"Beyond the Edge," an exhaustive (and sometimes exhausting) look at the first successful ascent of Mt. Everest, premiered last year at the Toronto International Film Festival, pegged to the 60th anniversary of the feat.
Its late arrival in theaters seems appropriate given the movie's rather leisurely pace in telling the story of the expedition that the filmmakers see as the "last gasp of the British Empire." Despite the use of 3-D and a seamless mixture of 16mm archival footage and reenactments staged at Everest and New Zealand's Southern Alps, "Beyond the Edge" rarely feels as involving as it should. It bogs down in the technical details at the expense of revealing new information about the quest that put Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay on top of Everest.
The filmmakers trumpet the cooperation of Hillary's family in making the film, and it's from his point of view that the story is told, often relegating Norgay, who knew the terrain better than anyone, to a smiling second banana. Much of the movie's tension, such as it is, comes from Hillary, a New Zealander, trying to demonstrate his skill and bravery to expedition leader John Hunt, hoping that he'd be chosen to make the final leg of the climb.
Naturally, we know the outcome, so director Leanne Pooley's challenge is to shed light on the familiar and make it a gripping adventure. We learn a lot about oxygen apparatuses, the mechanics of climbing and how the mind deals with cold and fatigue but little about the men who survived this endurance test. It's a perfectly fine history (channel) lesson that simply doesn't reach the heights demanded by its subject.
'Beyond the Edge'
MPAA rating: None
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Playing: At the Downtown Independent, Los Angeles