Beyond the Edge commemorates the 60th Anniversary of the conquest Mount Everest by Sir Edmund Hillary (of New Zealand) and Tenzing Norgay (of Nepal). This Leanne Pooley-directed film about their treacherous journey up the mountain is interesting for its historical details, albeit lackluster in excitement and suspense. Notably missing is an answer to the question: “Why?” (JLH: 3/5)
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Opening in America after its 2013 New Zealand release, Beyond the Edge centers on “Edmund Hillary” (reenacted by Chad Moffitt) and “Tenzing Norgay” (reenacted by Sonam Sherpa) trudging up Mount Everest under horrendous weather conditions until they finally reach the peak on the historic day of May 29, 1953.
Director Leanne Pooley (winner of the Best Documentary Director at New Zealand’s 2013 Film and TV awards) includes a breathtaking 360-degree camera turn on the tippy top of Mount Everest’s highest peak. The stunning shot shows that Edmund and Tenzing are certain that they have reached “the top” because they are able to look out at the whole world now lying beneath them.
But the film ends when they get there, so a certain amount of delight is lost because we know exactly how their journey ends. And how on earth did they get down anyway?!? Suffice it to say that we know they did because they both lived to tell about it—and to show their own photos—but still…
The strength of Beyond the Edge lies in the admirable effort made by Pooley and her crew to recreate all of the equipment that was considered “state-of-the art” in the 1950s. The replicas are almost identical in appearance to the actual equipment that Edmund and Tenzing had available to them at the time (oxygen tanks, clothing, tents, etc). Everything they put on screen is very closely modeled on what is now on display in various New Zealand museums and at the Royal Geographic Society in London.
With his image gracing the $5 commemorative banknote because of this triumphant feat, Edmund Hillary is considered one of the greatest heroes in the history of New Zealand. But once he and Tenzing did it, others felt compelled to follow, and now people regularly die in their own foolish quests (often taking poorly-paid Sherpas with them).
But although I personally do not see the point of trudging up this treacherous mountain, I can certain appreciate that Beyond the Edge is beautifully-realized. So there is no other way to say it: If this is the kind of film you like, you will definitely like this film.
Review © Jan Lisa Huttner (7/11/14)
Top Photo: Chad Moffit as “Edmund Hillary” in reenactments filmed in New Zealand.
Bottom Photo: Mark Whetu looks down from the peak of Mount Everest.
Q #1: Does Beyond the Edge pass the Bechdel test?
There are no women on screen in Beyond the Edge (although many women worked behind-the-scenes to help Leanne Pooley achieve her vision).
Q #2: Is the 360 degree turn real??? Yes! This is the real deal!!!
The climax of Beyond the Edge is a stunning shot showing that Edmund and Tenzing are able to look out at the whole world and see that it is all now lying beneath them. As soon as I got home, I set about learning if that shot was real, and, if so, how they got it.
The answer is that Leanne Pooley hired Mount Everest Cinematographer Mark Whetu!
According to the press kit: “Mark Whetu is a New Zealand mountaineer specializing in high altitude filming, rigging, and crew safety. His filming exploits have put him in the wildest locations possible providing exclusive footage for productions internationally. He has climbed in the Himalayas since 1983, including two ascents on whatever Summit. Mark has summited Everest seven times from Nepal and Tibet filming on the planet’s high point five times and capturing unique footage for various production companies.”
Fit and handsome though they may be, the actors Chad Moffitt (as young Edmund Hillary) and Sonam Sherpa (as Tenzing Norgay), did all their scenes in the rugged mountains of Southern New Zealand. But when the time came to shoot from the tippy top of Mount Everest, that job went to a pro named Mark Whetu!
Q #3: Where is Mount Everest?