The Epic of Everest is a loving restoration of the film made by Captain John Noel as George Mallory, Andrew Irvine, their fellow explorers and their many Sherpa porters try to be the first to set foot on the summit of the world’s tallest mountain; a quest that would claim two of the team’s lives.
There is little doubt that setting out to conquer Everest is a daunting task. The name of the mountain looms almost larger than the summit itself, and many have died trying to make their way to the top of the world. Captain John Noel not only captured the majesty of the Tibetan landscape, but also is one of the first records made of Tibetan life, making the film an important historical record.
The footage, restored and re-coloured by the BFI, shows Captain John Noel’s ability to capture the scale and isolation of the voyage to Everest, as well as the daunting task that lay before the climbers. While piecing his footage together, it does seem that Noel gave into melodrama and romanticised the mountain whose shadow he stood in, but it is easy to forget that this film was made during the advent of cinema. Audiences were not as used to seeing such striking images on screen, and not yet as desensitised as audiences in 2013, that are well used to seeing the majesty of Everest in images and on the big screen.
Melodrama, and title cards filled with flowery phrasing aside, The Epic of Everest is an interesting look at the hardships faced by those that tried to be the first to conquer the mountain. Two men lost their lives during the expedition that Captain Noel spearheaded. Noel is also the first man to have ever captured moving images of Everest, during a reconnaissance mission in 1922. The trouble with this beautiful film, is that it feels slightly unfocused by today’s standards, and it’s 82 minute running time is a little too drawn out.
The Epic of Everest may not be the mountain adventure film we might expect, but it is a loving, and sometimes fearful, look at the tallest point on earth. Captain Noel filmed, and put his film together with care, and the BFI’s restoration is testament to his work. Just don’t expect a thrill ride from start to finish.