Loving all stories and films about Mt. Everest (ever since I read "Into Thin Air") I was in a bit of heaven last night, enjoying this fine film about George Mallory and Sandy Levine's tragic attempt at climbing to the top of Everest in the 1920's. They were last seen through a break in the clouds only 800 ft. from the summit before they vanished forever.
Well, not quite forever. In 1999, climber Conrad Anker discovered Mallory's body on a lower slope of the mountain (the body of Sandy Levine has never been found) and that discovery launched a new obsession in his mind. Among Mallory's personal items still intact, one of significance was missing - a portrait photo of his beloved wife Ruth. Since Mallory had promised her he would leave the picture on the summit if he ever attained it, Mr. Anker conjectures that the intrepid climbers may have reached the summit, only to die on their way back down the mountain. Anker's well-documented expedition of 1999 was an attempt to recreate parts of the Mallory expedition using clothes and equipment modeled on those that the original climbers employed on their expedition... things such as hob-nailed boots, gabardine clothing, and rudimentary and undependable oxygen apparatus much like those Levine invented specifically for his and Mallory's assault on the mountain.
While the film is good, there's something about Conrad Anker that seems a little self-promotional. In many ways his expedition plays out like a stunt. I noticed they seemed to bring out the old gear only intermittently. One does have to admire their decision to remove the metal ladder that has been attached by Chinese climbers to the notorious "second step," an 80 foot sheer bluff that all climbers have to negotiate in order to reach the final slope to the summit. Anker and his young English climbing partner are shown tackling this difficult maneuver with true rock climber methods, only a thin cotton rope connecting them. (One assumes the ladder was than reattached.) My greatest admiration is for the unseen camera crew who produced this film... they made the difficult climb too, and carrying heavy film equipment.
For me the best parts of "The Wildest Dream" are the old filmed segments of the original Mallory expedition. To see the mountain as it was then in all it's pristine and forbidding glory is quite a treat for Everest fans like myself. The faces of the climbers and their companions in these old film clips speak volumes on the courage and determination that those pioneers possessed. How poignant are the last shots of Mallory and Irvine as they prepared for the final assault! The film scores points too in having superb narration by Liam Neeson, with skillful actors (Joe Fiennes and Natasha Richardson) reading the letters that flowed constantly, back and forth, between Mallory and his anxious but supportive wife, Ruth. Another sad note: this was one of the last projects Miss Richardson completed before her own untimely demise, and the film is dedicated to her.
See this film for the unparalleled modern photography of Everest, the history, and the wonderful archival film clips; the thrill and adventure translate well in cinematic terms... and forgive Mr. Anker if he seems to want to make the film more about himself. He does have his own legacy as a climber that will endure. This is a grand documentary, and one you will enjoy if you care at all about the adventure of mountain climbing.