The Conquest of EverestU¦ Blu-ray, DVD
Mankind has had its moments, some good, many not so good. It occasionally manages greatness, such as putting a man on the moon.
Another highlight – literally – was the expedition to climb Everest in 1953, the highest mountain in the world.
This documentary, that has been beautifully restored to celebrate its 70th anniversary, features footage by members of the party themselves, as they prepared to do what many had attempted but yet to achieve, and that was to ascend the highest mountain of them all.
It’s certainly a film of its time, which was seemingly hurriedly put together, with what would be considered a pittance of a budget. For instance there was no sound recording equipment taken, no doubt simply for the logistics of the extra weight it would take up, and considering the Sherpas were having to carry 3 tonnes of equipment as it was, any extra was surely deemed unnecessary.
This means that, for the most part, the film relies on its narrator, featuring the dulcet tones of Meredith Edwards, who certainly adds a poetic license to proceedings throughout.
And considering that none of those using the equipment were professional camera operators, their footage is impressive. Even now, you get a sense of the challenge that faced them all, and the toll it must have taken on them both physically and mentally. And of course the real star of the film is the mountain itself, looking both majestic and foreboding in the distance, as they make their way ever closer.
As far as a documentary goes, it is somewhat lacking; as mentioned, it was shot by non professionals, with a brief that probably simply stated, film the mountain a lot. And although it has a couple of contributors, such a correspondent for The Times who found himself a member of the party, it could have benefitted from far more contributions from those who took part, such as Edmund Hillary himself.
It also has to be said that its finale is hugely disappointing, bordering on farce, featuring nothing more than a cutaway image of a man on a mountain top. Even if they were concerned about how much weight they were carrying, they had some cameras that were incredibly small, even for the time, which surely wouldn’t have been that much of a burden to carry. If nothing else, it no doubt fuels conspiracy theorists who can say that it never happened at all. Imagine if the crew of Apollo 11 returned from their moon mission, with nothing but a handful of doodles by Armstrong.
So with no wide angle lenses soaking up the landscape, or drones shooting the ascent from every angle in 2160p, it’s not the most cinematic of docs.
What it is however, is a fascinating historical document, that goes some way to telling a truly remarkable story of courage, guts and determination. It has a charm of its own, and this newly restored version means that the expedition has certainly never looked better.
It’s also a fitting visual response to the question why climb it, to which George Mallory, who lost his life trying, simply replied “because it is there”.