Reviews - The Wildest Dream
The Wildest Dream
Reviewed By John Stakes
Although the world’s tallest peak has now been scaled many times this is still no routine climb and over 200 deaths have been recorded with bodies remaining where they fell. In 1999 US climber and explorer Conrad Anker discovered the well preserved body and labelled clothing of George Leigh Mallory 26700 feet up and, in so doing, re-kindled the mystery surrounding his death.
Mallory’s death on June 8th 1924 had sparked the debate as to whether, wearing hobnail boots and a gabardine jacket, this obsessive climber had managed (with Stanley Irvine) to make it to the top at his third attempt carrying a photo of his wife which he intended to leave at the summit. His camera had been found by Anker but not the photo.
In 2007 Anker, a fellow obsessive and equally guilt-ridden, decided with local climber Leo Houlding, to retrace Mallory’s footsteps wearing identical clothing and boots to Mallory’s kit, to test whether it could have been possible for Mallory to have gained the summit before losing his life. Significantly it has never been clear whether Mallory (a convert to oxygen tanks at the time of his third attempt to reach the summit) had with Irvine carried two or three tanks on that fateful final climb. Anker and Houlding decided to carry two each. The consensus seems to be that Mallory
would have needed to use three tanks to reach the top.
Unlike Mallory, who had trekked 350 miles before catching his first sighting of Everest, Anker and Houlding had the benefit of a relatively comfortable 4 wheel drive to the same point. And whilst the timing of their ascent matched Mallory’s, they wore Mallory’s climbing gear but fitfully and, crucially, wore modern gear when they reached the highest point where Mallory was last seen near the fearsome “second step” only 800 feet below the summit.
This step is a near vertical 90 feet climb which now, thanks to the Chinese, is negotiated using a conveniently placed step-ladder at the first pitch. Did Mallory have the requisite skill and strength to climb up unaided except for a thin cotton rope? Both Anker and Houlding felt he did but whether Mallory went on to plant his photo remains unresolved.
This stirring stuff was faithfully captured by first-time director Anthony Geffen and what better than an Imax screening to bring home the demands of a climb which still ranks high amongst the most dangerous and spectacular in the world and particularly under these burdensome self-imposed conditions?
To give added drama (was this really necessary?) Geffen enlisted the likes of Liam Neeson (narrator) and Ralph Fiennes, Natasha Richardson and Alan Rickman, to set the scene and intone passages from Mallory’s life and letters to and from his wife. And there was a heavy and somewhat intrusive musical score (which seems to feature in any series on the subject of man’s battle with nature these days – watch professor Brian Cox for example) which wrung every ounce of overwrought sentiment when
little was needed. The shrill cry of the biting wind would have sufficed.
However there was no denying the power of the story and of the lingering mystery surrounding Mallory’s death. The juxtaposition of the two climbs was fascinating. The cinematography was jaw-dropping and the whole spectacle utterly memorable. On these filmed expeditions does no-one ever stop to consider the magnificence not only of the scenery but also that of the intrepid camera crew? Their climbing abilities must be no less tested to the limit than their photographic skills. Here Sherpa Jimmy Chin managed to capture from above shots of Anker and Houlding attempting the second step and of both men on the summit.
Anyone with a love of natural scenic beauty and the thrill of gaining height could not fail to be impressed by Geffen’s fine film. The Imax experience was the summit icing. This was no mere adrenalin junkie trip but a faithful attempt to recreate a piece of climbing history which explained so much about the mindset of those who are only comfortable in their own skins when pitting their skills against nature’s challenges. When asked why he insisted on attempting Everest Mallory was the first to coin the expression “because it is there”. One could see exactly why. He also said there
was no finer death than in an attempt to scale Everest. A stunning and intoxicating documentary.
This was also the “second step” in a partnership recently forged between the Club and Rheged which began with Rheged’s sponsorship of the open short film competition at this year’s Keswick Film Festival. The mouth-watering prospect of an Imax day at next year’s Festival beckons…and perhaps many more!
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