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MOVIE REVIEW

Beauty of going to extremes

Big-mountain skiers are the focus of 'Steep,' a documentary packed with stunning imagery.

December 21, 2007|Scott Schueller | Chicago Tribune

Few documentaries are able to isolate their purpose from an audience's craving for human interest stories. "Steep" is one of those rare endeavors able to touch on the human condition without neglecting the film's true star: big-mountain skiing.

Unless you are a fan of that pastime or a similar extreme activity, the characters and their shared belief that cheating death is the only way to feel alive may be completely unrelatable. To director Mark D. Obenhaus' credit, this hazardous code becomes a highlight of the film; the participants command admiration and ooze inspiration.

Obenhaus bombards you with adrenaline-filled images of amazing feats, contrasted with casual commentary on the death-defying visuals. Chronological introductions explain the evolution of big-mountain skiing, the American history of which begins in 1971 with pioneer Bill Briggs, who became the first to ski the Grand Tetons, while the ski mercenaries of the French mountain region of Chamonix tested the limits halfway across the world.

Obenhaus mixes archival footage with marvelous shots of characters zigzagging across his extreme-skiing canvas. Some of the images are technical marvels, shot from helicopters, aside cliffs and from the depths of mountain passes. Obenhaus and cinematographer Erich Roland have a flair worthy of an art film, and the stomach-dropping runs, jumps and spills pace the movie well between the historical markers.

"Steep" is certain to appeal to the extreme sport enthusiast, but it also deserves a mass audience for its incredible imagery and window into a lifestyle most can't fathom. It's nearly impossible to walk away without a new motivation to find something that can make you feel the way these skiers do.

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"Steep." MPAA rating: PG for extreme sports and brief language. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes. At Landmark's Nuart Theater, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 281-8223; and Edwards University Town Center, 4245 Campus Drive, Irvine, (949) 854-8818.

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