UPDATE: Meth, MSR, and the movies

A new hiking flick tests the theory that all publicity is good publicity

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[UPDATE: This post originally appear on Monday, August 10. Since then, I’ve spoken to an MSR representative who shed light on negotiations between the studio and the tent maker. Scroll to the bottom of the page for the surprising new information.]

Went to the movies last night after climbing Longs Peak with my daughter and stuffing myself silly with a guacamole-smothered cheeseburger at Oskar Blues, a brewpub in Lyons, Colorado, that’s famous in these parts for having the best canned beer in America, aka Dale’s Pale Ale. We were spent, the house smelled like paint from the fresh coat in the living room, and the idea of a cool, dark theater just sounded right.

And I was dying to see The Perfect Getaway, a new movie starring Steve Zahn and Milla Jovavich as newbie backpackers honeymooning on Kauai’s Na’Pali Coast. The trailers promised mayhem and suspense — killers roaming the Kalaulau Trail in search of their next victims! — as well as gorgeous views of the world-renowned cliffs, canyons, and lush beaches. Trouble in paradise! With backpackers! At a location I planned to visit with my family next spring!

The movie was decent — not great, but some good twists and turns that kept me hanging just long enough. Witty here and there, and lots of pretty scenery to look at, both topographical and human (Kalaulau apparently has a rule allowing only hard, tanned bodies in skimpy swimsuits). And there was just enough scary-creep action that I don’t want my wife and kids to watch it before we do the hike.

But I’m not here to do a movie review. The thing that really caught my eye was the appearance of MSR gear at several points in the movie — none of them in a flattering light. In one scene, a bumbling Steve Zahn wrestles for what seems like forever with what appears to be a MSR Hubba Hubba tent. He thrashes and kicks and curses, and the tent still won’t go up correctly. The thing is lopsided with a floppy rainfly — a mess. Meanwhile, torrents of rain are flooding into the tent, and the giant MSR logo is visible right on its side. I cringed on behalf of MSR — you can’t possibly want this kind of exposure when you get a request from a Hollywood studio to show your product on film (we get requests every now and then to show Backpacker on a newsstand rack or coffee table in a movie). What doubles the pain they’re feeling in MSR’s Seattle HQ right now is the fact that the Hubba Hubba is extraordinarily easy to pitch (we gave it an Editors’ Choice Award in 2005), and that another guy in the movie effortlessly sets up his Mountain Hardwear tent right next door — perfectly pitched, sleek, no rain getting in. Ouch — I ‘m sure MSR would take that permission back if they could.

Could it get worse? If you’re a backpacker and recognize the singular design of the MSR Pocket Rocket stove, yes. Later in the movie, a backpacker on the beach pulls out this tiny wonder-stove, apparently to cook his mac ‘n cheese. “Aha,” I think, “MSR is about to get some rehabilitation!” Out comes the lighter, it fires up instantly, and there’s a tight blue flame. All good — until he lights the Pocket Rocket to cook the rocks in his meth pipe. If there’s any silver lining here, it’s that the Pocket Rocket scene doesn’t include any highly visible MSR logos. Oh, and that the crystal meth market might be a lucrative one for ultralight stove makers, just the kind to pull you through a tough economy.

[UPDATE: August 13 – Did MSR actually sign an agreement allowing the producers of The Perfect Getaway to feature the Hubba Hubba and Pocket Rocket in the movie? No! It turns out that the producers asked MSR for gear and permission, but were turned down. I spoke to Tami Fairweather, public relations and events manager at MSR, and she told me that the producers approached her last summer–a common thing–and the Seattle outdoor company decided not to give permission for the Hollywood folks to use their gear. The official MSR statement to BACKPACKER:

“We actually declined the product placement opportunity for this film, mainly due to the genre. It’s surprising how many outdoor thrillers and horror films ask us for products because they are looking for set authenticity (and free gear). Although it’s flattering, you can’t justify offering up product to be featured in who-knows-what-kind of crazy plot twists, the least of which is making the setup of a BACKPACKER Editors’ Choice-winning tent like the MSR Hubba Hubba look difficult.”

Tami also told me that MSR routinely receives requests for gear, but declines many of them due to liability releases that a first-year law student wouldn’t sign. Alas, there appears to be nothing that MSR or any other outdoor company can do to prevent a Hollywood moviemaker from buying the product and placing it in a film.]

-Jonathan Dorn