Director Jennifer Peedom
Described in its opening as a collaboration of images, music and spoken words, this documentary succeeds at two out of the three. The footage of mountains and those who clamber over them, is indeed majestic, shot seemingly from planes, helicopters, drones, and any number of moving humans and their Go-Pro cameras. Kudos to Cinematographer Renan Ozturk and the platoon of shooters who got such breathtaking footage. The vistas are awe inspiring and gives the sense of nature’s beauty and ability to humble and thrill, as well as its peril. If you are afraid of heights, you’re gonna need to pass on this one.
The score is in large part orchestral, most by its composer Richard Tognetti, with some familiar Vivaldi, all in collaboration with the Australia Chamber Orchestra, and also utilizes voices as instruments. The music matches the visuals well, underscoring the emotions of the film, although the use of such familiar Vivaldi pieces isn’t as effective for me. The occasional use of location sound also adds to the emotional impact of the subject.
Willem Dafoe narrates wonderfully, with a tone and tenor that fits the material nicely. The weakness is the words he’s speaking (writing credits to Ms. Peedom and Robert Macfarlane), a not very memorable prose that does not have the weight of the subject, and lacks the poetry of the film in general. I can only remember one phrase which stands out, in describing how climbing Everest has changed over the years to accommodate the masses of individuals attempting the summit. “This is not climbing, it’s queuing.”
The film’s biggest disappointment is a scattered focus. In her attempt to cover multiple aspects of mountains – their majesty and mystical allure; those who risk so much in the adventure of climbing; the costs of the ‘climbing industry’, especially to sherpas and other locals; the variety of adventurers – free climbers, bikers, skiers/boarders, para-gliders, wire-walkers, etc.; nature and what we risk from abusing or losing it – the narration and theme become diluted. At a running length of 74 minutes, this is worth the time, but I kept hoping for a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Nevertheless, the visuals alone are worth it. Could See.