Friday, September 17, 2010

Film Review: The Wildest Dream

In 1924, George Mallory and Sandy Irvine made the first ascent of Mount Everest...

Or maybe they didn't...

It's hard to tell whether they made it or not. The pair was last seen alive 800 feet below the summit. Seventy-five years later, Mallory's body was discovered by mountaineer Conrad Anker on an expedition designed to find out what actually happened on the mountain in 1924.


Since that fateful day, the day that took the lives of Mallory and Irvine, whether or not the pair reached the summit of the tallest mountain in the world before their demise is one of the most hotly debated subjects in mountaineering history. There are many details that make one believe that perhaps they did summit. For example, Mallory carried a picture of his beloved wife Ruth which he said he would leave on top of the mountain when he summited. The picture was not found on his body, which could mean that it was left on the summit. But there are also details that make one believe that they might not have summited. For example the Second Step, a named feature on the mountain which now has a ladder on it, would require difficult rock climbing at altitude, something that might not have been possible in the twenties.

The new IMAX documentary film, The Wildest Dream, delves deeply into the mystery surrounding the loss of Mallory and Irvine by chronicling the lives of both men as well as the life of modern day mountaineer, Conrad Anker. Anker returns to the mountain with climbing prodigy Leo Houlding, to continue to develop his understanding of the 1924 expedition and to try to surmount the major difficulty that some historians believe may have turned the pair around, the rock climbing required on Second Step.

The Wildest Dream is a fantastic visual journey chocked full of dramatic mountain images and dramatic mountain men. Anker and Mallory are linked through time by a mountain, by a route, and by their commitment to their families. Indeed, the most pertinent moment of the film is when Anker compares his feelings to those that Mallory expressed in his letters. When Mallory was at home with his wife and his family, he was always dreaming of the mountains. When Mallory was in the mountains, he was always dreaming of his wife and family. This is something that most of us in the mountain community can relate to.



The use of IMAX for this film was wise. However, it can make it difficult for those who do not have IMAX screens nearby to see this film before it comes to DVD. The movie's artistic exploration through imagery is far more decisive and more dramatic than the 1998 IMAX film, Everest about the 1996 Mount Everest tragedy. In part this is because the filmmakers really commit to the format. If they didn't have the footage of a given spot on the mountain, they used high-end computer models, which looked incredibly realistic.

The one downside of the film is that it takes a firm stand on why Mallory chose Irvine as his climbing partner, without presenting the fact that historians see this choice as controversial. In part this is because a fit, acclimitized and experienced climber named Noel Odell was close at hand high on the mountain. Some believe that Mallory may have chosen Irvine as his partner because he was sexually attracted to the younger man. Mallory went through a well-documented period where he flirted with homosexuality. Others believe that he may have done this because he was attracted to the younger man's youth and saw himself in the man. But in the film, they tell us that without question, Mallory chose Irvine to be his companion because of his knowledge of the oxygen apparatus that the men carried. It would have been nice if they had at least alluded to the fact that this choice was considered controversial in such a documentary.

Artistically the use of Mallory and Irvine contrasted with Anker and Houlding works extremely well. As such, The Wildest Dream becomes a film about expeditions in the twenties and expeditions now. It becomes a film about men in the early nineteen-hundreds and men now. It becomes a film about the women who fell in love with these men. And finally it becomes a film about a mountain that has obsessed climbers for nearly a hundred years.

--Jason D. Martin

2 comments:

Chamonix Ice Climber said...

Great review, thanks. Here is a somewhat longer, more informative trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lpwBQlOSJ3I&NR=1

Dana said...

Thanks for the great article!!

Best,
National Geographic Entertainment