The North Face – A movie review

In reading a number of books lately on Everest and related subjects, it seems that I have become a bit of a junkie. No, cancel that, I have become a lot of a junkie, an obsessive in fact. I may have mentioned recently that I had bought eight books at once on Everest. That was the start. Having read most of that original list, I have been acquiring the odd one or two ‘here and there’ from Amazon (don’t you just love ‘one click’ buys? :)). I looked at my bedside table the other day and was amused/shocked to count 18 books there, and they are just the ones that I have unwrapped. I’d better get some reading in before I buy more it seems.

My purchases have not, I am afraid to say been confined to books either. It was whilst reading the totally excellent book by Ed Viesturs, called ‘No Shortcuts to the Top’ that he mentioned a DVD about the ill-fated 1996 Everest mission, where 12 people lost their lives on the mountain. I therefore sought out and bought the DVD, and am looking forward very much to it’s arrival. I think it is called just “Everest” and was originally an IMAX movie. Apparently when shot this was an incredible achievement of logistics and strength (they took the cameras literally to the summit) – as an IMAX camera alone, before film and tripod and what have you, weighs 44lbs, which would test the strength of even the hardiest and strongest Sherpas.

The purpose of this post however was to comment upon another DVD (well a Blu Ray actually) that landed through my letterbox yesterday, as they seem to do as frequently as the books. Strangely enough, it was not about Everest at all, but it is about mountains naturally 🙂 It is called North Face.

The movie is a very recent one, shot just three years ago. It is a German film (in German and with English subtitles), and a true story. It focusses on the efforts of a number of people (and two in particular, Toni Kurz and Andi Hinterstoisser) who are attempting to climb one of the most revered and respected of all mountains, the North Face of the Eiger. Set in 1936, with a backdrop of Naziism and ensuing propaganda (Hitler apparently offered gold medals for a successful climb), the film shows in graphic and close up detail the climbers attempts on the then-unclimbed peak.

I was riveted from the outset, and almost forgot that the subtitles were there after a while. The characters are brilliantly portrayed, and you are right there with them, willing them on in the face of blizzards and everything else that the mountain can throw at them. The cinematography is also outstanding, showing the Eiger in glorious detail, both in close up and from the perspective of the watching and impatient journalists, peering through their telescopes from their fancy hotels at the foot of the mountain.

Without wishing to spoil the movie for anyone who hasn’t seen it and wishes to, I won’t put in here how the movie ends. All I can say is that for gripping, edge of your seat stuff, look no further. As a mountain movie it is the best I have ever seen – knocking Touching The Void well into second spot on that score. You feel like you are hanging off the mountain with them at times. As a true and historical look at one of the most iconic peaks in history, it also both sated my thirst for more mountain knowledge, and also fuelled my hunger (insatiable though that already is) for more and more of it. I’d give the movie a solid 8/10 if I wasn’t a mountain obsessive, and a resolute 9.5/10 because I am. Picture and sound quality were both first class too.

If you are into this sort of thing, all I’ll say is buy it with confidence. Don’t even worry if (unlike me) you know the story already. I don’t think it will detract from much at all if you do. I am looking forward to watching it for a second time, but then again, I am obsessed 🙂

I’d love to hear from anyone who has other recommendations on mountain movies for me. I need to get the DVDs to compete with the books!

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