Movie review: Beyond the Edge

By Russell Baillie

Chad Moffitt is right on the money as Sir Ed Hillary in 'Beyond the Edge'.
Chad Moffitt is right on the money as Sir Ed Hillary in 'Beyond the Edge'.

This part of the world doesn't lack for docos on Sir Edmund Hillary. And arguably this latest big screen one doesn't tell us anything countless small screen studies over the years haven't already. It also forgoes the story of Sir Ed's remarkable life after Everest. But Beyond the Edge still manages to deliver its own wondrous take on Hillary's epic first chapter.

Its narrators - including archive recordings of the man himself - might tell us the familiar story of how a colonial beekeeper was the first to climb to the highest point on earth, 8848m above sea level . But it is the vertiginous 3D visuals and an uncanny mix of period footage from the 1953 expedition matched with with dramatic recreations that make this so thrillingly, chillingly absorbing.

That's whether it's invoking the dread of the Death Zone, the perils of traversing the Khumbu Icefall or near-inducing weary limbs and oxygen-deprivation as Ed squeezes his way up the Hillary Step. Even if he has no dialogue, Chad Moffitt is, er, right on the money as a doppelganger for Ed the younger.

In certain shots, as he comes striding across the snow it's hard not to think of him as a high-altitude Aragorn among his shorter fellowship of climbers.

The staged scenes were filmed in the Southern Alps, where the snow-laden cragginess of the landscape offered a good stunt double for the Himalayas.

But it's hard not to feel that there must have been a third member of the Hillary-Tenzing Norgay team who just happened to be hoofing a 3D steadicam all the way up there with them (that's helped by footage from Kiwi mountaineer-cameraman Mark Whetu who summited Everest for the seventh time earlier this year).

Back on the ground, the early stages draw a picture of young Hillary, the oddball loner. And it also dwells on what this British expedition led by military man John Hunt meant in the context of a war-ravaged, fading empire about to crown a young monarch.

The movie also neatly explains the logistics and geography of what was required to get to a point where the summit was attainable, done with some nifty graphics that evoke the period.

The movie wisely dispenses with talking heads, though its narration offers the contemporary insights of sons Peter Hillary and Norbu Tenzing among others to add to the voices of all the original expedition members.

It is a feat of visual editing, even if its often vigorously heroic soundtrack can make you worry it's going to trigger an avalanche.

But it all makes for a film that is one of the great Hillary docos, even if it's far more about what he did than who he was.

Just as she did with her great The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls, director Leanne Pooley's work neatly refreshes our appreciation of a local legend. I just hope she's thinking that Ed taking those tractors to the South Pole would make for a cool sequel.

Stars: 4.5/5
Cast: Chad Moffitt, Sonam Sherpa
Director: Leanne Pooley
Running: 92 mins
Rating: G
Verdict: Will make your eyes pop on the way up and your ears pop on the way down

- NZ Herald

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