Mountains were once regarded as places to be avoided unless it was truly necessary, places of mystery and danger where only the hardiest - or most foolhardy - would venture, but around three hundred years ago there was a change, and the notion of climbing them for the sake of it, that famed expression "because it's there" springs to mind, grew to the industry we have today. Now daredevils of all stripes can ascend the peaks to their heart's content, and spending time on mountains has become a compulsion, getting back to nature, though what this documentary asks is, what compels these people upwards? What is the fascination with these towers of rock and ice?
Director Jennifer Peedom certainly did her best to convey the appeal of getting high, high on a mountaintop that was, with her documentary, given a touch of class by having Willem Dafoe read out Robert MacFarlane's narration and the Australian Chamber Orchestra playing various classical bits and pieces to emphasise the majesty of her imagery. Essentially a succession of high definition visuals of rolling landscapes, part of the amusement came from noticing you were actually looking at people, spotting the tiny figures dwarfed by vast cliffs and snowy plains picking their way through their journey to get up to the loftiest point they could achieve. It may make you wish to join in.
Then again, there were stages here where Peedom gave into her inner extreme sports video enthusiast and collated a bunch of clips of skiers, snowboarders, bikers, base jumpers and so forth tackling their pastime with abandon, which when later on Mount Everest is brought up as the worst kind of commercialisation of this activity, with thousands "queueing" on its face to get to the top, seemed a bit rich, or at least elitist, as if looking down on the peasants and tourists when the really passionate exponents of risking life and limb for the sake of capturing their holiday videos on a helmet-mounted camera (dangerous in itself) were held up as noble pioneers and adventurers off the beaten track.
So if there was a certain air of snobbery that gave a slightly offputting quality to some stretches of a fairly short movie, this was mitigated by some genuinely fine shots of mountains from around the world, from the Himalayas to North America, even to Scotland, though you would have to be an expert to be able to tell which feature was from which part of the planet. That narration could err on the side of pretension in parts, which was Peedom's right, but every so often that would hit the mark, such as when the epochs-long movement of the ranges were described as "waves of stone", a very apt item of characterisation. It was as if those tiny figures were not the protagonists in this film, but the mountains themselves; they may not have uttered a word, but their intimidating beauty spoke volumes.
So much so that you may be tempted to have preferred the documentary to play out with no people depicted in it at all, simply shot after shot of those peaks, because there were picture after picture of stunning landscapes to be witnessed here in a manner that, it was strongly implied, most of those watching would never have the chance, or even the bravery, to seek out in real life. Therefore there was a belittlement of the audience to an extent, and not merely because anybody would look near-infinitesimal in comparison to these vertiginous pinnacles, even at the remove of appreciating them on film, as if to remind us of how small, even insignificant, we were in the great scheme of things which would see those mountains far outlast us. If that perspective appealed to you, or if you liked to dream about making the slightest mark on that rock, be that with skis or crampons or otherwise, then this film would be right up your street (or crevasse, or canyon, or whatever your geographical feature of choice may have been).