Sunday, May 08, 2011

[EUFF11] Mount St. Elias

The Long Road Up

Mount St. Elias is the second highest mountain in all of North America, and being quite unique given its snow capped peaks all year round, giving adventure thrill seekers a deadly objective to conquer should they not fail along the way and succumb to the various dangers that come with mountain climbing. For Axel Naglich and his team, they have raised the bar a little higher with the goal of getting to the summit, before ascending down in what would be deemed as the world's longest vertical ski, ending up at the body of icy water at the foot of the mountain. It's as insane as it is extremely challenging, and filmmaker Gerald Salmina ventures with this group to capture their moment of glory.

So you can imagine just how this film could have turned out if left in the hands of an untalented director, who will probably put in plenty of back slapping congratulatory messages and scenes in the film which is based on a true story. Instead, Salmina decided to begin with a death, highlighting the very real dangers that the adventurers, and probably the filmmakers themselves, have to undertake and face in order to produce a film such as this. One can also imagine the sheer logistics required in having to film this from multiple angles and vantage points, and probably only get one chance at doing so, lest the subjects themselves need to go through the whole shebang all over again, thus doubling effort and risks.

You may be under the impression that I had, that the film is about watching Axel and his team ski down Mount St. Elias from the summit all the way to the bottom, thus making this quite the awesome, near real time view, or even offering the first person's perspective on the long way down, meandering past obstacles in the way, or having to jump off cliffs along the route before landing back on the slopes, in some kind of extreme adventure sport. Unfortunately we are really talking about their lives here, with the film needing to paint a more human story behind the scenes on their preparatory works before their opportunity at attempting such high risk maneuvers, but that doesn't mean it is boring, contrary to that, because Axel happens to be quite articulate, and allows us layman a sneak peek into the tremendous efforts prior to the actual climb and ski.

And in doing so too, the film follows how a split is actually conducted given the risks involved. We see how they ski from base camp established somewhere along the mid way mark, down to the foot of the mountain, before another riskier attempt to climb to the summit, making it there, and then skiing all the way back to base camp. While it may seem like it isn't much, but trust me, you'll appreciate every ounce of effort put in by the adventurers and filmmakers as well who had to capture the attempts. Salmina's film puts you into the thick of the action and almost experiencing the same climbing effort required as if you're there with the team, although the ski down was shot mostly from a longer distance away (and possibly, from the looks of it, from a helicopter), allowing you to appreciate the twists, turns and jumps that have to be performed not to show off, but as neccessity to navigate the route down.

Unless one has the balls, equipment, skill and training, I suppose this is as close to performing the same stunt as one can experience, and I can imagine just how awesome Mount St. Elias, and the film, would look, if presented in an IMAX format. Recommended!

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