Berlin & Beyond Film Festival 2011 – Mount St. Elias Review and Trailer

Documenting the perils of ascending a treacherous mountainside will almost always result in suspenseful viewing.  Throw some extreme sports enthusiasts hell-bent on skiing down the 18,000 foot high behemoth that is Alaska’s Mount St. Elias and the suspense factor doubles.

Undoubtedly, there will always be an interesting story to tell when documenting a man vs. nature film.  The story here was much less about these specific people as it was about people in general who try to take on this mountain.  Not enough time was spent with these climbers/skiers for me to ever become invested in their personal struggles, yet as an overall theme of man’s struggle against nature, I was hooked.

My only gripe with this film was in the way it was edited.  Not as far as continuity was concerned, but rather in the adding of certain elements that detracted from the real life suspense and awe that comes with a documentary of this kind.  I couldn’t quite understand why the filmmakers felt the need to rely so heavily on power rock music, exaggerated reenactments, and constant shots from a helicopter circling the tip of the mountain.  A story on harrowing adventure, survival and fear shouldn’t contain the same conventions as a Chevy truck commercial.  There was enough natural suspense and drama in their expedition for the story to be told without the aid of these editing room add-ons.

Unfortunately for me, I went into this film having already seen two great documentaries on mountain climbing.  I would have been able to sit through this entire movie without having to compare had it not been for certain similarities shared between these documentaries.  The German accented narration, although non-existential, immediately brought to mind Werner Herzog‘s, The Dark Glow of The Mountains, and the reenactments raised comparisons to Kevin Macdonald‘s Touching The Void.  Correlations aside, I was still able to enjoy this story of survival as its own entity in the canon of mountain climbing docs.

Showtimes for Mount St. Elias:

Friday, October 21st, 3:30pm (Castro Theatre)

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