If you’re afraid of heights like I am, the concept of ‘Chasing the Jet Stream’ will almost certainly terrify you - jumping from up to 10,000 metres off the ground at speeds of over 300km/hr. Sounds insane, right? Well, this is no Red Bull documentary, so strap yourself in for some education to accompany the wild ride.
Marc Hauser is a Swiss entrepreneur in his 40s. Always searching for the next new adventure, he holds the record for the fastest horizontal free fall at 304km/hr (189mph). Marc comes up with an idea to top that - use the earth’s hurricane-strength jet stream as a tailwind. The only problem is that the jet streams occur from around 8,000 metres (over 26,000 feet) above the earth’s surface, where there’s little to no oxygen and temperatures can reach -70°C (-94°F). Marc travels the globe to train and prepare for the record-breaking attempt - but is it worth putting his life at risk?
This is a peculiar format for a documentary; it knows what the audience wants to see is the payoff - Marc’s jump - but also knows it needs to be more substantial than just that. So we embark on many tangents to get to the end result, some of which work, while others don’t. We meet the startup companies who are also trying to harness the power of the jet stream to generate energy, and while it’s interesting and extremely effective, it’s not entirely relevant. We also see Marc and his team endure lots of tests - skydiving landings, checking their equipment in miserably freezing conditions, and preparing for hypoxia.
It’s also not the most beautifully shot documentary, relying almost exclusively on fly-on-the-wall filming. It’s not unwatchable by any means, but we’ve started to expect a certain production quality to documentaries, and ‘Chasing the Jet Stream’ doesn’t have it. In addition to its look, the choice of narrator is a misstep, not matching the film’s style at all. If anything, the entire production feels a little cheap, almost made-for-TV.
However, Marc’s enthusiasm and single-mindedness are contagious, and it’s both jaw-dropping watching him attempt this mad stunt, and also mind-blowing. Given that a human being has never jumped into the jet stream before, the team are starting from scratch, and some of the ideas they come up with are wildly innovative. Marc decides to use, of all things, a hot air balloon, with no modifications to the device other than a basic standing platform secured to the outside of the basket with a hinge. Add to that Marc’s preexisting fear of heights, and that makes him either incredibly brave or completely foolish.
Marc’s enthusiasm and single-mindedness are contagious, and it’s both jaw-dropping watching him attempt this mad stunt, and also mind-blowing.
Marc’s perseverance takes us on a journey around the world in order to complete his mission. Based in Europe, he initially plans to launch from Germany during winter, the time when the jet stream is at its peak. Yet a bad turn in the weather prevents this, and instead of waiting for the colder months to roll around again, Marc decides to take himself and his equipment all the way to the other side of the planet to Australia. The logistics involved in this alone are extraordinary, and further emphasise Marc’s unwavering dedication to the jump.
While it’s not a perfect film, the story behind ‘Chasing the Jet Stream’ is fascinating, and it’s to its detriment that the documentary isn’t a leaner or glossier affair. Even if you can’t fathom why Marc is doing what he’s doing, you can respect the effort he puts in, so it’s a shame the film isn’t always with him. Far from being for adrenaline junkies, this is a quiet documentary that needed a little more grunt to get it off the ground.