Monday, 9 September 2013

BEYOND THE EDGE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - #TIFF 2013 - Edmund Hillary Mt. Everest recreation ruined by 3-D.

Beyond The Edge (2013) **1/2
Dir. Leanne Pooley

Review By Greg Klymkiw

There aren't many stories of sheer endurance for endurance's sake as awe-inspiring as Sir Edmund Hillary's legendary climb to the top of Mt. Everest in 1953. I wish I could say that Leanne Pooley's film, Beyond The Edge, is better than it is since it comes to us on the 60th anniversary of Sir Eddie's achievement.

The film - on one level is a fine coming-together of technical wizardry, exhaustive research and a very challenging approach to storytelling. Poole had seemingly unrestricted access to all manner of archival material - gorgeous 16mm colour footage, Alf Gregory's legendary 35mm stills and what seems like every audio interview with the participants that's ever been laid down to tape. This is all to the good. Adding to the mix is newly-shot footage in the Southern Alps that recreates key points of the expedition. Though I will confess to not being a big fan of recreations, I must concede that Poole does a fine job matching every aspect of the new stuff with all the archival material both narratively (very good) and visually (well, close but no cigar).

From a story standpoint, the movie will grip you in ways that many other movies could not have possibly achieved. Kudos to Poole's writing and direction on this front. Unfortunately, one is constantly taken out of the story by two things - the use of the abominable 3-D process for one, and the attempts to match the myriad of audio-visual materials in terms of the actual colour grading.

To the first point - 3-D seldom adds to the genuine enjoyment of a picture. The process is still flawed as it requires wearing uncomfortable glasses and worse, the glasses are polarized and darken EVERYTHING to distraction. Where this hurts the most, frankly, is in the 16mm motion picture and 35mm still footage - the colours of which are so heartbreakingly vibrant that in 3-D, they pale in comparison to what you know is there. Just try popping the glasses off periodically and you'll see precisely how egregious the process is. In fact, you can do this for pretty much ANY 3-D movie, but it hurts the most when utilized with real film footage from a time when colours were naturally more vibrant than what we're used to seeing now.

As well, some form of digital enhancement would have had to be employed to render these period images in 3-D and the images blown up (even when the original aspect ratio is maintained) feel horrendously compromised. For me, making "old" look "new" or "better" can often result in it looking far less stellar than it should.

To the overall colour timing, I'm even more disappointed as the attempts to match everything add another layer of muting which is continually disappointing. For me, I'd have been perfectly fine if the filmmaker did NOT try to match things in the colour grading and perhaps added some post-modernist layer to the proceedings for us to accept it. This, however, was NOT the intent. In terms of intent, I suspect it's state of the art - or, as state of the art as it's ever going to be.

Where I plan to give the film another chance is at home, on flat (not 3-D) Blu-Ray. I suspect for a whack-job like me, it will work beautifully. For everyone else, especially those who are more (wrongly and indiscriminately, I'm afraid) accepting of the 3-D process, they will no doubt not be bothered by this and hopefully can concentrate on the storytelling.

For me, the storytelling suffers.

"Beyond The Edge" is part of the TIFF DOCS series at the Toronto International Film Festival 2013 (#TIFF13) and you can order tickets directly for the TIFF website HERE.