Director: Leanne Pooley
General Film Corporation/Rialto Distribution
We tell ourselves we know the story of Ed Hillary conquering Everest – and in so many ways, as far as we’re all sure, that is the story. So this documentary film lays out that exact story, the conquering of Everest by Ed Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, as part of a British expedition in a race to stand at the top of the world in 1953. We get just enough hints of Hillary’s upbringing to apply them as aspects to the tough Kiwi bloke we’re pretty much sure we all know. He was a beekeeper from Tuakau, he climbed mountains. Strong, silent/ish type, understated, got the odd thrashing from his father.
There’s nothing new as such in this film – it tells the story of the climb with just a tiny bit of background. But the way this film has been made is the reason it succeeds. It’s no mean feat to create (and recreate – through dramatic interpretation) moments of heart-stopping action, of thrill-ride, of I-hope-they-make-it! And genuine I-can’t-look! moments when in fact we know the outcome already. We know the story. The story – now – is 60 years old.
Leanne Pooley again presents an uncluttered account, her documentary about The Topp Twins was wonderful, full of heart and soul and here again she finds a way to let the story capture the attention, no tricks needed.
Chad Moffitt, the actor portraying Hillary in the recreated sequences is blessed with cutting a very striking doppelganger effect, so at times the new footage feels as close to the moments that were caught on film at the time. It’s refreshing to hear the narration made up entirely of existing interviews, archival stories rather than new talking heads.
What this means of course is that the event is celebrated for what it was – a moment in history; there’s no need to undermine it with stories of advancements in technology, of how it would be done now, because the real reasons Norgay and Hillary made it to the top were due to courage, heart, soul, integrity, guts – and the right amount of stubbornness, of stupidity.
David Long’s score deserves a mention – and I’ll be reviewing this separately at any rate; I was hooked on the music for weeks before seeing the film. I was about to write it up as wonderful music anyway, but it was important to hear it in the context of the film, for it drives so many of the sequences it therefore plays a huge part in creating the heart-in-mouth moments an audience member can feel during this film. (There were so many gasps in the screening I attended).
It seemed particularly cruel that this film would close with music by Six60. The story had been told in a way to reflect the time, the era, the feel and then to murder the credits with contemporary music that is all back-slapping-at-a-BBW seems the wrong measure of stupidity.
But that shouldn’t matter I guess – sit near the door so you can leave as soon as it finishes.
It really is a wonderful film; a great story and a great telling of the tale.