First Watch: 'Return to Earth' by Anthill Films

Jul 22, 2019
by Scott Secco  

Note: I have previously done freelance video work for Anthill, so this is by no means an unbiased review, I just wanted to share a few quick thoughts.

In 2019 we’re absolutely spoiled for mountain bike video content. Each day here on Pinkbike we’re treated to the latest and greatest from riders and filmmakers around the world... but there's still a mystique about feature-length movies. It’s like listening to one song versus an entire album.

Return to Earth is Anthill Film’s sixth movie and, at this point, you know what you’re getting with an Anthill production: world class riding, stunning cinematography, and great tunes. The film’s stated goal is to motivate us all to get off our phones, to get our heads out of the clouds and return to earth. It’s an inspired idea and one that’s carried throughout the film by a gravelly-voiced narrator.

RTE sees the Ants looking backward, borrowing music cues and the cedar tree logo from their days as The Collective. The soundtrack features an all star Dad rock lineup, with songs by The Band, The Beach Boys, Steppenwolf, and The Mamas & The Papas, among others. It sounds like someone at the office raided the jukebox of a 1970’s FM station.

Stand-out segments belong to the usual suspects: Brett Rheeder showcases why he’s the defending Red Bull Rampage champion, riding some of the most stunning snowboard-inspired builds we’ve yet seen in Utah; Thomas Vanderham and Ryan Howard’s stylish dissection of Quebec’s foliage is another highlight. The ending segment is an instant classic, bringing nine riders together to ride a gorgeous Hawaiian mountain top, culminating in a tightly choreographed crossover jump with multiple riders in the air at the same time.

Anthill is rightly famous for their Whistler Bike Park segments over the years and Return to Earth is no exception. My favourite segment in the movie features a gaggle of groms, aged 10-15, from Squamish and Whistler including Max Wittenburg (son of director Darcy Wittenburg), Jackson Goldstone, Dane and Jakob Jewett, Anthony Shelley, and Mateo Quist. These kids ride the bike park just as hard as pros twice their age and watching this segment is guaranteed to put a smile on your face - as well as making us jealous we didn’t have bikes like this at their age. The future looks bright.

Anthill’s last effort Unreal pushed the conceptual limits of what a mountain bike film could be, each segment featured an outside of the box concept and complicated logistics. Return to Earth is much more modest in its scale and ambition. It seeks to inspire us to step away from the screen and go ride your bike. Who can argue with that goal? Watch this film, then go ride your bike.

You can buy Return to Earth on Apple, Vimeo, Google Play, and Amazon Prime. The 4K Apple Store version is $14.99 CAD.


  • 64 4
 Return to Earth didn't deliver on the hype that surrounded it.

From a studio that is known for producing hits & levelling up the standard that they had set from their last film, it feels very lacklustre and leaves you disappointed.

Call me critical, but here is how I see it.
- To say the film is 47 minutes isn't right. It is closer to 37 minutes + long credits with bloopers.
- It's bitsy. The film doesn't flow very well, with very fragmented sections.
- The concept isn't clear when watching. I know it is meant to be about disconnecting, returning to earth, and paying attention to what is around you in nature, but you loose site of that idea when watching. It feels like a glorified shredit.
- The soundtrack sucks. The cinematography is great, but some tracks make you want to turn the film off.
  • 21 1
 Man it hurts my bones to say it but I couldn’t agree with you more. I’ve watched it three times now and I’m just not getting that typical “Anthill” vibe afterwards. Such a bummer, I grew up watching all of their films religiously and I just felt like 37 minutes of actual riding minus all of the talking and landscape shots just wasn’t enough to get me pumped to ride. It felt like every time I was getting into a certain trail or rider the entire scene would change. Just a very discombobulated film all the way through, with the exception of the young kids at Whistler who somehow had one of, if not the longest scene. I just wanted to watch all my childhood hero’s shred and what I got was a whole lot of 30 second clips stacked on top of each other with classic rock edited to pieces overtop. Bummer man!
  • 7 0
 Stay critical!! I really appreciate that review
  • 10 0
 The wow factor, and any real story-telling (see Seasons, Where the Trail Ends,etc.) were totally missing from this one. Cool shots and a few good segments, but a definite miss overall imo.
  • 4 2
 I have to disagree on a few points but agree on a few others...

