It takes a sophisticated filmmaker to take us though a well known epic adventure with the grip of an efficient emotional narrative, technical intelligence and visual grace. That is precisely what L Pooley does in her recent film Beyond The Edge. The subtle usage of 3D, which could have been an excuse to overload the film with an abusive imposition of random and endless visual planes, allows the viewer to experience the amazing adventure of two unique men and a unique mountain, in a quiet and mesmerizing manner. There is not one moment in the film in which the tension and the expectation of what is taking place in the story is diminished by the fact that we all know what the story is about. Great film not to be missed!
"If you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won't see why we go." Edmund Hillary
I don't know about you, but climbing a thousand feet up a hill is not my idea of fun, much less going over 29,000 feet to the summit of Mt. Everest as Edmund Hillary did heroically in 1953. Writer/director Leanne Pooley in Beyond the Edge has done the next best thing, thrilling me with old footage and expert re-enactment to help me understand the heroics necessary to pull off that feat.
In other words, her Beyond the Edge is a successful documentary that doesn't rely on fake sets and swelling orchestration to tell the story of Col. John Hunt's (John Wraight) expedition, in which Hillary (Chad Moffitt) is given the opportunity to be the first human to reach the summit with the help of Sherpa Tenzing Norgay (Sonam Sherpa). Although this doc doesn't have the suspense of Touching the Void, it is a realistic rendering in the spirit of Sir Ernest Shackelton's doomed Antarctica expedition told in The Endurance.
While Hillary has a hairy moment of slipping over an edge only to be saved by Tenzing, the rest is an authentic depiction of slow ascent with the usual challenges of rapidly-declining oxygen and impending monsoons.
It's the measured pace I like, the strategizing and assessing, done with the cool you'd expect from seasoned climbers, some of whom have been disciplined military officers. The intercutting with shots from the past and narration by Hillary, his son, Hunt, and George Lowe, among others, works seamlessly to give you the feeling you're carrying a backpack.
As for the 3-D, I'm not always a fan, but here it works well enough not to be distracting. A few bees enter and exit the frame to no spectacular effect, but otherwise the experience is enhanced by the semblance of reality. As for the ambition and ego necessary to make it to the top, Hillary expressed it well:
"No one remembers who climbed Mount Everest the second time."
I loved the scenery. The 3D made it feel like we were on the climb with Hilary and Tenzing. When snow was falling it made it feel like it was falling on us and when they were walking by the crevasse we were right there with them. I loved the fact that there was no narration the voices of the characters were enough explanation to portray the event also the choice of actors fit the looks very well. Period costumes and equipment were realistic and reminded us of the difficulties of climbing everest at that time. Pooleys direction of Beyond the edge was sensitive and skillful. The whole experience from beginning to end was amazing.
A documentary that is both informative and visually striking7/10
This documentary looks at the pivotal moment when two men became the first to reach the summit of the highest mountain on Earth. These men were of course Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay, and the mountain was Mount Everest. Even to this day it is a very dangerous exercise climbing this mountain, after all until recently if you wished to do so you had to pass a large number of dead bodies on your ascent; corpses that simply hitherto could not be removed due to the sheer difficulty of doing so. But there is no doubt that it has become considerably easier to reach the summit nowadays than it was back in 1953 when it was first navigated. Back then, there was still an element of doubt as to whether it was going to even be possible, as the equipment devised was only theoretical until successfully used. This documentary looks at the first successful expedition and captures all of their inner doubts and fears about what they are about to attempt but also their excitement. The film quite successfully transmits this to the audience.
It's been shot in 3D and it's pretty justified, as the format is quite good at illustrating the precariousness of the climb and the visual effects overall gave a pretty good feeling of the view the men must have been presented with. I was struck in particular with the scenes showing where the men camped on the last night before finally ascending to the summit. It was literally on a cliff face, with howling winds outside. The men spent the night here drinking boiled snow. It is an almost surreal image and its details like this that I took away mostly from this film. Once we reach the summit, we are treated to a very nice slow 360 degree pan that beautifully shows the height and beauty of the Himalayas.
There is not a lot of real filmed footage of the expedition but we see a little of what there is. Mainly the film is made up of archive photographs along with dramatic reconstructions of the climb, with commentary made up of archive interviews from the men and new accounts from surviving relatives. The reconstructions are well done, with well-chosen actors who really resemble the real people. All things considered, this is a very successful documentary about one of the key historical adventures.
Watched this film at TIFF 13 and completely enjoyed it. The 3D takes you there and on the big screen in the Scotiabank theatre it felt like i could walk onto the mountain with Hillary and Tenzing.
Dramatic, tense and at times splendid in its visual depiction of Mt Everest this is must watch for anyone interested in this epic story and the men behind it.
The director takes her cue from films such as 'Senna' by completely doing away with talking heads and instead capturing the story entirely with the voices of the men who were actually there, aided only at times by the sons of Ed and Tenzing and a few select mountain experts.