With rising awareness about climate change and changing viewpoints on our impact and interaction with the environment, a new genre of adventure film has emerged
Environment and media have been intertwined since the very beginning, with written work and paintings depicting nature’s sublime aspects beyond the scope of human creation. As time has moved on, new styles of media, created by inventions like the camera and television have weaved their way into mainstream society. Extreme sports and adventure films have used the advancements in media-creating technology to showcase the boundaries of human ability and the relationship between man and the natural world at a deep and intimate level.
As climate change and the human impact on the environment has become more noticeable, the role of the environment and the way it is portrayed in adventure films has also changed. Advancements in technology have broadened the horizons of media creators, allowing them to take cameras and film equipment to the farthest, harshest and most challenging locations throughout the world. These changes have completely altered the style, story and videography within adventure sport films creating a new sub-genre of film. Within this new sub-genre, we see films that focus more on the environment as a subject and its relationship to those within and around it, rather than an object to be used for fun, excitement and risk taking.
A LOOK INTO THE PAST
“That’s It, That’s All” is a classic Travis Rice snowboarding film originally released in 2008 by Red Bull, produced by Brain Farm Productions and directed by Curt Morgan. It runs just over an hour long, jam packed with incredibly nostalgic footage of Travis Rice as he enters the professional snowboarding world to the beat of headbanging rock music. The film takes place over many different locations including New Zealand, Jackson Hole and Alaska, following the crew of snowboarders around the globe as they push the boundaries and experiment with their chosen adventure sport. Their motivation resides around the notion that they need to do something new, whether that be a trick, line or zone that has never been ridden before.
Looking past the incredible snowboarding, nostalgic late 2000’s style and loud music, it becomes noticeable that nature is only a backdrop for bigger, more exciting activities. The natural landscape is continuously shown as a place of beauty and vastness but still as a scenic backdrop for the human activity within it. We can also see that the majority of the lines they hit have kickers and run-ins built into the line showing that they have previously gone out to the zone and altered this landscape, allowing them to perform certain tricks that would be otherwise impossible. We can see how they have changed and controlled the landscape to better fit their needs. By adding in the constant use of helicopters and snowmobiles shows that they will use whatever means necessary to accomplish their goal of pushing the boundaries of the sport, even if it means to burn fossil fuels and use mechanical help with a larger impact on the environment to get there.
We can also see that nature is an antagonist in the film that will stop at nothing to thwart the efforts of the snowboarders by the way they talk about the dangers of the mountains and the footage they show of nature with non-human interaction. The shots of nature without human interference are so brief that we don’t truly get a chance to process the vastness of the natural landscape or learn about the landscape these snowboarders are recreating in before being thrown back into an awesome fray of heli drops, backcountry booters and big lines.
A LOOK AT THE PRESENT
By taking a look at a more recent ski film like Patagonia Films’ “Treeline: The Secret Life of Trees,” paints a completely different picture when compared to “That’s It, That’s All.” “Treeline” was released on January 27, 2019, and has a runtime of forty minutes. The film follows a number of skiers, snowboarders and scientists through various regions in North America and Japan. Their goal is to better understand the secret life of the trees that have been a key aspect to their favorite adventure sports and the lessons that can be learned from these beings witnessing the changing Earth for thousands of years. It feels less like your typical ski film filled with action and adventure and more like an opportunity to learn a lesson that is bigger than just the skiing and snowboarding showcased within the film.
It becomes immediately obvious within the first few seconds of the film that it pays much more attention to the natural environment without human interference. We can see that the filmmakers acknowledge the fact that nature comes first. We can also see this by looking closer at the shots of skiing and snowboarding throughout the film. The shots are very carefully framed so that the skier or rider is almost invisible amidst the snow and trees around them or as if it was filmed through the perspective of the trees themselves.
We can also immediately tell that human skill and ability are not the center of attention in this film; it’s the act of the sport itself facilitated by the interaction between human and nature that matters most, unlike the human centric point of view of “That’s It, That’s All.” This is reinforced by having all of the human interactions with nature being human powered. By having ski touring and splitboarding as the main modes of transportation, the featured skiers, splitboarders and filmmakers immediately show that they are recreating in a less intrusive and harmful way. This indicates that these recreationalists are more focused on the environment than the highest reaches of human ability.
“Treeline”also shows a new perspective on the relationship between man and nature. Instead of nature being seen as an antagonist, like in “That’s It, That’s All,”nature is seen as a friendly force that should be preserved, cherished and cared for like a family member or friend. Every tree has a spirit, and we can tap into a deeper understanding of the connection between humans and nature, through adventure sports like splitboarding and ski touring. By personifying trees and these natural landscapes, the film challenges the audience’s possible previous notion that nature is dead, unmoving, and always the same. This helps the audience connect to the trees and natural landscapes as well, thinking and viewing them as they would a person or subject, rather than object or a background to be looked at and admired.
By comparing these movies from different time periods within adventure sport culture, we can notice a big change in the way adventure sports have become viewed by those who actively participate in them and by those who view them. We can see that nature has transformed from a stagnant yet dangerous enemy attempting to hinder those trying to progress human ability — to a dynamic, living and intelligent friend of those who decide to acknowledge its presence. We can see that the natural landscape these adventure sports take place in have changed from being portrayed as a backdrop for greater human achieving, to the subject of the films themselves, and the answer to why these athletes are even out there in the first place. These changes have created a viewing experience that produces different tones, themes and lessons for the audience than what similar adventure films have produced in the past.
That isn’t to say that there are no longer movies that don’t have these aspects. There are many incredible new pieces of adventure film which showcase incredible human feats that fall into a similar category as “That’s It, That’s All.” However, the arrival and increase in frequency of the movies that do have these changes signify the creation of a new sub-genre within the adventure ski film industry that acknowledges the importance of the lessons and connections that can be found through recreation in natural landscapes unaltered by human interaction.