Beyond the Edge (NR)
Action/Adventure 93 min. July 4, 2014
Before he became famous as a mountaineer, Hillary was a beekeeper, explorer and Royal New Zealand Air Force navigator. Like any other well-to-do postwar New Zealander, he spent a great deal of time in twill and well-manicured gardens, hardly preparation for the highest points of the Himalayas. There, “The air is so dry that it sucks the moisture right from your skin,” and the only way to obtain water is by melting snow, but at high altitudes it's hard to act with such practicality. Oxygen deprivation addles the brain. Despite the power differential between them, explorer and guide had to rely on one another intensely to survive.
With the facts so poignant, there's little that needs dramatizing. Hillary carried the hopes of the British Empire in an age of failing nationalism. Could he and Tenzing do something no one had ever survived? The documentary only falters when it relies too much on show, using contemporary re-enactments that are sometimes compelling but often stilted or alien. Like a mountaineer grappling on sheet ice, the film's focus on performance can result in a loss of footing.