From the giant waves provoked by El Nino in Hawaii to frozen cascades of waterfalls in Canada, the latest IMAX movie, Extreme, presents outdoor sports triumphs in some of nature's most challenging situations. Throughout the 60-minute mega-film, several philosophical threads are woven, one of the most important is the notion that playing with nature also means respecting its strength and power over you.
Extreme consists of water, snow, ice and rock sports. Categories examined include surfing, windsurfing, skiing, snowboarding, ice climbing, and rock climbing. What's different about the world champion athletes that perform in this movie is their accomplishments in extreme environments. For example, the skiers and snowboarders in the movie traveled to wilderness mountain tops, sliding down slopes with practically no diagonal angle and over massive rocks, jumping off of cliffs and landing feet first onto the next run.
Extreme ski champion Gordy Peifer even mentioned the dangers of snow "sluffing." When he skis over newly fallen snow, the impact often results in the snow sliding down the mountain with him. He says it's better to be skiing behind or in front of the sluffing snow but sometimes you can't help but get caught right in the middle of it. Despite the danger of getting buried in near avalanche conditions, he says there's nothing more exhilarating than skiing with the snow and not just on it.
"You learn so many things about yourself climbing; how to relate to other people, how to solve problems, how to avoid problems," narrates Nancy Feagan, a rock climber featured in Extreme. Her rock climbing technique is known as "jamming." She has to use her body as a tool in climbing the cracks of flat-fronted rocks.
Other Extreme athletes agree with her sense of self-discovery. At the beginning of the movie, one surfer says that the training for his sport teaches him not only about his strengths, but also about his weaknesses. He feels that knowing one's limitations allows one to know how much farther to push. Of course, few of us have tried running underwater as far as we can with 80-pound rocks to build up our strength and lung capacity as he has.
"Extreme has the biggest waves ever caught on film," says Michael Kochorek, manager of marketing and distribution for Extreme.
The IMAX images of these waves are as close to real life as most viewers will ever get. "The tubes of these 40-foot waves are so big that you could put two houses in them," says Kochorek. "It's really amazing to see them on a four-story high IMAX screen." Viewers feel the excitement of the surfers as if they, too, were gripping the board with their toes.
Several athletes mentioned the adrenaline rush they get from their sport. World snowboarding champion Craig Kelly says that while most people see snowboarding off far away mountain faces as an escape from reality, he feels that it puts him in touch with a different reality. It helps him to face himself and his fears.
Whether it's the might of Hawaii's biggest ocean waves or the height and hidden traps of an Alaskan mountaintop, "respect" is mentioned repeatedly by the athletes. Several also discussed the spiritual high they get from the challenges of their sport. Being so close to nature puts them in awe of it and helps them to reconcile with forces much greater than humans. Their sports are also low impact on the environment so it helps them to appreciate nature without hurting it.
In fact, the learning principles behind Extreme are so impressive that Outward Bound, the wilderness-based experiential education program, has developed Extreme educational materials. According to both the Extreme producers and Outward Bound, their purpose is to encourage personal challenge and teamwork, respect of self and nature and a critical evaluation of risks in both sports and life situations.
"It focuses on education in a non-traditional environment," says Kochorek.
The athletes in this movie are honest. Windsurfers talk about the need to love a sport above egotism. This means acknowledging defeats or difficulties and doing things for personal fulfillment rather than public glory.
"Jon himself is a lifestyle-oriented skier so he understands that the athletes do the sports because they love it and not for monetary gain," says Kochorek of Extreme director Jon Long.
Fear is also seen as an important element of respecting sporting challenges.
"Twenty years of climbing have taught me to use fear as a friend and let it focus my concentration so that I can perform better," reports Barry Blanchard, one of the film's featured ice climbers.
Whether viewers only experience the adrenaline rush in their seats at the IMAX theater or they are challenged to go out and try their own daring sports, the Extreme promoters feel that they educate their public in a way that most Imax movies have never done.
"It's much more about themes and goals," says Kochorek. He says that one mission of all Imax movies is to educate the viewers, but few of these big screen films get people into a philosophical mode like Extreme does. "Most are more geography oriented, but this deals with pursuing what you love," he says, "It's a soulful pursuit."
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