Rainer's Review of Mount St. Elias
Mount St. Elias(2011)
Wow, I'm kinda overwhelmed. This film has taught me that there are quite a few really really crazy people - alpinists and free riders - who dare to challenge mother nature.
Mount St. Elias is a mountain in some national park in Alaska. Hundreds of kilometers away from civilization, in complete wilderness. Standing "only" at about 18,000 feet (which is approximately 5,500 meters) it hosts the longest descent of any mountain in the world (because it's covered with snow from summit up until sea level - you can actually ski right to the Icy Bay oceanside).
Mount St. Elias is the story of Austrian alpinists Axel Naglich and Peter Ressman along with US free rider Jon Johnston who try to not only summit the mountain (which didn't happen too often before either) but descend it by ski afterwards too.
It's filmed partly from a helicopter, partly through helmet-cameras and partly from a cinematographer who accompanied them (only during the ascent).
Although the film has some minor technical flaws - not all the shots are perfect (how could they), the "plot" is a bit disjointed (especially when they were in trouble in just didn't have the time to film or when the helicopters couldn't start because of the weather conditions) and the reenactments of the previous expedition from 2002, when two US alpinists died on their way down, don't look very professional - it's an intimate look on an authentic hazardous adventure, with real people risking their real lives.
Not that Mount St. Elias provides us with genuine information about the protagonists or even tries to make us understand them, but it gives us quite a lot to think about. What goes on in the heads of these guys that they do such things? What do they feel? Why would they risk their lives?
You don't get too much time to think about all these questions though - the film is tense. You'll be kept on the edge of your seat for a good amount of the runtime, it's well-paced and thrilling, rather unusual for a documentary. Also, the contemplative pauses to maybe get back to the aforementioned questions are filled with astounding pictures of majestic mountains and various improbable light effects that only occur in those kind of regions of the world.
To make this clear, Mount St. Elias has some of best cinematography of any film of the year 2009, if I would make up a list of the year, it could even challenge the likes of Avatar or The White Ribbon - and would probably even win the contest.
Feel free to search for it and take your chance if you ever stumble upon it - it's worth whatever price you have to pay.