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Movie Review

With more and more teens getting high on adrenaline, and team sports giving way to high-octane self-expression, ESPN capitalized on that by mainstreaming extreme sports such as BMX, skateboarding, freestyle motocross, street luge and other activities. They called it The X Games. In the early days, events included shovel racing and bungee kayaking, but they evolved and picked up momentum, in part because of the marketing machine behind ESPN (a Walt Disney channel), which has released the IMAX experience Ultimate X, which is essentially a 40-minute promotional video for X Games programming. The movie includes a screaming rock soundtrack and interviews with athletes who took part in the 2001 Summer X Games.

positive elements: At least onscreen, athletes cheer for and respect one another’s accomplishments.

spiritual content: Idol worship—of the participants and the activities—is alive and well at the X Games. One skater says of the leader in his event, "My idol. My savior. God. Tony Hawk is God." A fan holds a sign that reads, "Bucky [Lasek] is God." An athlete says of his sport, "It’s my life. It’s my religion."

sexual content: None, though guys and girls at the event are clearly scoping each other out, physically, and some of the X athletes remove any doubt that they’re out to impress women.

violent content: The film’s final five minutes are a montage of violent, bone-crunching mishaps.

crude or profane language: Two crude expressions, two mild profanities.

drug and alcohol content: None.

other negative elements: Taking a page from pro wrestling, a motorcycle team called the Metal Militia aligns itself with a "bad guy" image. One of its members says he is "a role model for a different group . . . the kid in detention can look up to the Militia." Expressing a love for his sport’s laid-back, even immodest dress code, a young man says, "You can sag your pants, let the crack hang out . . . you can be a freak."

conclusion: Ultimate sports take viewers for a pretty wild ride on that huge IMAX screen. Bikes flying. Street lugers racing downhill at breakneck speed. You haven’t seen a skateboard wipeout until you’ve seen one on a screen five stories high. However, the packaging for this rush deserves a warning label. Young men talk about their insatiable desire for a new experiential high. But what happens when taking your game to the next level means an even more reckless disregard for life and limb? Although one player admits he and his peers are "messed up in the head," these adrenaline junkies proceed to revel in the risks—even the possibility of death. Athletes boast of broken bones and near-fatal accidents. Also, the events seem like a blast, and the guys (and girl) doing them make them look easy at times, which will undoubtedly cause some teens to try them at home with far less success.

A freestyle motorbike rider famous for doing mid-air flips encourages young wannabes to push the envelope ever further: "If they aren’t out trying it, then that’s how the sport dies off." Better the sport than a thrill-seeking teen. There’s a thin line between fun and insanity.

By the way, I always get a kick out of seeing a new generation of nonconformists from a particular subculture whose members, expressing a radical brand of rogue individualism, dress alike, talk alike, act alike and even pierce and tattoo themselves the same way. Indeed, Ultimate X is as much about attitude as athletics, and the prevailing attitude is one some parents won’t want their teens embracing.


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