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Wildest Dream: Conquest of Everest, The
You'd really have to suck to make a bad documentary about conquering Mount Everest, so director Anthony Geffen hasn't much to worry about. This IMAX favorite even doubles down, securing its right as a cracking 90-minute look at not one, but two attempts to conquer the world's highest peak. Combining contemporary footage and interviews with archival footage and photographs, Geffen weaves a truly enthralling, inspiring, and gripping story of men driven to do that which flat-out shouldn't be done. Though Geffen reveals fairly early on the rationale behind such feats of folly, I'll give wait until the end of this review to reveal what it's all about.
George Mallory became enraptured of the mountain, and in 1924 attempted a fateful ascent accompanied by young Sandy Irvine. Mallory busted his move thirty years prior to Edmund Hillary's acknowledged first ascent, and was last seen alive just a few thousand feet from his goal. Did he make it? A valid question, to be sure, and one that mountaineer Conrad Anker found himself asking as he came upon a weird white thing while climbing the mountain in 1999. That white thing was Mallory's body, frozen to the side of the mountain. Mallory's death was reconstructed; a failed cotton rope, a fall and a broken leg. But did all this happen on the way up, or down? This is what Anker proposed to discover.
Using Liam Neeson as narrator, Ralph Fiennes, Hugh Dancy and the late Natasha Richardson as voice talent, Geffen takes us on a truly compelling journey. It's certainly one thing to imagine Mallory's various attempts at ascent with super primitive gear, but the bits and bobs or archival footage Geffen has assembled makes it truly fascinating - never mind photographs of Mallory's steely-eyed gaze. Combining these elements with the actors' readings of letters between Mallory and his love Ruth brings the human element to the fore. Lastly, Anker's somewhat fitful attempts to recreate Mallory's ascent in period gear create a realistic (if not fully realized) picture of the realities faced by the climbers. Anker and his own handpicked but inexperienced assistant, for instance, climb the extremely difficult 'Second Step' minus a ladder that's been in place since 1975, but complete Mallory's grueling three-week trek to base camp in a matter of hours by dint of a handy Jeep. The implications are obvious, but for viewers looking for a pure adventure story, the impact is minimal.
In the end, climbing a mountain the altitude of which far exceeds that level at which life is supported, is one crazy-ass task. Yet some people do it. Geffen and Anker aren't exactly able to lay their hands on why that is so, yet their intersection makes for engrossing viewing that historians, adventure lovers, and anyone else who is drawn to the drama of human endeavor can heartily enjoy from the comfort of their own couch. If Anker fails to recreate Mallory's attempt, he at least gives it a good go, and his try underscores Mallory's truly Herculean effort. If questions are left unanswered in Geffen's gripping documentary, they fall by the wayside like so many discarded oxygen canisters used in the hope of making the summit of the world's highest peak - a place seemingly nearer the stars than the Earth. If you're wondering why the hell anyone would want to explore such an extreme, remember Mallory's famous words, "Because it's there."
Video, Sound and Extras:
This DVD-ROM screener comes in a 1.85:1 ratio format with Dolby Digital 5.1 English Surround Sound, and no extras. While this screener disk doesn't represent final product quality, no serious problems were apparent.
Here we are with yet another stellar, gripping documentary about the conquest of Mount Everest. By at times employing antiquated climbing equipment, mountaineer Anker partially recreates 1920s adventurer George Mallory's ill-fated attempt to summit. Blending interviews, gorgeous and gripping climbing footage, and archival images and footage of Mallory, with actors' readings of letters between Mallory and his other muse, wife Ruth, this documentary crackles with peril and emotion. Recommended.