1) the only thing that didn't flow for me was the whole Patagonia segment. A lot of "disconnecting" from the world, but the rest of the video was basically edited and shot for the songs they picked. Shreddit style, but the cinematography was amazing.
2) the songs they picked were different, they start with a dope new-sound type of track, then throw it back to the 70s tracks, which worked really well for what they were shooting (in my opinion)

I loved the whistler segment along with the hawaii segment, they were just plain freaking cool. Seeing the kids shred harder than anyone I personally know was really neat to watch.

My opinon is skewed because personally, I love 70s music (even though I'm a professional DJ by trade), it just has a good vibe to it, especially paired with world-class riding and cinematography. I never considered your insight before but after reading your comment, I have to agree on a few things, but just disagree on a few others. Thanks for your input and getting the conversation going!
  • 6 2
 Like others, I agree with you on almost all of your points, but disagree with your opinion on the music. Did it make the video content better? No, but it certainly wasn't bad enough that I ever wanted to mute it.

While I LOVED the segment with the kids in Whistler, my biggest gripe with the video is that it really felt like they made mountain biking about the jumps and tricks rather than what most of us do when we go out for a ride. For a film about Return(ing) to Earth, they sure seemingly spent a lot of time and energy modifying Earth to make that Rampage-esque trail. I would have thought there would have been more focus on Singletracks rather than Slopestyle courses.

I get that footage of people climbing isn't exciting (unless it's Chris Akrigg), but a little footage of riders struggling up something instead of just ripping down would have been welcome.

Where's the footage of the guy or girl who's just gotten out of the office and is riding alone in the forest to decompress from the work day? That certainly would have felt more of a Return to Earth to me than Rheeder riding off the side of a cliff.
  • 1 3
 The research of research tells us this claim is likely due to decreased productivity, linked to time. Probably because they rode their bikes. I like bikes.
  • 26 0
 This is cool but i really wished someone would do something like the old Worldcup vids "earthed" or "f1rst" -that segment of champery omg
  • 6 1
 Did you see ‘Gamble’? It’s a cross between early NWD and Earthed films, which is what the filmmaker grew up watching. It even has a nod to Earthed in Finn’s section.
  • 17 2
 imo it's a good movie and fun to watch, but it's missing the "oooh" factor that unReal had.

But then again it's very hard to top that masterpiece, so maybe I'm just spoiled.

The riding is still amazing though.
  • 33 3
 no movie has beaten life cycles. although, its art and those things can't really be ranked. life cycles did it for me, after all its the movie that made me want to switch disciplines.
  • 2 0
 @davidpr2: without any doubt
  • 2 2
 @Upduro - hows it compare to Life Cycles?
  • 5 0
 unReal was spectacular. I show it to my film students. Even ones that aren't riders are impressed.
  • 2 0
 @dr-fishy-noooo: I have to admit that I have not yet watched Life Cycles.

It's on my program for this or next evening after reading all these comments though.
  • 6 0
 @dr-fishy-noooo: ok holy shit that was an experience. RtE doesn’t hold a candle to life cycles. Amazing movie, still a bit biased towards unReal, but both have their strengths balancing each other out so I’d say they’re on par.
  • 14 1
 Was not their finest work that's for sure. Quality was same as many video edits appearing in MTB media almost daily with no real link to it all.
Corny 'Life Cycles ' esque voiceover (Life Cycles was nearly 10 years ago!!) No real standout wow section. Classic pop music I like but didn't fit with riding in my opinion.
Unreal was cheesy but at least done in a tongue in cheek kind of way and with some real wow sections and amazing locations.
Gamble was just total fun , cool places, riders and a jokey theme with raw DH action.
I'm pretty disappointed after all the waiting and all the hype
But I always pay to support these films.
  • 1 0
 Life cycles had stand out moments for me, molten metal, seeing the seasons change as he rides and the moment of flipping in the sunset. Pretty memorable I'd say!
  • 12 0
 Reminded me of Life Cycles. We need more Seasons style movies, it still feels current and exciting
  • 14 0
 Seasons is the GOAT for me.
  • 6 0
 @Radley-Shreddington: agree. Have yet to see a better film than Seasons. Can't even tell you how many times i've seen it
  • 3 0
 @rhaddad87: I was lucky enough to go to one of the cinema screenings in London as well, such a great movie, its the one I loan out to pals that don't ride the most as well, it captures why we all love it so perfectly.
  • 6 0
 I was not really impressed with this film. It really was not that good, but I liked the message behind it. The film that did it for me was Where the Trail Ends. That movie always lights a fire under my ass to go somewhere and ride.
  • 6 0
 I preferred 'Gamble' but this is pretty decent, it feels a bit like a bunch of Youtube edits in a playlist though whereas 'Gamble' was moulded as one sole piece of work better.
  • 5 0
 Best Anthill scenes: Stevie Smith shuttling with his mom AND Shandro riding the Shore.
Return to Earth was the exact opposite of these scenes. It was a glorified shredit of slopestyle-esque scenes with no story or human connection whatsoever.
  • 4 0
 The Stevie Smith scene is a really hard act to follow up on. It’s genuine, done on his home trails. Shows him as he was with excellent cinematography. Still fills me up every time I watch it. As a filmmaker or documentarian you simply can’t plan that stuff. You can plan the scene and shoot it well, edit it etc. but actually capturing genuine real magic like that scene has is a rare and lucky gift.
  • 5 2
 Need to watch it again but think it’s poor. The last two sections are defo good. But the rest is really choppy and hard to watch. The sections I was most looking forward to are short.

