World Hum Travel Movie Club: ‘The Art of Travel’

Travel Blog  •  Eli Ellison, Eva Holland  •  10.09.08 | 5:53 PM ET

posterSmall-town boy Conner Layne graduates from high school, dumps his fiancée at the altar and leaves for his honeymoon, alone. As he makes his way from Nicaragua to Panama, Colombia and Peru, philosophical realizations about the meaning of travel abound. World Hum Travel Movie Clubbers Eva Holland and Eli Ellison go along for the ride in this new DVD release—but will their minds, like Conner’s, be opened to the real art of travel?

To: Eli
From: Eva
Subject: Stop me if I get too mean

Let’s get the positives over with—they won’t take long. I’d rate the “travel porn” factor on The Art of Travel as being very high. Burj Dubai high, even. The Central and South American countries that our hero Conner passes through look just right: colorful, exotic, wild but warm. They’ve got that slightly faded, dusty look to them, too—the cities haven’t been airbrushed to perfection in post-production, which is a good thing. (That may have more to do with budget considerations than artistic ones, but I’ll take it.)

Beyond that, though, I didn’t find a lot to love about the movie. I won’t rag on the production values too much, since I’m sure there’s not a ton of money out there for this sort of thing (unless of course your counter-cultural protagonist dies in a school bus), but you don’t need a blockbuster budget to buy yourself a script with an actual plot, right? Our boy Conner seems to slide (mostly blank-faced and slack-jawed) from one extraordinary situation to another: from leaving his fiancee at the altar, to getting robbed on his first day in Nicaragua, and then being comforted by hot half-naked Dutch backpackers, and the list goes on. But there’s no connecting thread, no theme or goal. There’s no conflict.

Don’t even get me started on the dialogue (“You’re so creative, you should write a book about this.”) or the ham-fisted philosophizing about travel as the true source of learning and life, man. The flick might as well have been called “I’m a traveler, you’re a tourist.” They’re hardly breaking new territory, you know?

This movie needed four things: a goal, a conflict, a climax and a resolution. Somebody stop me before I make a joke about how the filmmakers should have spent less time worrying about the art of travel, and more time worrying about the art of plotting.

Whoops, too late.

To: Eva
From: Eli
Subject: You a meanie!

Wow, brutal. But I’m afraid you’re mostly spot-on. Yes, the cringe-inducing dialogue, turn-away-from-the-screen-it’s-so-bad acting (especially from Johnny Messner and Brooke “Baywatch” Burns) and lack of an engaging story had me reaching for the stop/eject button. But the hot, half-naked Dutch backpackers stopped me. Would they make another appearance? I stuck around ‘til the end waiting to find out. 

So what about the positives? I think you’re being a bit unfair with the “hardly breaking any new ground” slam. To you and me, spiritual growth through travel is nothing new, but what about the general movie-going public? They don’t tramp like Kerouac and eat like Bourdain. Writer/director Tom Whelan views them as tourist sheep who must be enlightened. Now, the question is, does the film achieve this without being pretentious? I gather your answer is no. I think TAOT manages to be relaxed and somewhat subtle with its life-altering power of travel message. That is, up until the final 10 minutes when all of a sudden we’re hit with Conner’s “ham-fisted” backpacking leads to the palace of wisdom voice over.

Make no mistake, this is a travel movie turkey I could carve up for days. But I give TAOT a little credit for at least trying to give the audience some kind of travel epiphany. Unfortunately, it falls far short.

I’m with you on the “travel porn” factor and rate this XXX. Beautifully shot on location in Panama, Bolivia and Peru, it’s amazing what Whelan was able to do with such a small budget.

By the way, I know of your unhealthy obsession with chick flicks. And while this is no rom-com, I’m curious to hear your thoughts on the love story.

To: Eli
From: Eva
Subject: Ok, I take it back. A little.

Alright, I take your point about this “life-altering-power-of-travel” business.

It was that final voice-over sequence that really turned me against this movie, but I’ll agree that up to that point, they’d done a semi-decent job of getting their point across. Some of the discussions around the campfire in the Darien Gap were thoughtfully done, and I have to admit I enjoyed watching the growing camaraderie of the team during their weeks in the jungle. But, as I said, these were moments without any cohesion. It’s hard for the film to avoid feeling like it’s proselytizing when there is virtually no plot line to distract the viewers from THE MESSAGE.

