Athletes pushing each other in fascinating ways while the rest of us sit in the comfort and safety of the bleachers or the couch will always be fascinating. They dare to do things that most of us couldn’t even attempt. It’s one thing to watch a pro hit a home run, throw a slam dunk or score a touchdown. It’s another to see the action-adventure athletes in HBO edge of the earth.
It’s as extreme as extreme sports. You watch snowboarding, skiing, kayaking, free climbing and big wave surfing in the farthest corners of the globe. With jaw-dropping moments and beautifully shot visuals, this four-part documentary series (a partnership between HBO and Teton Gravity Research) directed by Steve Jones and Todd Jones is breathtaking. The Joneses bring you closer with scenes that will leave you in awe.
What separates edge of the earth of a typical outdoor sports film is the degree of difficulty. These thrill seekers push the limits of what humans can achieve by venturing into incredibly hard-to-reach places. Just reaching remote areas like Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska, the Chalupas River in Llanganates National Park in Ecuador, and Pik Slesova in Kyrgyzstan seems overwhelming.
It’s amazing to watch these athletes battle climate change, border disputes, droughts, rainstorms, snowstorms, avalanches, and the pandemic, among other challenges, all in pursuit of the impossible. Steve Jones and Todd Jones are good at selecting athletes with different stories to tell. Fortunately, edge of the earth does not follow a predictable pattern. There are successes, failures and surprises.
The biggest heroes of this documentary series are the people behind the camera work. There are a lot of shots where you wonder, “how did they do that?” Some appear to be from helicopters, drones or GoPros. There are shots so intimate they leave you in awe of the craftsmanship. Attention to detail makes a huge difference when watching real-life dramas unfold.
Of the three episodes made available to Awful Announcing for review, the first (“Into the Void”) might be the most compelling. Snowboarders Jeremy Jones and Elena Hight and skier Griffin Post embark on a quest to conquer Mount Bertha in Glacier Bay National Park. Just getting to the mountain felt like something out of the Odyssey.
You cannot drive up the mountain. Not in Alaska where several parts of the state are only accessible by air or sea. There is a process. There is planning. The trip begins with a 25-hour boat ride from Juneau to the edge of the glacier. Next comes a 15 mile hike through frozen terrain to reach base camp.
Because this is Alaska, the last great American frontier, you’re going to encounter some unpredictable elements. A snowstorm on the boat. A snowstorm while hiking. A snowstorm while sleeping in tents. Not to mention avalanches and crevasses. Danger lurks everywhere, and the worst case scenario is that you don’t come back alive.
Here you see the importance of having good teammates. It’s fun to watch Jones, Hight and Post work together to overcome obstacles. They are determined but intelligent in their choices. When they finally reach Mount Bertha, you can see the pure joy on their faces.
“There really is nothing quite like climbing a mountain and standing on it,” Hight said. “That feeling of just complete presence, knowing that you can achieve things that you might not have thought possible, I think is a feeling of courage and freedom.”
Again, the images are outstanding. One has the impression of being immersed in this expedition. All episodes have this inescapable quality.
edge of the earth asks the question: is the pursuit worth the risk? For these daredevils, it’s an obvious yes. But we also wonder: at what potential cost, especially for those with families? A wrong step, a wrong turn can be fatal. It’s up to the viewer to decide for themselves.
Edge of the Earth premieres Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HBO. Subsequent episodes will follow on the next three Tuesdays at this time. The series will also be available to stream on HBO Max.