Think unreal probably did a better job of the same story line?

There is some gold but you might have turned the film off by the time it gets there.
  • 5 0
 I'm gonna be the one guy who thought this was a great movie?! Maybe with repeated viewings it loses its luster. I really enjoyed it.
  • 2 0
 I saw it during the release in Fairfax VA. Maybe it was the big screen experience, but I really enjoyed it. Do I think it was another unReal, no, but it was a quality peice up and kept me engaged. The music was a departure from the typical metal or rap and personally that was beneficial.

Frankly, I tried to watch the last 50:01 edit, and a bunch of bros riding the same 10 lines in a bowl while some unknown (to me at least) hip hop played in the background. I got through five minutes and moved on. I can appreciate the talent and progression, but its just not very entertaining. (This is sort of an apples/oranges comparison, but I digress)

At least with Return to Earth there was some real cinematography, original music and a concept. Plus the final scene with all the riders flowing behind the lead bike was really well done and original. Also the grom scene was tugging at my heart strings as a father, and the R-Dog/Vanderham scene just made me want to go ride.

Would I spend some amount of my income to own it, probably not, but I really don't spend any money on movies. Was the $10 I spent at the theater worth it? Absolutely. I got a bitchin' XTR shirt, some nice Pro bar end plugs (like six sets) a cool poster, a bunch of stickers my three-year-old has plastered everywhere and a big dumb rubber band for my phone. Plus a beer, an evening out and I enjoyed a great 37 min biking movie.
  • 5 0
 Sooo looks like I'm saving my $15 then? Haha
  • 1 0
 I haven't watched the full movie, but the trailer looks awesome and I loved the Brett Reeder segment (and the soundtrack of that segment as well). I'm new to MTB and feel like this is probably getting a bad rap being compared to all that have come before.
  • 3 1
 This film didn't seem to make sense and was all over the place. not what iu expected from such a big firm. the soundtrack ruined it for me. can't understand why they picked those tracks.
  • 1 0
 Now I'm curious to see what music they used. Lots of folks bashing on the tune selection.
  • 1 0
 I personally loved this movie, even though it was not quite as well put together as some others. the riding is amazing and I actually enjoyed the soundtrack more than I did in other movies too. all the scenes were pretty great in my mind, but like most of you agree, they could have Been moulded together a little better.
  • 3 0
 That piano tune thoe.....collective????
  • 3 0
 Lovin the Collective tree at the first seconds of the vid !!
  • 2 0
 As long it's not a single bike branded movie like not bad where only Trek bikes can be seen.
  • 2 0
 The Patagonia segment made me want to ride my bike, the rest of it did not do any of that.
  • 3 3
 Worth the $15 anyone? Or will this possibly come out in RedBull TV’s Bike channel also?

Bloody love me some RedBull TV \m/
  • 3 0
 It Reminded me a little of Life Cycle’s but no where as good. Don’t get me wrong it’s good but something was missing from it. Its a solid buy at 10 I’d say.
  • 2 1
 was waiting for a semenuk segment til after the credits, liked the rest of the film tho
  • 1 0
 Wer hat das Return to Earth Bike gewonnen?
  • 1 0
 Hi! Someone know who won the bike????
  • 1 1
 Is this the first mtb film released in 4k?
  • 1 1
  • 1 1
 deathgrip is available in 4K
  • 1 1
 Has Anthill ever done a doco on an event like BC Bike Race?
  • 2 0
 No because it would be super boring
  • 1 1
 ......and now I’m older time flies and I hate that it does!!!
  • 1 1
 WOW tup Brett’s riding is incredible to watch!!!
  • 1 1
 I love Keyboard Warriors!

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