The Wildest Dream

Wikipedia is a Better Route


Starring: Conrad Anker, Liam Neeson’s voice

By Robert Patrick

George Mallory sunk his feet into the snow on Mount Everest several times before his ill-fated journey to the peak of the earthy, monolithic beast in June of 1924. The Englishman, an adventurer of the highest spirit, would use his weathered paws to scale over walls of rock and ice. Together with fellow mountaineer Andrew Irvine, the perilous pair were prepared to risk it all; to throw their lives like dice against the twisted icy teeth of Everest, the world’s highest mountain.

The subject of Anthony Geffen’s documentary is no doubt an infinitely interesting one. How Mallory attempted to plant his legs on the top of such a summit, in a time where discovery was the temptress of man and danger was at the heels of the would-be discoverer, is a fine topic to make a doc about. But there’s only one problem – the film isn’t really so much about the seemingly indomitable dreams of Mallory as it is another man, by the name of Conrad Anker, who wants to recreate Mallory’s journey to the pinnacle of the earth.

Instead of thoroughly examining the trials of Mallory, a man who wore his obsession like a spectral ball and chain, we’re given a view of a modern mountaineer, who wants to embody Mallory up to the point of recruiting a young climbing partner in an effort to re-imagine the storied climb of ‘24. The effort is more creepy than noble, especially when Anker identifies his wife’s struggle to that of Mallory’s, even going as far as to say that he felt like the posthumous adventurer at certain points in his adventure (it puts the lotion on its skin, buddy).

The film is sadly stunted, mostly because Anker is the primary storyteller and host to this epic historical document in time. The documentary would’ve benefited more from authors and historians, scientists and biographers, than simply a man who is a huge fan of Mallory’s fateful expedition. Where are the newspaper stories from the 1920s showing the public opinion of Mallory? Was there anyone that opposed his celebrity in England? How did climbers fail prior to Mallory’s adventure to Everest? How much was known about the topography of the location in the early twenties? None of these things are addressed or much less answered.

The direction of the movie is inundated with snowy shots of Anker plugging his legs through the snow. The problem is, there is no real way to recognize the space and volume of where he is standing and how much terrain he has crossed because of how close the camera stays to him and his partner. I would have preferred a digital representation of the mountain, at certain points in time, with anything from red-dots to animated arrows to show just where the present-day climbers were in relation to Mallory’s failed trek to the peak of the mountain. But no, there is no such graphic. We are instead weighed down by mundane shots of Anker sighing heavily and lots and lots of close-ups of snow.

There is no real reason why someone should dole out eleven-dollars for this documentary, especially when it’s nothing more than a dumbed down History or Travel Channel special without all the bells and whistles. Half of the movie is about Anker, a Mallory fan-boy, gawking at the similarities between him and his idol. I still would rather listen to someone who has studied the now mythologized man a bit more than someone like Anker who would rather not peel back the layers of iconoclastic trailblazer in an effort to immortalize him. Wouldn’t it be interesting to hear objective standpoints about the expedition from someone who wasn’t an eccentric follower or a removed family member? I think so. And no, voice work from Liam Neeson and Alan Rickman does nothing to help the film’s emotional vacuity.

The testament to a great failure in the documentary genre is when the filmmaker’s movie makes you want to learn more about a subject from a source other than the one it came from. “The Wildest Dream: Conquest of Everest” makes me feel just that way.


Author: Rob Patrick

The program director of the Olympia Film Society, Rob is also a former San Diego Film Critics Society member. He has written for The East County Californian, The Alpine Sun, The East County Herald, The San Diego Entertainer, and the San Diego Reader. When he isn't curating a film festival, he is drinking rosé out of a plastic cup in Seattle or getting tattoos from Jenn Champion.

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