In 1924, English mountain climber George Mallory attempted (for the third time) to be the first man to climb Mount Everest—the highest point on Earth. It was a daunting challenge of a magnificent kind. As he and his climbing partner Andrew Irvine made their way up the slopes and the sheer cliffs, one has to wonder, why? Why would a man attempt such a thing. What would posses a man with a wife (with whom he was madly in love) and three children at home to attempt a feat unknown to man at that time? What drew him 29,000 feet closer to heaven? What made him want to trek for mile through snow and ice and freezing weather? Maybe he needed to feel the admiration of the world, or to glorify himself in some manner. Maybe he wanted to prove to the world (or even to himself) that climbing the planet’s tallest mountain was possible. Perhaps he needed an escape from his home life. Or maybe he just wanted to. Often times, people do things just because they want to, and for no other reason than for sheer pleasure. Whatever the reason, Mallory pursued this wildest dream of his, even to his death upon the mountain side. He went up, and never came down. Nobody really knows if he reached the top or not. But one thing is for certain, had Mallory failed and survived, his passion would have sent him up there again.
Unfortunately Anthony Geffen’s documentary about this man is much less passionate. It is somewhat of a half-hearted attempt at an emotional connection with the audience. The film itself tells two stories. The first is a weak and dull documentation of Mallory’s home life and his conquest of the mountain. The second is the true yet still preposterous story of Conrad Anker’s attempt to climb the mountain using the same gear as Mallory (Anker was the man who finally found George Mallory’s body upon the mountainside in 1999). And then of course the film also explores Anker’s feelings and his compulsion to climb mountains. Now Mr. Anker must be as passionate about climbing Everest as Mallory certainly was, but he comes off as more of a sideshow that one wants to laugh at. The film makes no attempt to be poetic or emotionally insightful. Instead it is completely naked, laying the story out in front of you without the slightest bit of artistry or professionalism. The end result is a bland and uninteresting hour and a half of counting ceiling panels in the theatre. I know for certain that a movie is disappointing if I begin counting the ceiling panels at the top of the theatre. I’ve seen documentaries about the life and times of Barney the Dinosaur that were more compelling than this loaf of bread. The inspiration that fueled Mallory and that must have also fueled Anker is hardly evident in this clunker.
But perhaps the film’s biggest problem is not its difficulty in connecting to the audience, but perhaps the fact that it is just plain boring. You would think that any story about people risking their lives to achieve glory would be suspenseful and intriguing, but, alas this is not the case. There is not an ounce of tension anywhere to be found. The film begins with a particularly uninteresting static shot of the mountain and most of the other shots follow suit. The most interesting any single frame of film gets is an obviously computer generated shot that swoops through the valleys and up onto the side of the mountain. From there we get a pleasing vista of the snow. It is unfortunate that, given such great subject matter, this film utterly fails in capturing the interest or emotional excitement of its audience. And I kid you not, this is the only picture I’ve ever seen in which the credits were more interesting than the film. As soon as the first ten minutes I was counting the seconds until it was over.
Of course, the film has a few redeeming qualities. The first and most obvious is the voice actors who narrate. The narrator is the great Liam Neeson, who can make any role seem worthwhile, even stupid ones. The voice of George Mallory as he reads his letters is the ever-welcome Ralph Fiennes—who has worked with Liam Neeson before as the evil Amon Goethe in Schindler’s List. Mallory’s wife Ruth is voiced by the late Natasha Richardson (who also happened to be married to Neeson before her untimely death). The voices make up for some of the drag in the picture, but of course not all. The other element that saves this form being a total flop is its often stunning pictures of the Mountain in all its glory and magnificence. But other than this, the picture has little going for it. Perhaps I am being too harsh on it, but then again I always go into a film expecting it to be good. Not that I always truly think it will be good, but if I go to a movie, I demand a good experience. This film did not give me that. The story, although very compelling and fascinating, was not executed well at all. Instead it seems as though it has fermented too long and gone sour. It is like a soda that has lost its carbonation. It just lays there in front of you, and once you start drinking, you have to finish, but it is an unpleasant experience. Just like the soda, this film has gone flat. If this was the last film I saw before I died, I would demand that I be sent back to Earth to watch something even remotely better than this.
But here I am again, taking a movie apart that no doubt many people will find interesting. But as for me, I was bored beyond belief (except in the scenes where the narrators chime in). Perhaps the problem is mine and I was the one who didn’t connect. But of course we can never know, so for now I am blaming the film. It didn’t affect me in any way, and I just felt dull and indifferent after leaving the theatre. Oh well, every director lays an egg every now and again, although I don’t see any hope for Geffen. If only he could add a little art and poetry to this film, it would have been much more intriguing and enthralling. Thus concludes my review of The Wildest Dream—happy movie hunting!
National Geographic Presents an Altitude Films Release
Cast: Voices of Liam Neeson (narrator), Ralph Fiennes, Natasha Richardson, Hugh Dancy, Alan Rickman. Directed by Anthony Geffen
Rated PG for thematic elements involving hardships of climbing, and some historical smoking images. Release Date: 06 August 2010