Red Bull Media House continues to build an impressive library of films. The cinematography is not just top-shelf. It’s approaching a level that nobody else can touch. They get shots that nobody else gets. They get these shots from multiple angles. They get these shots in some kind of Hyper-HD that explodes off the screen and makes you want to ride a snowboard down Everest. It’s insane eye-candy and they seem to never make a mis-step in their storylines either.
The formula is simple yet effective. Take hyper-crazy athletes in search for the ultimate adrenaline rush and make them likable and normal. Somehow make it seem perfectly normal to go skiing with two helicopters, a plane, and 4 cameras in the most beautiful places on earth. Talk about pushing the limits, throw in some killer music and then feed it to the X-games generation.
It’s worked flawlessly over the years. The Art of Flight being in my opinion the best they’ve ever done.
On one hand, McConkey fits nicely into the Red Bull library. It has all the earmarks – great location, great cinematography, great music, and a plot line that celebrates an incredible athlete whose only purpose in life was to push the limits of a pleasure-seeking lifestyle.
On the other hand, McConkey is a disturbing journey into a world of another kind of addiction – the adrenaline rush.
Shane McConkey grew up a ski bum. After getting kicked off the US Ski Team and having a run of hard luck that meant living in basements and cars, he finally found his cause in becoming a pioneer in freestyle and backcountry skiing. He introduced the world to fat skis and concaved ski bases. Now if you have no idea what that means, think of it this way. McConkey was the guy who changed the way every single person skis deep powder and backcountry by using skis the size of water-skis. It changed everything.
He would over the years then push into sky-diving then BASE-jumping then BASE-jumping with flight suits then BASE-jumping off skis which ultimately led him to a high cliff in Italy where he was attempting to put it all together. Skiing off a cliff, kicking off skis to use a flight suit and then ultimately parachuting down.
As the film documents this evolution of adrenaline addiction, McConkey fits the role of Red Bull athlete to a T. He’s wild. He’s a bit crazy. But he’s fun and likable. We learn something about Shane along the way. He’s not only a total nut – willing to pull off next to anything for a rush or a laugh – but he is also a complete control freak.
It’s a weird mix. We see Shane ski down mountains buck-naked. We also see him with maps and elevation charts measuring out every single move of a particular stunt. He’s an adrenaline junkie but he approaches this obsession with the mindset of a pilot and an engineer. Shane had over 800 BASE jumps under his belt. He journaled every one in glorious detail.
As McConkey heads to the final act of the film, it’s clear how this is going to end. The film takes a completely defensive position – justifying the life of McConkey as ‘living life to the fullest’ and ‘pushing the limits of what it means to be human.’
What is aggravating about this is that the film makes it sound like he is out to cure cancer or rid the world of hunger. While McConkey comes across as a likable guy as does the rest of his crew, at the end of the door they spend their days seeking personal pleasure. They aren’t making the world a better place. It’s a living, breathing brochure of the Entitled Generation and how they will ride this train to the bitter end.
The film tastefully handles Shane’s death. They never show a direct shot of his ski’s not popping off nor his parachute not deploying. We get the sound of shock from the filmmakers as they watch it unfold in their viewfinders. We get the look of lostness and shock of those watching in real time.
What we don’t get is any kind of mature perspective on the whole situation. Shane McConkey died doing a pointless stunt and left behind a wife and a 3-year old daughter. More disturbing than that, he leaves behind a litany of fans and followers who think his life is one to be emulated.
McConkey is an apologist film for the extreme lifestyle. And it’s well done in typical Red Bull style. What’s disturbing is what Red Bull conveniently ignores. How far is to far? What is really getting accomplished by all of this except selling an energy drink and making the rich richer? What responsibility – if any – does Red Bull have in pushing these athletes further and further?
My hunch is they would go there anyway. It’s just how they are wired. Red Bull is just taking the rid with them, making money and movies as they go. At the end of the day, it was Shane who jumped off the cliff by his own will and design. There was no pushing from a corporate sponsor.
It doesn’t mean I have to be comfortable with the arrangement though. It’s stunning film-making. It’s incredible craft filming these incredible athletes. But it’s also a clear statement that they believe the only responsibility they have is to themselves and their pursuit of more.
A pursuit of a more that will never be fulfilled. A completely vain and selfish life, filmed in glorious HD, set to wonderful music. For Red Bull fans and extreme sports lover, this will be must-see. For others, it’s a tragic tale of a likable but self-indulgent athlete that was only going to end one way.