The Epic of Everest (A J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
November 11, 2015 by Dennis Amith
“The Epic of Everest” is a fascinating documentary. It gives us an early peek into the lives of those in Tibet during the 1920’s and also what transpired when filmmaker J.B.L. Noel and the mountaineers of the 1924 Everest Expedition began their ascent. A silent documentary that manages to capture beauty and tragedy. Recommended!
TITLE: The Epic of Everest
FILM RELEASE: 1924
DURATION: 87 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:33:1 Original Aspect Ratio, B&W with color tinting, 5.1 DTS-HD MA with with a newly commissioned score by Simon Fisher Turner.
COMPANY: Kino Classics/Kino Lorber
Release Date: September 8, 2015
Directed by J.B.L. Noel
Music by Simon Fisher-Turner
The 1924 Everest expedition culminated in the deaths of two of the finest climbers of their generation, George Mallory and Andrew Irvine, and sparked an ongoing debate over whether or not they did indeed reach the summit. THE EPIC OF EVEREST (1924) is an awe-inspiring travelogue of their perilous journey.
Filming in brutally harsh conditions with a specially adapted camera, Captain John Noel captured images of breathtaking beauty and considerable historic significance. The film is also among the earliest filmed records of life in Tibet and features sequences at Phari Dzong (Pagri), Shekar Dzong (Xegar) and Rongbuk monastery. But what resonates so deeply is Noel s ability to frame the vulnerability, isolation and courage of people persevering in one of the world’s harshest landscapes.
The restoration by the BFI National Archive has transformed the quality of the surviving elements of the film and reintroduced the original colored tints and tones. Revealed by the restoration, few images in cinema are as epic or moving as the final shots of a blood-red sunset over the Himalayas.
In 1924, filmmaker and mountaineer, J.B.L. Noel would film a documentary about English mountaineers Andrew Irvine and George Mallory on an expedition to Mount Everest.
The pair set a goal to make the first ascent of the world’s highest mountain and when the two mountaineers tried to achieve their goal on the third attempt, the two never came back down and were declared as deceased. Whether or not the two have successfully climbed the summit, no one would know.
But what is for certain, J.B.L. Noel documented the expedition in which the two men and others would perish during the 1924 British Mount Everest Expedition and would be featured in the documentary “The Epic of Everest”.
The film would receive digital restoration in 2013 and was re-released in UK cinemas. And now the digitally restored version was released on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber.
The documentary “The Epic of Everest” follows Captain John Noel filming in brutally harsh and cold conditions, so harsh that two men involved in the expedition would die of frostbite and hypothermia.
The film would feature the expedition group meeting with the Sherpa and also capturing the beauty of Tibet and the Phari Dzong, Shekar Dzong and Rongbuk monastery and the documentary is also essentially one of the first to films to show life in Tibet.
But the focus is on the brave souls who took part in the expedition but to also further the debate of whether or not both George Mallory and Andrew Irvine ever climbed to the top of the summit.
“The Epic of Everest” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:33:1 aspect ratio) and is color tinted. The Blu-ray release features a new digital restoration that brings out the clarity of the film. The film has a little wear considering it’s age, there is no major warping or nitrate damage, so for a silent film/documentary, picture quality is very good.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“The Epic of Everest is presented in 5,1 DTS-HD MA featuring a newly commissioned score by Simon Fisher-Turner with instruments that utilize the surround channels. I was quite impressed by the use of the surround channels for this documentary.
The film is presented with English intertitles.
“The Epic of Everest” comes with the following special features:
- Introducing the Epic of Everest – (9:02) Featuring interviews with a BFI curator, Bryony Dixon and Sandra Noel (daughter of Captain John Noel) who filmed “The Epic of Everest” and more.
- Scoring the Epic of Everest – (8:16) A featurette about the new music score by Simon Fisher Turner.
- Restoring the Epic of Everest – (6:19) A featurette about why and how the film was restored.
- Trailer – (1:31) Theatrical trailer for “The Epic of Everest” for its 2013 theatrical re-release.
“The Epic of Everest” is considered a national treasure as it is an official record of what took place during the 1924 Mount Everest Expedition and what happened to the individuals who took part in the expedition.
But as the story about Andrew Irvine and George Mallory is important, I would like to first focus on Noel’s film outside of the two men.
JBL Noel had mountaineering in his blood. Having spent time near the Himalayas in 1913, taking part in the 1922 Everest expedition as the official photographer and filmmaker and even making a short film titled “Climbing Mount Everest” in 1922.
So, there is no doubt that Noel was passionate about being a filmmaker and capturing other fellow mountaineers on camera and what best for him to film the 1924 Everest expedition with Andrew Irvine and George Mallory.
Enamored with the Tibetans and having worked with them to get to Everest, “The Epic of Everest” is a historical film in the sense of capturing the culture in the early 1920’s. From observances of their culture, their clothing, how they raise their families, etc.
But once the expedition begins as the crew make their way and begin their climb on Everest, you are then captivated by the sheer beauty of the images of Everest that Noel was able to capture. And also to see the brave crew push themselves to the limits.
But with each successful ascent, things become more grave as the freezing temperatures and mother nature become a force that even the best mountaineers may not be ready for.
But while J.B.L. Noel, an experienced mountaineer even knew his own personal limits, there is no doubt that he understood the magnitude of his film that would be documenting the final moments of a few of the men he met during the expedition.
So, for a beautiful documentary that showcased the gorgeous Everglades, unfortunately the film clearly demonstrates the risks that mountaineers must be prepared for, in order to scale the summit.
It’s probably one of the first documentaries that exposed people to nature in such a truthful, honest way and showing that even the most beautiful locations are challenging to film, challenging to climb and even with skilled mountaineers, even the best may not make it alive.
And while the footage was probably shocking for its time, for those of us today, we marvel at the risks taken by J.B.L. Noel as a filmmaker, because he like others in the expedition, they sacrificed their lives to strive for their goal.
And for Andrew Irvine and George Mallory, the film shows how courageous these men are, but what happened when these two skilled individuals never came back.
And while the 1999 discovery of one of the bodies gave us additional clues to what may have happened to the men, the debate of whether or not they accomplished their goal and reached the summit is not yet known.
But “The Epic of Everest” is more or less a documentation of their perseverance and moments leading to their tragic end.
As for the Blu-ray release, “The Epic of Everest” looks great in HD. The digital restoration and remastering features more clarity and its newly commissioned soundtrack is crystal clear. And most impressively, the use of the soundtrack and its output through the surround channels.
The additional special features were also good to see as the BFI curator discusses the importance of the film, while we get to know more about the men who gave their lives in the 1924 Everest expedition.
Overall, “The Epic of Everest” is a fascinating documentary. It gives us an early peek into the lives of those in Tibet during the 1920’s and also what transpired when filmmaker J.B.L. Noel and the mountaineers of the 1924 Everest Expedition began their ascent. A silent documentary that manages to capture beauty and tragedy. Recommended!
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