A Steep Climb

This pointless montage is the Rocky IV of mountain docs

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

RPL film theatre

June 29–31

Here is a conversation I had with an acquaintance of mine. Let’s call him Chad.

Me: Hey, Chad. What’s up.

Chad: Dude, I was wondering if you would like to come onboard a project as a producer. We’ll be shooting in Chile.

Me: Wow, what a fun, sexy idea! What is it about?

Chad: We want to shoot some nature, some aboriginals, and package it as a documentary. [Chad didn’t say aboriginals.]

Me: So… there isn’t really a theme. You just want to shoot stuff.

Chad: Yeah, yeah. You up for it?

Me: …I’m going to pass, but thanks… I guess.

I bring this exchange up because Mountain reminds me of Chad: It’s basically a 76-minute montage of really cool shots from elevations around the planet tied together by a narration built on platitudes. Now, the production had enough resources to get Willem Dafoe for the voiceover, and to hire the Australian Chamber Orchestra to perform Vivaldi and Beethoven greatest hits. But there’s very little beyond those cosmetic touches.

The documentary opens with a promising statement: three centuries ago, climbing mountains would have been considered lunacy. But after a brief flirtation with a chronological timeline, the approach is abandoned to show cool shots of skiers, the hardships of scaling, and random shots of Tibetan monks, lava, and a goat.

Granted, the imagery keeps the doc from becoming unbearable but outside some worthy editing work there isn’t much of a film. Gorgeous mountain shots aren’t hard to find and it doesn’t seem like director Jennifer Peedom did much more than collect them. Three years ago, the filmmaker delivered the far superior (and infinitely more compelling) Sherpa. Can’t imagine what was she thinking about here.

Dafoe is talented enough to keep the bargain-bin philosophy that sustains the narration from becoming laughable but lines like “from the waves of stone flows life” are hard to not sneer at.

Mountain lacks a sense of purpose. That said, I should get Chad in contact with the doc’s producers. I’m sure they would get along.