Friday, 24 January 2014

Blu-ray Review: The Epic Of Everest

With its summit proudly standing some 29,000 ft above sea level, Mount Everest has long been a source of fascination and dogged ambition for people all around the world.

In 1924, George Mallory and Sandy Irvine attempted to reach the summit and actually got further than any previous expedition, though we'll probably never know exactly how close they got to the top. This treacherous journey was caught on camera by Captain John Noel and, some 90 years on, remains a breathtaking and emotional experience that has been restored and brought to Blu-ray by the BFI.
The Epic Of Everest serves not only as a visual documentation of the expedition - punctuated by often heartbreaking inter-titles - but also as one of the earliest records on film of the Tibetan people who live in the shadow of what they call Chomolungma, Goddess Mother Of The World.

Noel had actually gone into Tibet in 1913, reaching a place called Tashirak which lies just 40 miles from the mountain; a journey which inspired him to one day return with the aim of conquering Everest. Using some amazing state-of-the-art photographic equipment, Noel has left us with a visually stunning record of the expedition, following the intrepid team as they negotiate the lakes, valleys and ridges that lead to a place nearer to God than any man had ever reached before. Irvine was the youngest of the party at just 22 years of age, and was last seen with Mallory some 600 ft from the summit of Everest. After that last sighting, the party had no knowledge of their situation, leaving only two conclusions to be drawn: the pair had reached the summit but lacked any remaining strength to make their way down, or they fell short of their goal and froze to death with the summit so tantalisingly close. I'm sure we all like to think those heroic men reached the top and hel each other tight in the knowledge that Everest's summit, for just a short while, was populated by living, breathing men whose graves would soon take the form of a pure white blanket of snow.

The BFI Blu-ray presents The Epic Of Everest via a restoration from nitrate positives held by the Institute's National Archive, and taken from two existing copies with the best source for each shot determined. The result is an incedibly detailed work, capturing the mountain's beauty and also its unforgiving nature.

Frozen mist and glacial ice, evening light beams dancing on the ice world all around and gorgeous colour tinted sequences are all a joy to behold, and hugely benefit from the collaboration with Captain Noel's daughter, Sandra.
The extras on this disc begin with 'Introducing The Epic Of Everest' where Sandra Noel and Bryony Dixon (curator of silent film at the BFI) discuss the background and filming process. 'Restoring The Epic Of Everest' is a discussion on the film's restoration process with Bryony Dixon, Ben Thompson (BFI National Archive) and Lisa Copson (Deluxe Digital) where the importance of staying true to the films origins is underlined.
'Scoring The Epic Of Everest' is a conversation with Simon Fisher Turner who was commissioned by the BFI to write a new score. Here, he discusses his approach to his work on this project and how he went with raw musicians to realise a modern sound. Certainly, his beautiful shimmering score adds vivid brushstrokes to Noel's compelling visuals and is an out-and-out success, with Mojo Magazine voting it number one soundtrack of the year.
Completists will also enjoy the inclusion of the original 1924 score as recreated by Julie Brown who is a specialist on film music and early twentieth-century concert music, and there are also additional music pieces that accompanied the film on its first screening at the Scala in London.
This dual format edition has the 1924 film programme downloadable from the DVD as a PDF, and the BFI have included a 30 page illustrated booklet with essays and contributions from Sandra Noel, explorer Wade Davis, Julie Brown, Simon Fisher Turner and the BFI's Kieron Webb. It's a wholly satisfying and informative way to end this very special package.
The Epic Of Everest is released on 27th January.

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