John Harlin III attempts to climb the North Face of the Eiger in Switzerland, the site of his father's death 40 years earlier.
Review by Louise Keller:
With the majesty of the mountains coupled with an emotional impact as dense as tightly packed snow, The Alps is an awesome experience. There's something almost spiritual about being high up in the peaks where the snowy tips meet the blue sky. I suppose it's about the scale and enormity of the power that scale generates. As well as the breathtaking beauty that extends as far as the eye can see. But this is no ordinary documentary being showcased on the giant Imax screen. The Alps is intrinsically a personal story - the story of John Harlin III, whose mountain-climber father was killed on the slopes of the Eiger 40 years ago and who now lifts the heavy burden he has carried with him all his life, by retracing his father's steps.
It is hard not to be swept away by the grandeur of it all - the opening scenes alone, immersing us in the sculptured smooth snow, jagged rocks and world beyond the clouds are breathtaking. MacGillivray Freeman Films have great expertise with films of this magnitude, and here, with Stephen Judson's excellent script and direction, and John Harlin's charismatic participation, its success is assured. The Alps is a journey in more ways than one. It takes us to Switzerland, which, we are told, may occupy a small space on the map, but makes up for it in vertical dimension with its spectacular mountains. Michael Gambon's narration is authoritative and entertaining but we never feel as though we are being taught anything. We are hanging on every word. Re-enactments are combined with fascinating insights into glaciers, erosion and avalanche research, as well as mountaineering safety and survival.
Despite the wonder we feel as the cameras take us over precipices that make our stomach quiver, it is only equalled by what we feel in emotional terms through our connection to John Harlin. The story that he shares with us is so personal that we cannot help but be moved. The tribute he pays to his father is one that reinforces the connection we all share with our family, and propelled by the emotive music by Queen, we are left on a high note - literally.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
A giant screen to tell an intimate yet soaring story . . . John Harlin III was just 9 when his father died after a rope broke during his climb of the infamous, awesome and ruggedly beautiful Eiger mountain. It took him 40 years mostly because he wanted to spare his mother the anguish, but finally it had to be done. And it was done through an opportunity offered to him by the filmmakers, who wanted to tell an Alpine story. This is one of the best.
Using helicopters to transport the hefty IMAX camera gear, the filmmakers shot the preparation and the climb. Inside the story of alpine climbing are the intimate personal stories of the Harlin family, and the details that give us the understanding - the reasons why. This is important and valuable as the doing itself, a scary task, but also an exhilarating one.
The visually extravagant format of IMAX takes us directly into the Alps (especially if you sit near the front as I like to) giving audiences an immersive and exciting experience. The sensation is almost tangible and the story engaging. We meet Harlin's family and we learn a bit about the origins of the Alps as well as about climbing. But the majority of the action is cliff hanging stuff. Literally.
Email this article
AVAILABLE ON DVD
ALPS, THE (PG)
CAST: Documentary featuring John Harlin III, Adele Harlin, Siena Harlin, Adele Hammond, Daniela Jasper, Robert Jasper
NARRATION: Michael Gambon
PRODUCER: Greg McGillivray, Mark Krenzien,
DIRECTOR: Stephen Judson
SCRIPT: Stephen Judson, Stephen Venables
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Brad Ohlund
EDITOR: Stephen Judson
RUNNING TIME: 45 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: IMAX
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 4, 2009