At just 74 minutes in length, Jennifer Peedom's Mountain (2017) doesn't sound like the kind of epic documentary that its subject matter promises. Yet the film's construction proves otherwise: scored by a live orchestra at the Sydney Opera House (conducted by Richard Tognetti) with narration by Willem Dafoe, this collection of beautiful, historical, and at times terrifying footage manages to create a hypnotic spell more often than not. Created in collaboration with at least a dozen cinematographers (including mountaineer and photographer Renan Ozturk, with whom Peedom collaborated with on her last documentary, 2014's Sherpa), will still be seen by some as nothing more than a highlight reel of gorgeous aerial footage and near-impossible shots of mountain climbers hard at work in their natural habitat.
It's more than that, although at times Mountain threatens to alienate new audiences by not digging below the surface. The source material is Robert Macfarlane's 2003 debut novel Mountains of the Mind, a deep and probing rumination about the "sport" that mountain climbing has come to be, decades and centuries removed from its origins as a more dangerous activity practices by only a select few explorers. Dafoe's narration is, by all accounts, occasional passages from the book, which were compiled and abridged by Macfarlane himself over a period of several years. Woven into the film's fabric are silent clips of early climbers and the unique challenges they faced, as well as humankind's ever-changing relationship with the planet's highest peaks and even the surprising role that mountains play in the ecosystems of plants and animals at or below their level. The unique way that Mountain presents such information will engage some audiences but likely turn off others: with such a deliberate (read: slow) pace and minimal narration, this documentary feels like every minute of its 74-minute runtime and possibly more. That's not necessarily a complaint, mind you, but anyone expecting more weight -- or even less -- might not be entirely captivated by anything other than the visuals.
While Mountain didn't necessarily blow me away (nor does it seem like it has substantially high replay value), this is certainly an interesting documentary made for a specific audience that will enjoy it. Luckily, Greenwich Entertainment's Blu-ray package offers a good amount of support including a rock-solid A/V presentation and a few surface-level extras. All things considered, it's a great disc if you really enjoyed the film...but for most, it's better suited as a rental.
Presented in a slightly opened up 2.25:1 aspect ratio, Mountain's visuals are obviously one of its most immediately striking aspects...so it's good to know that Greenwich Entertainment's Blu-ray delivers a strong and solid image with no obvious drawbacks. This was obviously a film shot with great care, as the 1080p transfer features a jaw-dropping amount of color and detail at times. Wide shots are simply fantastic, showcasing a tremendous level of depth. Even stray bits of historical footage, some of which are ravaged by age, still look good and appear to be framed at their original aspect ratio. Modern aerial shots, however, are where Mountain really soars: their stark beauty is almost hypnotic, and only a few occasional moments of banding and slight compression artifacts get in the way. But these are so minor that they're almost not worth mentioning, as the bulk of Mountain is as close to perfect as you'll get these days.
NOTE: The images on this page do not necessarily represent the title under review.
Mountain is an almost entirely music-driven affair, so it's not surprising that this DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio offers an extremely full, dynamic, and immersive sonic experience with strong channel separation and a great overall presence. Willem Dafoe's narration is anchored squarely up front, as are bits of on-screen audio uttered by the occasional climbers. Overall, it's a great track that, at times, commands your full attention. Optional English SDH subtitles have been included during the main feature, although this review is probably longer than the film's entire script.
The film-themed interface offers smooth, simple navigation, a clean layout, and no pre-menu distractions. Sub-menus are included for chapter selection, subtitle setup, and extras. This one-disc release is packaged in a standard (non-eco) keepcase with no inserts. Not really a fan of the cover art, though. Why not use the poster image below?
Several mid-length bonus experiences are included here, but most of them cover the same territory. "The Making of Mountain" (24:50) and "Behind the Mountain: A Conversation with Director Jennifer Peedom" (10:48) are both standard fare, covering such topics as Robert Macfarlane's 2003 source novel Mountains of the Mind, Peedom's experiences as a climber and director, scoring the film live, cinematography, the editing process, and much more. We also get a Q&A with writer Robert Macfarlane and mountaineer Matthew Dieumegard-Thornton (34:19), who take turns interviewing each other about their careers, how the film affected them, and other items. Also here is Mountain's Theatrical Trailer (2:44), which captures its overall spirit pretty well but naturally gives away all of the most exciting parts.
Jennifer Peedom's Mountain finds the director returning to familiar territory, but the way it's been constructed feels new and refreshing. Scored by a live orchestra at the Sydney Opera House, it offers a majestic tribute to mountaineering and, of course, no shortage of breathtaking and perilous footage. Though it runs awfully short at just 74 minutes, Mountain still feels like a longer film due to its deliberate pace and sparse narrative, most of which includes passages from Robert Macfarlane's Mountains of the Mind read by Willem Dafoe. It's undoubtedly made for a specific group but still fairly accessible, even though outsiders might find it a little repetitive by the home stretch. Greenwich Entertainment's Blu-ray package offers a good amount of support, including a solid A/V presentation and a few surface-level bonus features. Recommended to the right audience, but most folks should probably dip their toes in the water first. Rent It.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work and runs a website or two. In his free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.