Jaws on Maui, where Liu cheers on his friends from the channel, Dorian stylishly conquers the heavies, and George, trapped between fear and ego, finally catches a waves, dives to the bottom, throws his arms around a boulder, and drowns himself.

A favorable notice in the Los Angeles Times called the PG-13-rated In God's Hands "compelling," but most reviews were harsh. "As pretty as a scenic calendar and about as exciting" (New York Times), "[An] abysmally turgid and pretentious mess of tepid adventure, ponderous philosophizing, unromantic romance, bogus mysticism and vapid travelogue" (Box Office Movie Magazine). In God's Hands cost $10 million, went into limited release, mainly in California, and was pulled from most theaters after one week.

A bit of redemption came years later. In the movie, Matt George rejects tow-surfing (still new when In God's Hands was made) as a more evolved version of big-wave riding. "You can paddle into these waves," George stubbornly tells Dorian, who has just towed into a 30-footer. He jabs a finger at Dorian. "You could do it." Ten years later, Dorian indeed went on to spearhead the big-wave paddle resurgence.