Funny you should ask about the love story. This is one area where I have to give the filmmakers credit. I am, as you know, a connoisseur of the cheesy rom-com, and I’ve seen plenty of friends-become-lovers stories that do a far, far worse job of setting up their romances than this one. Sure, it was inevitable—but the relationship builds slowly and doesn’t feel too forced. That being said, and without wishing to give too much away, I can’t help but feel that Conner is yet another young male hero whose basic selfishness gets dressed up as some sort of backpacker spirituality.

Why is it that in these movies, the “enlightened traveler” always turns his back on families and loved ones? Sure, Conner goes about it in a different way than Christopher McCandless, but the principle to me seems the same. It’s a sort of extreme variation on the old traveler vs. tourist saw—the idea that true travelers don’t actually need human relationships, that only the weak phone home to Mom and Dad.

I guess, apart from the plotting (or lack thereof), my basic beef with this movie is that I don’t agree with the lesson being taught. What do you think, Eli? Would you agree that “the art of travel is to deviate from one’s path”? Is there even a definable “art” to traveling?

To: Eva
From: Eli
Subject: Bare-knuckle boxing

Did I say “life altering power of travel”? Oy vey. Grasping at positive straws has turned me into a rhapsodic wanker, much like our hero Conner. Okay, it’s time to take off the gloves and deliver the knock out punch TAOT has been begging for since it first darkened our DVD players.

You found the tacked on love story better than the usual rom-com dreck? Really? I find it difficult to take romance seriously when the female lead is nicknamed “G Spot.” Throw in a cute lovey-dovey game of hide-and-seek among the Machu Picchu ruins and syrupy lines (“I love the way you see the world around you”), and you’ve lost me.

You enjoyed the campfire heart-to-hearts and camaraderie during the jungle expedition? Oh Eva, say it ain’t so. Remember the sickening campfire/montage scene? Conner strums an acoustic guitar, and in his best Kermit the Frog voice, sings “The Rainbow Connection”? I wanted Bluto from Animal House to pop out from behind a tent and smash Conner’s six string into the nearest tree. I thought the Muppet song was a shoo-in for worst scene honors. Then we got the crew’s showdown with Colombian FARC guerillas! Oh, I laughed so hard, I scared my cat.

This notion that true travelers don’t need human contact doesn’t bother me as much as it obviously bothers you, but I hear ya. And to answer your final question: Of course there’s no definable art to traveling. You hit the road, leave your expectations behind and become a cultural sponge. Some days you stick to the plan. On others you deviate from your path. You roll with it, right? As for “The Art of Travel,” it should definitely stick to the path—the one back to art house movie hell.

Eli Ellison

Eva Holland is co-editor of World Hum. She is a former associate editor at Up Here and Up Here Business magazines, and a contributor to Vela. She's based in Canada's Yukon territory.

2 Comments for World Hum Travel Movie Club: ‘The Art of Travel’

Mark Billsworth 10.14.08 | 2:21 PM ET

The film is not even closely as bad as you writeit out to be.  I watched this film at the 2008 Cinequest Film Festival to a sold out audience that all seemed to love the film.  Then the filmmakers spoke afterwards and to everyone’s amazement found out the budget of this film was around $400,000 but still managed to shoot entirely on location.  They went on to explain that they wanted to capture that feeling in traveling on never knowing what’s around the next corner - and in my eyes they did it.  Claiming that this film is in any way pornographic means you hate anything sexual.  there’s nudity only at the beginning and i know you’re probably thinking about the tent scene too- but nothing is shown and only implied.  If you have a real love for traveling or one day dream about traveling - then you’ll enjoy this movie.  I still can’t believe the filmmakers pulled off making this movie for the budget and if you enjoy films like MegaSnake and killer Bees 8 then stay away from this film.

Eva 10.14.08 | 6:05 PM ET

Hi Mark,

I’m sorry we confused you with our “Travel Porn” rating. We weren’t calling the film pornographic - it’s our way of rating the extent to which a movie makes us want to rush out and visit the places depicted, so it was actually intended as a compliment. And yes, as we said in our review, it is amazing what the film-makers accomplished in terms of filming on location, on such a small budget.

That being said, I maintain that the plotting and scriptwere appalling, and the acting was nothing to be wowed by, either. You are, of course, welcome to disagree!

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