3.27.2008

Everest: Beyond the Limit

I've been looking at the first season of the documentary series Everest: Beyond the Limit. The Discovery Channel series is visually arresting. The cinematography and depth of coverage of the characters and their daily lives on the mountain is both beautiful and thorough. But I think this piece is a little disingenuous, on the balance, in its glorification of the mountain as a "prize" and not the dangerous endeavor that is its reality.

From what I can see of the mountain, the rampant environmental concerns that are well documented in books like High Crimes has been minimized. It's surely not there in most of the frames I see from base camp. If the filmmakers are sanitizing man's impact on the mountain, then that is a serious injustice. Based on his resume, Michael Kodas' (author of High Crimes) credibility is more than sufficient for me not to doubt the claims he makes in his book. These claims include piles of oxygen canisters, general rubbish and human waste all over the side of the mountain. If Discovery is not depicting the reality of our impact on the mountain, then it's a serious shortfall for this series.

The 2006 season features a number of characters long on courage but short on intellect. These folks literally try to kill themselves in their obsession to get to the top of this mountain, making the idea of "Suicide by Everest" a very real phenomenon, it would seem. I think the unique climactic challenges of the mountain, coupled with the random nature of extreme weather and the unpredictability of other climbers on the mountain should make Discovery's coverage stress just how dangerous this activity really is. But to the contrary, the piece glorifies the idiots who donate fingers, toes, noses and limbs to the cause of saying "I did it."

The original title of the documentary, according to Kodas, was Everest: No Experience Required. While Discovery wisely changed the title, the spirit of that message is clearly alive in this piece. That's dangerous. The vast, vast majority of the world's population should never attempt to spend a half-day above 7,000 meters, let alone 8,000. Climbers with chronic debilitating illnesses (diabetes, heart disease, asthma) and minimal levels of physical fitness often attempt to summit as part of a fundraiser. These people shouldn't be on the mountain! But documentaries like this one, fascinating though they might be as entertainment, only contribute to the idea of climbing Everest as a rich person's leisure sport. This is nothing like catching a marlin on light tackle, boys and girls.

This is your life.

I think the documentary, in terms of production quality and photography, is great. But it's not stern enough in illustrating the true nature of the beast.

Turning to theaters this week, the fare seems kind of weak. Stop-Loss looks a politicized war film (done by MTV studios, no less) that has some promise. I imagine the third act dissolves into an emotional hijacking meant to leave audiences weepy. American Zombie might find a couple of hundred screens. Yet another American zombie satire that looks like it can't hold Shaun of the Dead's jock...

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