Monday, 15 August 2011

TV Preview - The Wildest Dream: Conquest of Everest

This week a fascinating documentary about Everest will be aired on BBC Two at 9.00pm on Wednesday. It's a feature length tale called The Wildest Dream and it's about exploration and the challenge of surviving in Mount Everest's 'death zone'. Here's the official blurb:

Dressed in gabardine and wearing hobnailed boots, British explorer George Mallory risked everything in pursuit of his dream of reaching the top of Mount Everest. He was seen alive just 800 feet below the mountain’s peak, before the clouds closed in and he disappeared into legend – Mallory’s death stunned the world in 1924. In 1999, renowned mountaineer Conrad Anker discovered Mallory’s frozen body high in the mountain’s “death zone” and his life became intertwined with Mallory’s story. Remarkably all Mallory’s belongings were found intact on his body. The only think missing was a photograph of his wife, Ruth, which Mallory had promised to place on the summit if he succeeded. Haunted by the story, Anker returns to Everest to solve the enduring mystery surrounding the ill-fated expedition and the disappearance of one of the world’s greatest explorers.

There's some serious Hollywood talent in this documentary film, Liam Neeson narrates, Ralph Fiennes provides the voice of Mallory, and even Alan Rickman turns up to provide a brief voiceover. Neeson provides his trademark gentle but authoritative tone as narrator and maintains your interest throughout the film. Neeson could probably corner the market in bedtime story telling.

The tale of Mallory's efforts to conquer Everest is well presented and the film takes the time to try and explain the mentality of a climber, and put Mallory's desires in context with the 1920's golden age of exploration. Anker examines his own obsession with climbing and how this effects his relationship with his wife and family, which is then paralleled with Mallory's letters to his wife. It's a nice story telling techinque and provides much needed insight to the historical figure.

The footage of the mountain and the climb itself is stunning and is an impressive feat considering the conditions the crew must have faced. The free climbing scenes are particularly dizzying and effective. The Sherpas are also given screentime as their skills are obviously appreciated by the climbing crew. A Sherpa blessing scene before the climb begins is insightful and is even linked back to Mallory's own pre-climb blessing which produced a set of ominous visions.

A slight criticism would be that the death zone's lethality is never really explained fully. This is understandable though as the film is more a study of exploration and human spirit rather than a morbid exploration of one of the most hostile environments known to man. If you want to know more about the 'death zone' then there is an excellent blog post about the harsh conditions and irretrievable dead that litter the landscape here.

The film is just under 90 minutes long and airs on BBC2 Wednesday 17th August at 9pm. It's also repeated on Sunday 21st August at 5.30pm. Here's the trailer:

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