Judge Clark Douglas has not climbed the Eiger, but he once visited an Alpine-themed mini-golf course.
One man. One Eiger. No sanctions.
The Alps tells the story of John Harlin III, a man born in Switzerland whose father died attempting to climb the great Eiger, an extraordinarily dangerous mountain. John has spent the majority of his life in America, but he has recently decided to go back to Switzerland. "As the editor of the American Alpine Journal, I love to write and to climb," he says. This film, of course, is primarily concerned with the latter of Mr. Harlin's two loves. John Harlin III has determined to conquer the very mountain that conquered his father. Will he succeed?
I must say, I've always found these Imax films to be reliable sources of edutainment (emphasis on the "tainment"). This one in particular demonstrates the sheer indestructibility of Imax films. The Alps really ought to be rather uninteresting. I can't remember many documentary subjects quite so dull as John Harlin III. Don't get me wrong, he seems like a nice man. But aside from the fact that he climbs huge mountains, he doesn't really seem to have anything interesting to say. "I like climbing mountains," he says. Indeed. There is a moment in this film when a young girl asks, "What kind of rocks are on the mountains?" Harlin pauses for a moment and replies, "Oh, there are a lot of rocks. There's, uh, limestone, and…uh, granite…and other rocks such as that." It sounds agonizingly boring, and it probably would be if the presentation weren't quite so strong.
The film benefits from a wide variety of attributes. The first is, you guessed it, the jaw-dropping images of the Alps presented here in glorious 1080p. If the beauty of nature is the sort of thing that tickles your fancy, then you will be thrilled to simply be given the opportunity to look at this film. When Harlin starts to drone a bit about one thing or the other, the film wisely doesn't spend much time observing him, but offering us terrific aerial shots of these majestic mountains. There's one particularly remarkable shot of an avalanche that gives us a first-hand view of what it would look like to get overwhelmed by such a thing. Every once in a while, narrator Michael Gambon (Layer Cake) pops in to say something about how the mountains have been formed and changed over time.
The transfer here is just splendid, with a rich color palette and a steady stream of "knockout" shots. The visuals and the audio work together nicely to create a very immersive experience…the sound design here really does provide a cool surround sound experience. Like many Imax films, this one is also graced with a rich soundtrack. Majestic orchestral music is provided by Steve Wood, whose soaring string swells never seem over-the-top or inappropriate when contrasted with these lush visuals. The movie is also graced with some songs courtesy of Queen (well, 15-second snippets of songs, anyway), and original solo guitar work from Brian May. The solo guitar sequences are pretty cool, even if they are quite reminiscent of Pete Haycock's guitar solos from Hans Zimmer's score for the European version of the mountain-climbing film K2. Derivative moments aside, the music here is really enjoyable, and is given a very strong mix that makes one want to crank up the volume a bit (apologies to my neighbors if I frightened them).
The primary supplement here is a 39-minute making-of piece that is quite engaging, and actually offers more honest-to-goodness details than the feature itself. The only real problem is that it's presented in standard-def non-anamorphic widescreen, which is a big disappointment. Elsewhere, we get a variety of lightweight goodies: a trivia quiz, a sheet of facts about the Alps, a video montage (in HD) of Switzerland, a brief featurette about MacGillivray Freeman films, a sheet of info about cinematographer Greg MacGillivray, and trailers for about 10 other Imax films (all in HD).
The documentary runs a brief 44 minutes and has a tendency to focus on style over substance. The trip up the mountain can basically be described as follows: "Dad tried to climb the mountain. He failed. Now I'm going to try to climb the mountain. Hey, look, I'm trying now! Okay, I made it. Hooray!" It really doesn't get a whole lot more detailed than that. While I'm sure that there is a compelling documentary to be made chronicling all the little details of Mr. Harlin's experience, this one is focused on providing a short, sweet audiovisual highlight reel of awesomeness. Like limestone, and, uh, granite and such…this flick rocks.
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