TMN Movie Review: "Beyond the Edge"

Photo Credit: Sundance Selects

Rating: NR
Length: 90 minutes
Release Date: July 4, 2014
Directed by: Leanne Pooley
Genre: Documentary / Drama / History

Sir Edmund Hillary made history when he and Tenzing Norgay became the first people in the world to climb Mount Everest and reach its summit. In today's world of Hollywood blockbusters and action movies, it's refreshing to see a film that delves deeper into a simple event that changed the face of mountaineering. Director Leanne Pooley combines historical and archival footage with new footage to give viewers an inside look at what those men went through in the 1950s in her new film "Beyond the Edge."

"Beyond the Edge" is far from a traditional documentary. While other documentaries rely heavily on the people the films focus on, Pooley had to draw from historical data. Norgay passed away in 1986, while Hillary died in 2008. She incorporates interviews that the duo completed after making their historic climb, but she also does a smart job of bringing in new data and modern day footage.

One of the highlights of the film is Peter Hillary. Though Peter was born the year after Hillary reached the summit, he grew up with his father's shadow standing over him. Peter saw how that climb changed his father's life and the way people treated him. Seeing him on screen discussing what his father was like in private and what his family went through will change the way viewers think about Hillary.

Pooley breaks up those interviews and footage with stunning 3D footage that she shot in and around Mount Everest. Using two mountain climbers standing in for Hillary and Norgay, the director manages to give viewers a new and unique perspective on what happened on that mountain. Few people today know that the climb was so taxing that the men almost ran out of oxygen before reaching the summit, but Pooley includes a re-creation of that event in her film. Even those who don't see "Beyond the Edge" in 3D will have a hard time forgetting some of the scenes in this film.

One of the more glorious scenes occurs towards the end of the documentary. Pooley shows the two men standing on a ledge and climbing towards the summit. She then pulls the camera back, which shows viewers how far the men climbed, how far they had left to go and how small they looked in the grand scheme of things. That one scene gives viewers a better understanding of what went through their minds on their climb.

As a New Zealand native, Pooley works hard not to focus too much on Hillary, who also came from New Zealand. Though she tries to devote as much screen time to Norgay, it's clear that she has a passion and interest in Hillary. Many historians and history enthusiasts today sometimes forget that Hillary didn't make the climb alone, but the film attempts to explain Norgay's importance to the climb and how closely he worked with Hillary.

Watching "Beyond the Edge" will remind viewers of how others once viewed the world. When Hillary and Norgay made their climb, the space race was still in its early stages. One interviewer mentions that many people viewed the Himalayas in the same way that they did space and that many thought of Mount Everest as one of the last few unexplored frontiers left in the world. Given the number of tourists who flock to the Himalayas today, listening to interviewers talk about it in that way might surprise some viewers.

Another moment that might surprise viewers is when Pooley reveals that Hillary and his brother were frequent rivals. Though both worked as beekeepers for a number of years, Hillary always yearned for something more. After making several unsuccessful climbs up Everest, the rivalry he had with his brother intensified, and that rivalry often spilled over into family events. Pooley lets Hillary talk about his family feud in person through several interviews he filmed over the years.

"Beyond the Edge" is one of the most stunning and interesting documentaries released in the last 15 or 20 years. Director Leanne Pooley smartly chose two real life climbers to film footage on a modern day expedition to Mount Everest, but she incorporates that archival footage of Hillary and Norgay discussing their own trip. She also brings in people who had a connection with both men, including fellow explorers and Hillary's son Peter. After watching "Beyond the Edge," viewers will walk away with a clearer idea of what that expedition meant to people around the world and how both Hillary and Norgay risked their lives to make that historic trek.