Some like plateaus and Hitchhiker’s Guide fans love their fjords, but for sheer geological splendor, it is hard to beat mountains. They certainly seem to capture the imagination, judging from the five documentaries, three narratives, and one DVD re-release directly related to mountaineering that have been covered here since 2009.* The words of nature writer Robert Macfarlane, the music of the Australian Chamber Orchestra, and the cinematography of Renan Ozturk invite us to meditate on their primordial grandeur as well as the potentially fatal adventure they represent in Jennifer Peedom’s Mountain (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.
That is Willem Dafoe’s voice, but the words are Macfarlane’s, based on his prize-winning non-fiction book, Mountains of the Mind. For Macfarlane, mountains are not just a place to shoot Mountain Dew commercials (although there is plenty mind-blowing daredevil footage in the film). They represent the last pristine vestige of forbidding wildness on Earth. They dwarf us as mere humans and maybe we need some dwarfing.
Mountain could also be considered a cousin to Peedom’s Sherpa and Jimmy Chin’s Meru. Although it is done in passing, Peedom again critiques the exploitative treatment of Sherpa guides, just as she did in her previous film. Mountain and Mera also both feature Ozturk’s remarkable cinematography and uncannily sharp-eyed viewers might even spot Chin and Conrad Anker in this film as well (but don’t count on it).
In some ways, Mount is like That’s Entertainment for mountaineering, but with the docu-essay soul of a film like Fiona Tan’s Ascent, which we did not even count in the tally above. Frankly, the narration tends a bit towards pretention (although Dafoe’s warm delivery undeniably helps). However, the real show is the awe-inspiring footage. Ozturk has some assistance from drones this time around, as well as a number of archival sources, but there are still shots that are truly stunning.
Richard Tognetti’s score is also suitably impressive, especially the themes that evoke Tibetan chanting. He also leads the Austrian Chamber Orchestra through some suitably elegant classical pieces, including Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Arvo Pärt’s Für Alina.
Maybe Macfarlane’s words speak to you and maybe they don’t, but Peedom’s film still looks and sounds fantastic, regardless. It is definitely worth seeing big, with the sound turned up. Recommended for fans of nature and sporting cinema, Mountain opens this Friday (5/11) in New York, at the Village East.