After Sherpa it is hard not to be at least a little disappointed with Jennifer Peedom’s follow-up effort. Less traumatic diary, more meandering essay cum extreme sports compilation, Mountain is a celebration of Earth’s uppermost extremities and the backdrop of – for better or worse – a thriving adventure industry. Where the former was understandably focused on Everest’s dangers and the arrogance of the commercial industry crowding the slopes, Mountain is an antidote and an attempt to explain the lure to all places that make us feel small and on edge – figuratively and literally.
As you would expect, the visuals are magnificent. While the scope is global this time, with Mountain pondering why people flock to mountains only to nearly kill themselves scaling them, Peedom’s cameras naturally gravitate back to Everest as the pinnacle of human exploring achievement. It does have a magnetic appeal and aerial shots gliding over the Himalayas will keep the stomach giddy for anyone prone to spates of vertigo. Those snow-crusted plateaus and the clouds that amass at their feet are worth the price of admission alone.
Perhaps Dave Warner’s OLED TV could have handled the view to his liking, but it’s a sublime perspective that really demands a cinema-standard projector. Moreover it’s a perspective of Everest that many might never have seen, given that most depictions of the mountain tend to be either distracted by grissly shots of frostbitten toes or obscured by all-consuming egos. We are thankfully spared this, though the frankly ridiculous footage of freewheeling mountain-bikers and intrepid hikers do trigger the recurrent presumption that people like this must be a nightmare for locals and emergency services alike.
That said, in many ways it’s refreshing to spend 70 minutes seeing Earth’s greatest hits flash across the screen as the Australian Chamber Orchestra attempts to do what Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings soundtrack did for New Zealand’s mountain ranges, in the process inserting a touch of unease at what these landscapes are capable of. Borrowing heavily from Vivaldi’s seasonal concertos, music director Richard Tognetti’s score never lacks energy, whether nervous or festive, ensuring that the footage and the soundtrack would be enough to go on with – if only Peedom had thought to stop there.
But no. Where this film overreaches is in its laboured narration. Willem Dafoe is a handy marketing attachment, but his impact is little more than one of nagging irritation on par with the moviegoer who rustles chips. In reciting the words of Robert MacFarlane his stilted dictation saps them of much of the gravitas they might have held on paper, though the fault is likely a joint effort here. Perhaps if MacFarlane had managed to provide the insight that would justify the lunacy that this film seems to regard with such reverence, then I might have forgiven him the effort. As it is, the film lacks a meaningful thematic purpose and the resulting tedium can only dampen the adrenaline rush.
Mountain is in cinemas from 21st September through Madman Films.