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It's brown underwear time!

If you ever wondered what went through the head of Isaac Newton when he first discovered gravity, then the answer would be an apple. However, if you've wanted to know everything about jumping off a perfectly stable platform but were afraid to ask (or perform the deeds thereof), then this DVD is for you.

Baseclimb & Baseclimb 2 (Defying Gravity)
BASE-jumping, as it's known, is an acronym for the four major places that one can take one step too many from ... B for Building, A for Antenna (or crane), S for Span (or bridge) and E for Earth (cliff etc). This DVD houses two separate documentaries about the challenges faced by a group of people who felt that leading a normal mundane life just wasn't enough for them. Personally, I admire their drive to go beyond the realms of the everyday ... maybe one day I will fulfil my own dream of jumping out of a perfectly good aeroplane myself. (Addition: I finally took the plunge in 2003).

Both productions are barely an hour long, although this is probably for the best since any more explanation might have been lost on its audience. Since it was meant for presentation on TV, this unavoidable limitation doesn't really give us a sense of what these people went through personally. Also, the stories that we partake in here are more like a set of journal entries rather than an actual journey of discovery for these enthusiasts. Their experiences would not only have involved the extensive preparations taken for each jump, but also the personal growth that one obviously goes through when overcoming one's fears and anxieties about the many hazards involved in such an expedition.

On the same note, the reactions from these enthusiasts may well be taken by some ordinary-living folk as being either over-zealous (BaseClimb) or even self-absorbed (BaseClimb 2). You can argue about their personal motivations to involve themselves in such risky activities at the cost of their own lives (and the frayed nerves of their loved ones), but regardless of this there wouldn't be too many others out there who'd be willing to take on this kind of challenge, so we should at least admire their dedication to it. Also, since these BASE-jumpers have never been trained in the art of acting I'd say that what you see onscreen would well be the natural response of anyone going through the extremes of physical, mental and emotional pressures that one would put themself through. Even if these reactions may intially seem unpalatable to some, at least they are honest ... much like an athlete in the Olympics I guess.

Baseclimb & Baseclimb 2 (Defying Gravity)
Movie
The first story begins with the perfect marriage of two men (no, not that kind of marriage), each with the individual skills of climber and jumper, resulting in the unprecedented event that they ultimately saw to fruition. The second story continues on but without the original BASE-jumper involved (gee, I hope he didn't fall off a chair and die or anything) and the climber's wife takes on this new challenge.

BaseClimb
In the early 1990s, Glenn Singleman (a doctor and seasoned climber) and Nic Feteris (a veteran BASE-jumper) joined forces to teach each other their specific talents and leap off The Great Tragon Tower cliff-face in Pakistan (a whole 6258 metres high). Both of these men were novices about each other's chosen "hobby" before they met, yet were determined to overcome their own "comfort zones" in order to pursue their common dream (ie  they were basically s***-scared of the other's skills-base that each of them had to learn). As much as you would think that only a maniac would partake in such actions, it is made clear from the start that there is a distinct difference between planning to do something that is dangerous as against blindly going out to do something irresponsible.

BaseClimb 2
Later that same decade, the wife of Glenn Singleman, Heather Swan, may have wondered if the pursuit of Newton's First Law of Physics was only a macho-male testosterone-fueled activity. She then followed in the footsteps of her husband to share in his dream of BASE-jumping from an even taller elevation, Ama Dablam (another 600m higher than Tragon Tower). Having only previously experienced the dizzying heights of an upstairs office-block, she undertook a two-year excercise and training regime. It not only tested her own fear-induced limitations that are paramount to anyone's personal sense-of-safety, but Glenn's rare medical condition (already exacerbated during his original expedition to Pakistan) meant that it would be even more hard-going than before. They also enlisted the help of experts to further instruct them in the two obvious fields needed for their adventure - Marta Empinotti (the world's most experienced female basejumper) and Russell Brice (the world's foremost high-altitude mountaineer).

Baseclimb & Baseclimb 2 (Defying Gravity)
BaseClimb 1 tends to use a lot of the cheap (but effective) "fish-eye lens" technique, which is often used for that "in-your-face" look to low-budget film and video productions (such as skateboarding etc). Another thing about this jump footage is that either the cameras have been overcranked to give a slow-motion appearance to the feeling of freefall, otherwise this is what jumping off a 6km high cliff really looks like.

As for BaseClimb 2, the text-graphics that adorn the feature throughout look remarkably like those you'd find on a home-PC digital video-editing suite. In fact, I'd say that the whole production was accomplished in this way (maybe they used a Genlock'd Amiga system, for all my fellow geeks out there).

Video
The differences between BaseClimb and BaseClimb 2 are like chalk and cheese - BaseClimb 1 was produced entirely on what must have been the cheapest of cheap film stock in the 4:3 ratio, whereas BaseClimb 2 was shot on a more reasonably-budgeted video format in 16:9 enhanced widescreen. Both of these rather disparate looking documentaries exhibit a reasonable viewing image each.

