The publicists for STEEP seemed rather anxious for me to write about it, though I'm not entirely sure why – it's not my kind of film at all. I offer that as a caveat, in anticipation of those who will tell me that I just don't get it, because in some ways, I don't. I find it amusing that once upon a time, somebody said to him or herself “Hmmm, you know what would be fun? Strapping thin planks of wood to my feet and pushing myself through the snow with a pair of branding irons!” And then lots of other people liked the idea: presto, skiing. To STEEP's great credit, the movie actually brings up this very point pretty early on, but that's close to being as deep as it gets.
Mostly, the movie consists of very beautifully composed shots of people skiing down extremely steep mountains, many of them in Chamonix, France, apparently a Mecca for this sort of thing – this, we are told, is “extreme” skiing (gotta win that word back from the snowboarders, I guess). Sometimes they make it look smooth, other times they wipe out. Late in the movie, one of the athletes decides that, because some of the cool-looking trails end in cliffs, he's gonna wear a parachute, so he skis off the cliff and then 'chutes the rest of the way down. It's kind of like something Beavis and Butt-head might think up, except that it actually works.
Anyway, if you like looking at people zooming down big mountains at insane angles (peak angles, not camera angles) for an hour and a half, this is for you. I'd like to see this in IMAX at about half the run-time – you could easily cut out the talking heads interviews, which don't really say much. Sample quote: “Mountains are a living, breathing thing...they're alive, they're totally alive. And they'll make you alive. Or they'll make you dead.” Then there's one guy who says that in life, you have to be a lion or a lamb. 70% of these guys seem like they smoked a bowl before the cameras were loaded up.
One of them, Doug Coombs, died on the mountain after production ended, which is sad, but we didn't learn a lot about him before – the mountains are the star of this documentary, not the people. Which ultimately leaves this viewer feeling a little detached from the material.
But I'm not a skier. My balance is bad, and that stuff scares me. So more power to those who are – this flick's for you. And probably not anyone else.
STEEP opens today in theaters everywhere