Ah yes, adventure movies. We love the plight of the guy who’s unlikely to make it, just as much as the sight of him defying the odds.
Back in the 20th century these movies inspired us to get off our butts and hit a mountain peak or two; now, thanks to digital technology, we don’t even need to leave the theater to get that dizzying rush of adrenaline.
“Beyond the Edge” is the latest such movie to reach our shores. Directed by Leanne Pooley, this fictional documentary successfully combines archival footage — shot on the 1953 British expedition to Mount Everest — with spectacular 3-D used to maximum effect.
The film takes you right to the summit of the world’s highest, most unforgiving mountain, as it recounts the conquering of Mount Everest by New Zealand’s Sir Edmund Hillary and sherpa Tenzing Norgay in 1953. And the view from the top is otherworldly.
Hillary was, of course, the man who said the immortal words, “because it’s there,” when asked why he made the climb in the first place.
In New Zealand, Hillary (whose face is printed on the country’s $5 note, among other places) is regarded as a saint and rock star rolled into one. Pooley shows however, that though Hillary’s achievement (shared with Norgay) was one of the milestones of human history, he had no rock-star ego, nor was he interested in celebrity perks. Stoic to the core, Hillary mildly observed (in archival footage) that yes, climbing was a passion, but his own family thought mountaineering was a “waste of time.”
Hillary wasn’t a professional climber but a beekeeper. When he wasn’t working, he trained himself in New Zealand’s Waitakere Ranges near his home in Auckland. Sheer diligence and determination got him on the 1953 Everest expedition. The more privileged British climbers were astonished at his physical and psychological endurance levels; he never gave in or lost control, and he had the mind-set of a Zen monk.
By 1950, Mount Everest had claimed the lives of dozens of alpinists and there was no evidence to prove any human could survive at an altitude of 8,848 meters. But in 1953, the team that included Hillary was closing in on the peak. Still, there were insurmountable problems: The oxygen tanks were faulty and the sherpas were exhausted, suffering from altitude sickness. The climbers themselves were also in bad shape. The first summit team had to call it quits, leaving the stage to Hillary (portrayed in dramatizations by Chad Moffit) and his partner, sherpa Norgay (played by Sonam Sherpa).
“Beyond the Edge” is so greatly rewarding — not least because of the sincere respect it pays to mountaineers — for giving us a window on what ultimately worked for Hillary and Norgay. As they neared their goal, inch by agonizing inch, they let go of the quest for glory and gave themselves up to the humbling enormity of their experience.
It’s probably safe to say there’s some serious life-altering stuff here.