On Friday, October 13th in 1972 a plan carrying a Uruguayan Rugby Team and their travelling companions was chartered to bring the team to Chile for a competition. Due to a miscalculation on the part of the pilot, the plane turned too soon and wound up heading straight into the remote Andes Mountains, the massive range that separates the two South American countries. The plane hit a peak and went down, splitting into a few different pieces as it blew apart. Miraculously, the main front portion of the fuselage remained more or less intact and many of those in that part of the plane were alive when it touched down in the snowy and desolate area, though many were injured and wouldn't be alive much longer.
Those who survived did what they could to hang out. They fashioned snowshoes out of seat cushions and huddled inside the wreckage to try and stay warm. They would melt snow against metal in the sun to get fresh water and rationed candy and snacks that were on board for sustenance. This wouldn't last them long, however, and they were soon faced with a very severe food shortage. With animals around to hunt nor any vegetation to gather, the only option the increasingly dwindling group had at their disposal was to eat the flesh of their former teammates - it was that, or starve to death. Eventually one of the more determined of the group, Nando Parrado, would, with some help from one other man, make it through the mountains to civilization where a kindly peasant farmer would help them get a rescue crew into the hills. This voyage, however, would pose its own set of challenges thanks to snow blindness, remarkably rough terrain, and no way of telling what direction they were actually heading in. When all was said and done, it would be seventy-two days before anyone from the crash was rescued.
Part real life horror film and part inspirational testament to man's will to survive, I Am Alive let's Nando Parrado tell his story in his own words thanks to some interviews with the man and some of the other survivors. He speaks of how he found the will to make it through the mountains by focusing on his desire to see his father again and discusses the decision he and his fellow travelers made to eat their deceased friends and teammates in fairly frank and blunt terms. The documentary uses some better than average reenactments to show us what it had to have been like stranded up in the mountains and some CGI animation to show us how the plane crash likely occurred, but the best content in the feature comes from Parrado's story rather than the flashy visuals.
The documentary lasts just over an hour and a half, which seems to be the right amount of time given that it's consistently interesting throughout, though if it has one flaw it's that it focuses far more on Parrado than anyone else in the group. Input from experts on airplane technology and mountaineering explain how and why some of the events that took place occurred and do a fine job of answering questions that come up during the interview, but the focal point remains Parrado's actions more so than anyone else. Given that he was the one insisting on making the trek from the wreckage to civilization this makes sense, but had the documentary spent a bit more time allowing the other players to tell their side of the story, it might have been slightly more fulfilling. Regardless, as it stands, this is a well made version of a fascinating and remarkable story.
I Am Alive is presented in 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen and it looks pretty good for the most part. Clarity and detail on the disc are both pretty good and the transfer shows nice color reproduction. Some of the archival photographs and clips used in the production are a bit rough looking but the newly shot interview bits and CGI bit and the reenactment scenes are all nicely detailed and clean looking.
The only audio option offered is an English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix, there are no subtitles or alternate language options provided. The quality of the mix is pretty decent, with some good left to right channel separation throughout. Dialogue is easy to understand and follow and there are no problems at all to report with any hiss or distortion. Bass and the lower end of the mix has some nice oomph to it (you'll notice this during the CGI plane crash) and the narration is easy to understand overtop of the sound effects and music used throughout the series.
While most History Channel release tend to skimp on the extra features, I Am Alive actually has a good bit of extra content to explore. Return To The Valley Of Tears (5:40) gives us a look at the expedition that retraced the steps that the survivors had to take out of the mountains and a look at the actual crash site itself and what remains of it today. The Parrado Family Business (3:50) brings us up to speed on what Parrado has done with his life since escaping from the Andes alive and offers us a tour of the hardware store he runs. Traces Of Tragedy: Artifacts From The Andes Plane Crash (7:36) is a look at some of the bits and pieces of the plane and items left by those travelling in it that were found up in the mountains by the expedition that travelled there - there's everything from American cash burnt in the wreckage to fully intact wool sweaters. Behind The Scenes Of I Am Alive (5:51) shows us how the reenactment footage was shot and what the cast and crew went through to get these scenes done properly.
The Extended Interviews (9:03) section includes talks with Roberto and Laura Canessa, Graciela Parrado, Jose Luis Nicola and Brother Eamon O'Donnell. Rounding out the extras is a slideshow, some menus and chapter selection for the main feature. Working this footage into the feature itself would have been a good idea, but for whatever reason (probably running time) that didn't happen - but hey, it's here and worth seeing if you want input from others involved in the incident.
A harrowing and disturbing story of the lengths people will go to in order to survive, I Am Alive makes for a pretty gripping watch. Since the documentary was made with the participation of those who lived the experience, it makes for a pretty convincing piece of moviemaking. The presentation is a good one and the extras solid as well. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.