Up until Hillary’s groundbreaking feat, the ascent of Everest remained the last of Earth’s great uncompleted physical challenges. Standing at over 29,000 foot, the world’s highest mountain had claimed – at the very least – the lives of thirteen climbers in previous expeditions over the course of the 20th century. Hillary, a modest beekeeper from Auckland, New Zealand, and the experienced guide Norgay battled bottomless crevices, extreme temperatures and a lack of oxygen on their treacherous route into the history books, with news of their miraculous achievement officially announced on 2 June 1953 as Queen Elizabeth II prepared for her Coronation. Blending dramatic reconstruction with archive footage from the period, Pooley paints a picture of Hillary and Norgay as close friends as well as partners.
Beyond the Edge’s major failing is its overreliance on the recreated climb; in terms of quality, it isn’t a million miles away from a glossier version of the Michael Burke-presented nineties docudrama series 999. Hillary and Norgay, played by Chad Moffitt and Sonam Sherpa respectively, are largely portrayed as personality-devoid machines, grunting lumps of muscle and sinew slowly trudging their way up Mount Everest’s unforgiving incline. Talking head interviews are marginally more successful but hardly radical in their usage, further dampening what was a remarkable victory for human attrition and endurance against the odds. Modern cinema’s current curiosity in the Himalayan monolith looks set to continue with the arrival of Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur’s Everest – with Josh Brolin, Jake Gyllenhaal and Keira Knightley heading up the starry cast – in the second half of 2015. Here’s hoping Kormákur offers more to get the blood pumping than Pooley’s faltering 3D folly.