Three days from now, world-class athletes from around the globe will assemble in Sochi, Russia, for the 22nd Winter Olympics. Commanding the passion and attention of just about every demographic, the Olympics are a monocultural spectacle like few others in today’s fragmented media landscape. Millions of viewers tune in not only for the pomp, pageantry, and patriotism on display, but also to participate in a two-week cultural conversation that, in the age of Twitter, leads to the instantaneous minting of memes and coronation of (temporary) celebrities.
But why wait for Sochi? Here at Screen Invasion, we’ve been thinking about the most memorable cinematic depictions of cold-weather pastimes. From James Bond to Gordon Bombay, these ersatz athletes have achieved a glory that lasts longer than an Olympic cycle, and to celebrate we’re handing out our own gold, silver, and bronze medals in several disciplines.
Gold: Cool Runnings (1993)
For many – particularly those born after 1980 – Cool Runnings is the quintessential Winter Olympics movie, based on the true story of the Jamaican bobsled team that unexpectedly qualified for the 1988 Games in Calgary. Though in many ways a complete fabrication (the Jamaicans were warmly welcomed by their competitors and, as far as we know, no lucky eggs or line dancing brawls with bullying East Germans were involved), Cool Runnings became a family classic by virtue of its infectious optimism and staunch belief in the purity of the Olympic spirit. And now that the Jamaicans’ premise of using elite sprinters to achieve faster push starts has been copied by other nations in real life, perhaps we should take their story a little more seriously?
Silver: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
The thrilling climax of George Lazenby’s first and only outing as British super-spy James Bond takes place on the famed bobsled run of St. Moritz, the Swiss resort that hosted the Winter Games in 1928 and 1948. As his alpine hideout is blown to pieces, villainous SPECTRE head honcho Ernest Blofield attempts to escape via bobsled, with Bond in hot pursuit. 007 keeps a mighty cool head for a beginner which is more than can be said for Blofield, who loses his to a low-hanging tree branch.
Bronze: Schwere Jungs (2007)
Ok, so bobsledding isn’t a terribly popular subject for feature films. But it’s enough of a genre to spawn its own copycats, like this German film that scans as a Teutonic interpretation of the Cool Runnings myth. Schwere Jungs (translated as “Heavyweights” in English-speaking markets) embellishes the true story of the German team that used especially corpulent athletes to win two medals at the 1952 Games in Oslo – a strategy that inspired the sport’s governing body to institute maximum weight limits for competitors.
Gold: Blades of Glory (2007)
Figure skating means high-flying maneuvers, overwrought on- and off-ice drama, and gloriously sequined outfits. All these elements received a good-natured ribbing in Blades of Glory, the best “Will Ferrell as an athlete” vehicle thus far – and possibly the only one that truly respects the world it inhabits, judging by the number of cameos from the sport’s luminaries. As the first-ever same-gender pairs skating team, Ferrell and Jon Heder turn what could’ve easily been a smorgasbord of crass gay panic punchlines into a sweet story of male bonding. Toss in Will Arnett and Amy Poehler as a devious (and incestuous) brother-sister team and a death-defying move known as “The Iron Lotus” (it once decapitated a North Korean skater!), and you’ve got underrated comedy gold.
Silver: The Cutting Edge (1992)
Of course, Blades of Glory probably wouldn’t exist if not for The Cutting Edge, the original odd-couple pairs skating movie. As an arrogant retired hockey star and an arrogant figure skating diva, respectively, D.B Sweeney and Moira Kelly make an attractive couple, quipping their way from dysfunctional duo to effective athletic and romantic unit. The hoary opposites-attract premise works because the movie remains committed to screwball fun, allowing the audience to take even something as ridiculous as the Pamchenko Twist – a risky move that resembles a pro wrestling “giant swing” – completely seriously.
Bronze: Ice Princess (2005)
Can I interest you in a G-rated Disney film about a bookworm (Michelle Trachtenberg) who uses her knowledge of physics to become an overnight skating sensation? How about a stellar female-dominated cast featuring Kim Cattrall, Joan Cusack, and Hayden Panettiere? Or maybe a script co-written by Princess Diaries author Meg Cabot? No? What if I tell you that Ice Princess is the type of earnest, old-fashioned family drama that’s increasingly rare in today’s movie landscape and also prominently features ”Ice, Ice Baby” in the trailer? Yep, that should work.
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