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A mixed bag
on 27 March 2011
Just to clarify, this is a 40-minute American documentary from the 90s, shot in IMAX format. Although this DVD is a Dutch import, there's no problem playing it on standard British DVD players, and all the dialogue is in the original English. It does have Dutch subtitles, but they can be turned off easily enough.
Those who have read any of the books describing the events of 10 May 1996, when eight climbers lost their lives high on Everest in a storm, will already be familiar with this IMAX expedition from the same year. (If you haven't read any of them, you may wish to, as they'll add a lot of background to what you'll see here. While this documentary was never intended to be about the tragedy, the IMAX crew happened to be on the spot at the time, and were deeply involved with events as they unfolded. As far as books go, Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer is probably the best place to start.)
The resultant documentary seems to stick to its original (rather jolly, squeaky-clean) script, while inevitably having to show some of the darker side of what happened. We witness climber Ed Viesturs urging the dying Rob Hall to keep going, via radio link... also the astonishingly easy-on-the-eye Spanish climber, Araceli Segarra, tearful and almost lost for words. The full horror of the story is kept to a minimum, however, and the documentary quickly gets back on its original track with a successful summit attempt, lots of back-slapping, and fabulous shots of the scenery.
Which brings me to the whole point of the documentary: the scenery. While the rousing orchestral music is dreadful and the climbers' commentaries wooden and unnatural, the scenery really is spectacular. I viewed the DVD on a tiny 6" portable screen. IMAX films are shot at great expense in high resolution, and are intended for screens some 180 times that size, so the bigger the screen you've got, the better! It's not wide screen format, so looks a bit boxy by modern standards, but still looks pretty incredible fifteen years on. And let's face it, it's the closest most of us will ever get to Everest.
Narrated by Liam Neeson, and starring Beck Weathers, Jamling Tenzing Norgay, Araceli Segarra, Ed Viesturs, Paula Viesturs. There's also some British geologist called Roger with the poshest English accent ever.
Incidentally, I've read that the original 1999 Miramax DVD included a 'Making Of' featurette, an extended interview with Beck Weathers, deleted scenes, climber video journals, and a 3D map of Everest. Note that this DVD contains NONE of that... just the documentary.