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Beyond the Edge (9/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 90 minutes.

OK for children.

When New Zealand beekeeper Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa guide Tenzing Norgay from Nepal made their attempt to conquer Mount Everest in 1953, there had been 15 failed attempts, resulting in 13 deaths. It was believed by many to be impossible because of the altitude and lack of oxygen.

Written and directed by Leanne Pooley, talking heads were eschewed. What we see and hear in this film are actual interviews with those on the climb. Although there were recreations of some of the events, most of the film consists of remarkable archival film and audio made by the participants.

Explains Producer Matthew Metcalfe, “There are four key elements to this film:

  1. Firstly you’ve got the original footage from the 1953 expedition – fortunately it’s in color – which was shot on 16mm film and has been brilliantly preserved and recently restored so it’s a wonderful medium to use. 
  2. Secondly, the Royal Geographical Society has over 1,000 35mm color stills taken by Alf Gregory on the expedition.
  3. Further we have all the interviews that each member of the expedition took part in once they came down from the mountain – something they also continued to do for many years afterwards.  There’s a wide variety of this archival material available.
  4. Then finally we have our dramatic re-creations directed by Leanne and filmed on location around the Southern Alps.”

The Southern Alps are located in New Zealand and include Mt. Cook, where Hillary established a reputation as an exceptional mountain climber.

There are so many fascinating aspects of the expedition. One is that Hillary and Norgay weren’t the first members to attempt the ascent. They were members of a team assembled by Sandhurst graduate and WWII veteran Brigadier John Hunt, who chose British climbers Tom Bourdillon, a physicist who had developed the closed-circuit oxygen apparatus he was using, and Charles Evans to make the first try at the ascent. Only after they failed because the oxygen equipment did not work properly did Hillary and Norgay start their attempt up the forbidding mountain.

The cinematography is magnificent, the scenery stunningly beautiful, and the recreations are woven into the narrative so seamlessly that they are almost unnoticeable. The actors playing Hillary and Norgay, Chad Moffit and Sonam Sherpa, respectively, are remarkable lookalikes for the people they are portraying.

Interviews with Hillary (who died in 2008) allow him to describe many of the obstacles they encountered on their climb himself as voice overs while the film shows the actual climb both through the archival film and the recreations.

I admit to a bias for mountain-climbing movies, so take that into consideration when I say that this is one of the best. You will have an advantage over me, however. The film is shot in 3-D, but I saw it in 2-D on a screener. They had no screenings for the 3-D version which, I would guess, must be eye-popping.

June 16, 2014