Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Review: "The Wildest Dream"

It is accepted historical fact that Sir Edmund Hillary was the first person to climb to the summit of Mount Everest in 1953. But was he really the first?

The new IMAX film "The Wildest Dream" explores the attempt nearly 30 years earlier by George Mallory, who disappeared on the final ascent with his young partner Sandy Irvine. It also chronicles a modern attempt to re-create Mallory's climb, and suggests that Mallory achieved the summit, and died in some mishap on the way back down.

In 1999 climber Conrad Anker found Mallory's body on the north face of the mountain, eerily well-preserved by the freezing climate. A re-creation of this is shown in the documentary -- I assume it's a recreation, since by all accounts they buried the body after finding it.

It was known that Mallory carried a picture of his beloved wife Ruth with him that he intended to plant on the top of Everest. Since the photograph was not found on the body, even though letters and other personal effects were all accounted for, many observers are led to believe that he kept his promise.

Anthony Geffen, a veteran producer making his directing debut, balances historical footage and records of Mallory with the modern tale of Anker, who wants to tread in Mallory's footsteps to see if it's possible.

In particular, they want to see if Mallory and Houlding could best the "Second Step," a sheer cliff face near the summit. Modern climbers use a metal ladder bolted to the mountain, but for their attempt Anker and his young partner, Leo Houlding, have the ladder removed and try to free-climb the cliff.

Geffen captures the spirit of adventure that motivated explorers in the early 20th century -- vibrantly tapped into by the animated Pixar film "Up" -- Westerners who desired to conquer every challenge the globe had to offer. Mallory made two previous attempts to explore and climb Everest, and his fatal attempt in 1924 was to be his last before retiring to hearth and home.

Mallory is most remembered for the answer he gave when asked why he was trying to climb the highest peak in the world? "Because it's there," he said.

Narrated by Liam Neeson, with recreations using the voices of Ralph Fiennes, the late Natasha Richardson, Alan Rickman and Hugh Dancy, "The Wildest Dream" is an often gripping account of the men who dare to climb toward heaven, and sometimes pay the ultimate price.

3 stars out of four

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