Comprising stock footage, voice over work and cinematic scenes that feature silent actors, this documentary-cum-drama finds its pace as the expedition moves into its more critical stages. Of course, the higher Hillary (Chad Moffitt) and Tenzing (Sonam Sherpa) climbed, the less stock footage there was.
This is perhaps the film’s biggest downfall. While the balance between the old, grainy footage and the gleaming, high-definition shots was neat towards the start, it invariably swayed towards the contemporary as we reached the summit, and while this could have been an effective visual device, heightening the tension as the climb reached its denouement, the re-enactments were stale and didn’t translate the full gravity of the situation.
To the actors’ credit, though – or at least to jump to their defence – conveying the separate apexes of human emotion without the power of dialogue is a difficult task. It’s just hard to escape the feeling that this story would be best told in the form of a fully dramatised feature film. However, the film does do an excellent job of highlighting the intricacies of climbing Everest rather than simply focusing on the obvious stumbling blocks: severe weather, minus temperatures, altitude sickness and hunger.
From the number of independent camps needed to the amount of supplies carried to different checkpoints on the mountain; to the role of the Sherpas (the native experts) and what they had for breakfast, Beyond The Edge included a satisfying amount of detail. These things might, ostensibly, seem mundane compared to the more fantastical elements of mountaineering, but they added a complexity that in turn made the struggle semi-relatable. This attention to detail is also clear in mapping out the team’s expedition route. Handy graphic representations of the mountain give us an insight into complicated process of assaulting earth’s highest peak.
From traversing the treacherous Khumbu Icefal, Western Cwm and the Lhotse Face, we were constantly rewarded with a keen sense plot and chronology. This made compartmentalising what could have been a tricky concept to grasp fairly easy, as terminology and lack of understanding are a perennial misfire for documentaries.
It’s beautiful, too. What the re-enactment scenes lack in plausibility, they more than make up for with the stunning grandeur of an unforgiving Everest. The crisp magnificence of the natural milieu is handled with grace – and while conveying splendour in a place blessed with such natural beauty doesn’t seem a particularly daunting task, director Leanne Pooley is successful in her execution. The influence of Richard Bluck (director of photography) and Grant Major (production designer) – who have worked on The Lord of The Rings, Avatar and The Hobbit between them – is also evident.
Despite the scenes featuring Moffitt and Tenzing were sometimes awkward and the inclusion of 3D not adding much to the overall viewing experience, Beyond The Edge is an enjoyable, informative and sometime-stunning docu-film. The voice-overs are used efficiently and despite any semblance of surprise being negated by the story’s notoriety, the final assault on the summit is a pleasing experience.