We’re feared them, revered them, and even had the hubris to say we’ve “conquered” them. So goes the narration of the stunning documentary on the giants of the world entitled MOUNTAIN.
If the voice sounds familiar, it belongs to actor Willem Defoe who is no stranger to providing the sarcastic, ironic, poetic and informative dialogue in a documentary. For example, he narrates the message: you are never so alive as when you are close to death. Defoe also narrated the excellent DO DONKEYS ACT?, his voice playing a big part to the success of that and also this movie. The existential commentary is written by best-selling author Robert Macfarlane and director Jennifer Peedom (SHERPA). Robert wrote the book “Mountains of the Mind”.
The film begins with grand shots of mountains, often covered in ice and snow. Humans then come into the picture, followed by the relationship between man and mountain. The film has a loose narrative – the film best enjoyed by sitting back and relaxing, to enjoy the stunning cinematography and beauty of the mountains.
The film demonstrates what mountains have meant to humans from past to present. The have been the ethereal homes of gods and demons, and places no sane person would have thought of ascending until a few hundred years ago. Today, they represent a pilgrimage of a sort for millions of people worldwide. Peedom shows scenes of travellers (including amateurs) ascending Everest by the hundreds, ski down from vertiginous mountain tops, para-ski, fly from peaks using wing suits, rock-climb and ice-climb. What ticks Peedom off is shown in two shots. One is a helicopter with a huge banner of “Red Bull” followed by narration saying that mountains have been commercialized. The other one, has a long queue perhaps of a hundred or so climbers, each attached to each other by rope with the narration saying that mountain climbing has turned to crowd control.
.There are excellent shots of solo mountain climbers hanging on to peaks, some falling and getting injured, skiing and mountain animals. Besides showing the awe and beauty of the mountains, Peedon does it shy way from including scene that show blood from climbers that have fallen or skiers that have tumbled down their mountain runs.
If one wonders how the footage was shot, much of them were accomplished using drones and using everything from GoPros to the best cameras. No stranger to elevation, director Peedom began her career as a climbing camera operator on Mount Everest. Adding music to the visuals, the soundtrack is backed by a majestic score of old-and-new classical works by Richard Tognetti.
Though there are countless stunning shots of high mountains, one wishes these sights would be identified as to where they were filmed. The only time a mountain is identified is Everest. One has to wait till the closing credits to learn that he incredible footage was shot in 20 countries plus Antarctica, shows us high-elevation defiance of death in scenes of both incredible grace and beauty, and tragedy, injury and death.