BaseClimb is predominantly in soft focus throughout with lots of film artifacts abound (which I assume was 16mm), the colour scheme is basic and pretty unremarkable with the whole production having the feel of a very cheap 1980s B-grade movie (not to mention the occasional Crocodile Hunter-style dialogue that carries us through it all). Grain obviously is a major element to which it cannot be ignored but it's far from distracting, MPEG compression is still given a run for its money on a dual-layer DVD and shadow detail suffers greatly along with the hope of any decent black levels. Even with this in mind though, the brightness level is more than adequate so that you are able to watch everything without squinting into the darkness, but at the same time there is a continual murkiness about the picture which I'm sure was unavoidable given the relatively amateur photography of the expedition by this duo. The one thing that dates this picture even more is the rather 80s looking logo of the sponsor for this excursion - it's an image that shows up every time the parachute is opened, so I'll let you discover this for yourselves.

BaseClimb 2 is a marked improvement over the original production since everything was captured on video, but still has its faults. This production exhibits variable results in all aspects of image quality and generally it looks worse when the lighting conditions are less favourable, but sharpness is the first improvement over the original production although it's still far short of absolute pinpoint clarity. Colours go from being reasonably vibrant to outright dull depending on the particular location shoot, although some of this footage does come from domestic home-video cameras (from the various first-person perspective freefalls and the tents high up on the mountains). Grain is kept at a minimum which is to be expected from this source and it isn't at all intrusive, MPEG compression is given some breathing space at last, and the black levels range from naturally deep to very good. The brightness level is again high enough so that you won't have to push the contrast up towards an unnatural setting.

Baseclimb & Baseclimb 2 (Defying Gravity)
Quality here comes only a distant second to the experience of watching the moving-images themselves - these screenshots do not do the video itself justice, but they should give you an idea of what to expect.

Audio
The two soundtracks here are as different as rock and snow ... one hits you on the head with its rough edges, the other helps to soften the blow ... sorry, I couldn't think of a better analogy here.

BaseClimb is perfectly suited to the TV as this was always intended for broadcast over the airwaves, but the same mix is a totally different experience when pumped through a decent home theatre setup. Indeed, it probably breaks all the rules of an acceptable surround soundtrack (even though it wasn't purposely mixed for Pro-Logic of course). The first thing you can't fail to notice is the bleeding of the dubbed-in voice-over tracks into the surrounds and even the subwoofer at times ... it honestly feels like you can hear these people inside your head ala Inner Space (such as those times when you hear that gruff little voice uttering the words "kill them!" thereby affecting your sanity *grin*). There is also a hint of stereo fighting its way out to be heard, but it's constantly doing battle with the mono-dominated location sound recordings, which feel like they've been given one of those ugly stereo-enhancements for reverb and generally fake-envelopment of the action onscreen.

BaseClimb 2, however, thankfully comes back to some form of normalcy with the mix well and truly anchored into the centre channel with the main fronts providing limited support as well. The surround and subwoofer do not come into play this time around.

In both cases, these mixes are perfectly acceptable on a standard mono/stereo TV set, which is obviously what they were produced for anyway. Also, BaseClimb and BaseClimb 2 contains music that was composed by the same person, which has this somewhat "wonderous" element to it that is both inspirational whilst almost becoming "skin-crawling" in its cheesiness, although it is much less obvious in BaseClimb 2 (but still noticable). There are no subtitles whatsoever, which is only a mild annoyance when listening to the original BaseClimb's dialogue.

Extras
Not much here, but they could have presented them so much better. Firstly, the deleted scenes for BaseClimb 2 (oddly marked as just Special Features) are a group of post-produced clips which could have easily been dropped back into the main feature itself instead making them look like seemingly uninteresting video spots. Then there's the Photo Gallery of 18 shots showing three to a page, which basically ruins the impact that they might have received if each image was just given its own individual fullscreen page. This is truly an unacceptable treatment of both sets of supplements, so whoever did this should consider taking up an extra lesson on interactive DVD aesthetics (if he/she hasn't already).

Baseclimb & Baseclimb 2 (Defying Gravity)
If there's one thing that might have improved this two-part set of documentaries, it'd be a collectable booklet jotting down some of the thoughts that these people had, which would have been hard to convey in the visual medium. No doubt a whole book on their experiences would make for some entertaining reading whilst being cozied up in your safe and comfy bed!

Summary
After you have watched these two documentaries on the preparation and dedication taken to reach for the skies only to plummet back down to earth, you'll wonder why you haven't done this before yourself. According to these adventurers, anyone can do it, therefore the only thing you have to fear is fear itself.

This DVD is worth watching for its rather unique stories. And with the events that transpire at the end of the second outing, it almost hints at whether we will see a BaseClimb 3 in the near future - I hope we do.

(Addition: You can view the latest news of their exploits on the official <a href=http://www.baseclimb.com>;website</a> including the book as well as the upcoming Baseclimb 3 event).


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