Wildest Dream
“It ain’t no trick to get rich quick / If you dig dig dig with a shovel or a pick”

Theatrical Release Date: 08/20/2010
Director: Anthony Geffen
Featuring: Conrad Anker, Leo Houlding, Liam Neeson (narrator), Ralph Fiennes (voice), Natasha Richardson (voice), Hugh Dancy (voice), Alan Rickman (voice)

George Mallory is a well known figure in the climbing world. His attempt in 1924 to become the first man to summit Mount Everest’s 29,000 feet ended in mystery as he disappeared, last seen less than 1,000 feet from the top. In 1999, another climber, Conrad Anker, discovered Mallory’s body and that set into motion the beginnings of the documentary, “The Wildest Dream: Conquest of Everest”.

Directed by Anthony Geffen, the goal of the production was not just to have Anker and fellow mountaineer Leo Houlding climb Everest utilizing period clothing and tools as much as possible in order to prove that Mallory was actually coming back down from the summit when he perished. It was also to tell the story of George Mallory; what drove him to make the attempt, the circumstances under which he did, the family he left with questions as to what happened. This is where the problems present themselves in the production.

The film begins with a rather dry exposition, giving the audience background of Mallory’s ill fated expedition. This wouldn’t be so bad, if it weren’t peppered with the same two or three photographs, coupled with slow push-ins on Mallory’s face, as Geffen attempts to elicit whatever emotion Liam Neeson’s authoritative and regal voice is asking of us. Then there’s the dramatic re-enactments of what people speculate happened to Mallory. These are done with all the quality and sure-handedness of an episode of “Unsolved Mysteries”.

After having seen “North Face” earlier this year, it’s clear that quality mountaineering can be done on-screen under real settings. Here, Anker and Houlding are the stand-ins for Mallory and his climbing partner, Andrew ‘Sandy’ Irvine, falling down what seems to be someone’s backyard sledding hill. Sadly, you might have well as used claymation because I wasn’t buying any of the danger attempting to be portrayed in these shoddy setups.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that this combination of factors had me leaning towards a quick exit from the theater about 20 minutes into the feature. I simply couldn’t take much more of this, or of the cheesy and useless manner in which Geffen introduces Anker into the story – going so far to avoid talking head syndrome that we are ‘treated’ to watching him walk around while his voice blathers on about something or another, supposedly integral enough to the film that it helps pad the 93 minute runtime.

Now, to the film’s benefit, once we actually get to the Everest expedition, things get interesting. It’s fascinating to see what climbers will endure, all for the sake of saying they’ve conquered a very tall, inanimate object that few people feel is worth the risk. Anker, Houlding, the sherpas and the production team certainly put themselves in harm’s way in order to bring back the footage – so kudos to them for the effort.

Sadly, the most impressive feat of skill and danger comes when we’re being introduced to Houlding as he free climbs a random wall somewhere far from the Himalayas. Pretty much all of the Everest business lacks any climbing related tension but rather makes things dicy because of the very real possibility of frost bite. And perhaps the most interesting human element is how Anker, following the death of a climbing partner and friend, marries that man’s wife a few years later; some serious soap opera potential there that comes out of nowhere in the film but feels like an atom bomb was dropped, only to have it casually swept under the rug like an aside.

If you’re a climber, then no doubt the film will interest you and I can recommend checking it out for that reason. Casual film goers, however, are better off choosing either another Everest documentary or finding “North Face” on DVD (it’s also streaming on Netflix). The drama revolving around Mallory’s climb is worthy of a film unto itself, dramatized or not, but combining it with Anker’s efforts only muddles the effect and I can only give “The Wildest Dream: Conquest of Everest” a 2.5 out of 5.