The Epic of Everest
Friday 18th October, 6.15pm – Odeon West End, Screen 2
In 1953 Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay completed the first confirmed ascent of Mount Everest. Taking place a full 29 years earlier, The Epic of Everest documents in gloriously restored clarity the ill-fated 1924 expedition led by George Mallory and Andrew Irvine.
The film takes us through Phari Dzong (the world’s highest town) and past a clutch of monasteries that desperately grip to the sides of the mountains. But such fancies are little more than an amuse-bouche to the main attraction: Everest. The mountain hadn’t even been summited in 1924, let alone documented with bulky camera equipment ill-suited to cope with the harshest of Himalayan conditions. The Epic of Everest then is as epic in logistical endeavour as it is in awe-inspiring marvel.
And there is plenty to marvel at. Captain John Noel’s camera captures blood-red twilight vistas, blue-hued glacial crevasses and several time-lapse shots of clouds flowing over Everest’s imposing North face. As tiny, intrepid adventurers pass yet another wide-angled wonder, the viewer’s eye can only follow their every movement. This continues to the limit of technology as the camera turns telescope at 21,000ft and is forced to observe higher excursions and rescues from an isolating distance.
This is where the inevitable tragedy strikes. Mallory and Irvine were last spotted a mere 600ft from the summit before clouds obscured them. Mallory’s body was not recovered until 1999. What befell the climbers? Did they ever reach the summit? These are questions left tantalisingly unanswered.
The soundtrack by Simon Fisher Turner is absolutely stunning – it’s more of a “soundscape” than anything, combining original recordings from the 1924 expedition with bass avalanche booms, electronic surges and percussive ice-pick crunches to make a truly immersive accompaniment to the silent film.
However, when initially released The Epic of Everest courted controversy for its brazen colonialist attitude. Here climbing Everest is the “birth right” of Europeans – conducted with the service of the jolly Nepalese, who in turn receive belittling descriptions of their personal hygiene and their “grotesque remedies of powdered lizard.” This sticks out sorely in 2013, but fortunately does not detract from enjoyment of the film.
The Epic of Everest is an aptly-titled visual and sonic treat. Back in 1924 Everest was virgin territory for both man and film – today it may no longer be the lodestone of adventure it once was, but this film proves that its image remains just as captivating.
Watch the trailer for The Epic of Everest here: