Steep (2008)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Ingrid Backstrom, Anselme Baud, Bill Briggs
Extras: Commentary Track, Photo Montage, Interview

In 1971, a man by the name of Bill Briggs had the insane idea to do something that had never been done before: descend a 13,370 foot mountain on skis. After this achievement, a new extreme sport was born. "Steep" is written and directed by Mark Openhaus, whose highly esteemed career in journalism includes many years working with the late Peter Jennings (whom the film is actually dedicated to). It is narrated by Peter Krause ("Six Feet Under") and is truly captivating from beginning to end because like all great documentaries, it gives you a close up view into a world many of us have never seen.

If you've ever wondered what would possess a man to take a helicopter to a remote mountain top and attempt to ski down it, risking his own life for the sheer excitement and thrill of doing it, then this film is for you. It follows the dangerous paths of twelve different extreme skiers and allows them to explain their passion for the ultimate thrill. Their accounts are fascinating. Every one of them has a look in their eye that one can either call completely insane or perhaps they are just high on endorphins. Every single one of them rationalizes the fact that they are defying death at any given moment, and every single one of them seems perfectly content with it. In fact not everyone the documentary follows makes it through the movie, which certainly adds a mortal point to the entire film.

The movie takes us to the most dangerous peaks of the French Alps as well as the most inaccessible (except by helicopter, that is) parts of the Alaskan Valdez. Along the way we encounter all sorts of danger including avalanches and yet we are also captivated and awe inspired by the beautiful shots of these amazing mountains and some truly breathtaking and death defying stunts of the kind I have never seen before. We also have the pleasure of visiting other steep slopes in places like British Columbia, Iceland and Wyoming, this is some amazing footage and the photography oftentimes has the look of the better IMAX nature documentaries.

Along the way we have the chance to meet some truly fascinating people, including narration about the complete history of this insane sport from legendary veterans like the aforementioned Bill Briggs, Anselme Baud, Stefani De Benedetti and others. We also get to meet the younger generation, like Seth Morrison, Shane McConkey and Andrew McClean and even a female skier named Ingrid Backstrom. Most interesting is the intense story of Doug Coombs and his wife, it is one of the more awe inspiring and certainly intense points of the film following his story. All of these athletes and certainly the filmmakers themselves appear to be inspired by a maverick documentary about the sport from the glory days of VHS and Beta called "The Blizzard Of Aahhhs".

This is a film you certainly will not want to miss, It is exhilarating, tragic, beautiful and quite simply staggering in its impact. It either makes you have a new found respect for these extremists or else makes you devastated that these lunatics would risk their very lives in order to outdo each other or perhaps they are trying to prove something to themselves. Either way you look at it, it is an amazing film to behold, and one I certainly won't soon forget.

The video quality is certainly not really what I expected. I actually thought it would use the same type of film stock throughout. Instead, like many documentaries it varies quite a bit, so we have plenty of grainy film stock mixed in with newer shots and of course the interview footage looks great. This may not be the demo disc you may be expecting, although it does look positively gorgeous and the stunts are simply mind boggling and crystal clear and filmed in slow motion. And since it's framed with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1; it fills the whole screen beautifully. If your TV is big enough you are in for some amazing footage, that much is certain.

The audio is a single Dolby TrueHD track and I certainly have no complaints about that. The score by Anton Sanko is well represented and puts the surrounds to great use. All of the dialogue comes through very clear and all in all it is a very full sounding track, and like the film itself is put together from sources with different types of sonic quality.

For extras we have a commentary with director Mark Openhaus and skiers Ingrid Backstrom and Andrew McClean, it is very laid back, probably because they aren't in their accustomed intense surroundings. Although they are in relaxed settings we still get more insight into what it takes to perform these kinds of feats and also get an idea of how difficult it can be to film a movie such as this.

All of the special features are in standard definition. We have a 'Q&A' featurette that involves the same people from the commentary where they are asked questions from audience members. It runs about 12 minutes.

'2 Exclusive Photo Montages' are also included. The first is called 'Shooting Steep' and basically is Openhaus narrating photos of the crew and all about the perils and difficulty involved in filming a documentary of this nature. Very interesting, it runs 17 minutes. The other is nineteen minutes and includes photos with a musical background, they include some truly amazing and even some amusing scenes from the production.

"Interview with Doug Combs" includes more insight from one of the more interesting of the bunch. His story is very moving.

"Steep" truly is an amazing visual experience, and although this Blu-ray may not be crammed with features, it an amazing chronicle of some eccentric and inspiring people and is nothing less than profound. It is a film I will revisit again in the future because the scenery is amazing and the stories are so unbelievable I will definitely be putting this back in my Blu-ray player soon. If you are into documentaries about nature or sports this one is a no brainer.