Everest looks suitably majestic in this IMAX documentary, though five different expeditions on the peak are awkwardly cobbled into one dubious narrative. At issue is whether, in 1924, George Mallory and his rope-mate reached the summit 30 years before Edmund Hillary. Mallory's body was discovered in 1999 by American climber Conrad Anker, which prompted much media speculation and several new books on the subject. In 2007, Anker went back to test the hypothesis—i.e., sell more books and make this movie with director Anthony Geffen—that Mallory might've been able to free-climb the "Second Step" on Everest's north side (a section today scaled using an aluminum ladder). In addition to the many stills, old newsreels, and passages read from Mallory's loving correspondence with his wife, Anker and his English rope-mate briefly don (recreated) '20s climbing attire to ponder whether Mallory could've survived in the Death Zone without plastic boots and down parkas. But this becomes a somewhat ridiculous costume show, with two trudging figures in tweed, filmed in sepia tones, set to the epistolary drama. "There's no dream that mustn't be dared," says Mallory through the voice of Ralph Fiennes. Liam Neeson narrates, and in an unintentionally morbid, mournful touch, Neeson's late wife, Natasha Richardson, reads the letters from Ruth Mallory. The photography is stunning, of course, but the historical conjecture and CSI: Everest vibe are less impressive.
Anker approaches the north side of Everest.
Opens at Pacific Science Center, Fri., Aug. 6. Rated PG-13. 93 minutes.Read our SIFF interview with Conrad Anker.