Beyond The Edge


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"Pooley and cinematographer Richard Bluck bring the story to life - along with the vivid possibility of death - and the big screen is the place to see it."

When you consider how small the world has become, it seems incredible to think that it was only just over 60 years ago that the first conquest of Everest's summit was made. It seems even more impossible still when you consider it was achieved not by the public schoolboys you might expect (although plenty of them were instrumental in the success) but by a Nepalese Sherpa and a New Zealand beekeeper - Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary.

Director Leanne Pooley, who previously navigated the story of Ernest Shackleton's captain Frank Worsley, takes on the tale inventively, mixing archive fim - surprisingly, in colour - and photographs with cannily worked re-enactment and 3D. She and her team deserve huge credit for the amount of research that must have gone into this alone; the images are accompanied by an almost exhaustive number of first-person voice-overs, including Hillary himself, Norgay's son Norbu, other members of the original expedition and experts of the mountain, including the first Brit to climb it without oxygen Stephen Venables and the first American to summit Everest Jim Whitaker.

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Unlike last year's similarly themed K2 documentary The Summit, Pooley keeps her eye on the facts rather than speculating between the lines, creatively illustrating the story as it is recounted. The contrast between Hillary - "I'm just a rough old boy" - and the posh Brits who climbed alongside him is stark but it's interesting to see how, no matter how competitive the climbers were in terms of securing the chance to try for the summit, they had a deep respect for one another's abilities.

Hillary's sense of humour comes to the fore, particularly in a moment worthy of any Hollywood fiction feature, in which after a foolish bit of bravado on his part, Norgay stopped him plunging to his death. "I'd have been very annoyed if he hadn't saved my life," he recalls drily. The film is less about the mountain than the man and how the background of Hillary, including the film's one misstep of overly portentous suggestions of childhood trauma, was instrumental in making him determined - and able - to succeed.

The period of the climb as the last gasp of British empire building is well evoked and the pitfalls of climbing everest are also colourfully recounted most memorably by Whitaker. He has a skill for good one-liners such as, "You know that you're dying a little bit up there", in reference to the chirpily named Death Zone, at over 26,000ft, where cohesive thought, and by extension survival, becomes very tricky indeed. In addition to the main story, there is a wealth of interesting side information, such as the fact that 30 firms were involved in the manufacture of the men's boots and fascinating scientific analysis of the oxygen breathers that they used and the fundamental problems with them.

Chad Moffitt and Sonam Sherpa are good choices to play Hillary and Norgay, although Sherpa looks a little younger than the real-life climber, although this may well simply be because he hasn't spent is life braving the icy elements. The use of the 3D in the re-enactments is immersive and the decision to turn the archive photos into 3D stills complements this. The sound design also adds to the sense of threat. Pooley and cinematographer Richard Bluck bring the story to life - along with the vivid possibility of death - and the big screen is the place to see it.

Reviewed on: 11 Apr 2014
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A docudrama about Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary's historic ascent of Everest.
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Director: Leanne Pooley

Writer: Matthew Metcalfe, Leanne Pooley

Starring: Chad Moffitt, Sonam Sherpa, John Wraight

Year: 2013

Runtime: 93 minutes

Country: New Zealand

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