Newly restored for its 70th anniversary, George Lowe’s remarkable documentary The Conquest of Everest joins the lustrous Vintage Classics range from StudioCanal. The film charts multiple attempts to reach the top of the titular mountain, but it’s the now famous ninth mountaineering attempt led by John Hunt that saw Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary become the first climbers to reach Mount Everest’s peak.
In our age of streaming shows and a never-ending supply of documentaries that explore our planet, it can be easy to forget that recording footage in an unforgiving landscape was once a treacherous endeavour. While no expedition up a mountain is free from immediate danger, there’s no escaping that it is substantially less risky today; there were no satellite phones, GPS, or drones, and let’s not forget that there was no such thing as digital cameras, this was all shot on celluloid film.
To put it into even more stark perspective, the world’s first practical helicopter took its first flight barely 14 years before this film was released. The sheer achievement that this film exists is a marvel in itself, and that’s before we consider the stunning footage that was captured.
At times, the film forgets to tell us much about the people we are watching; the inherent dangers of their expedition are clear, but the peril of the journey outweighs the motivation. Be that as it may, the triumphant music from Arthur Benjamin perfectly matches the inspirational visuals. Running at a brisk 78 minutes, you are left wondering how much more footage was shot that we’ll never see. Highlighting more of the day-to-day struggles of the expedition would have added an extra emotional, relatable layer to Lowe’s film. We might not all be able to fathom the conditions the climbers and team experienced, but deep down, everybody who watched this wanted to know how they go to the bathroom in freezing conditions.
The Conquest of Everest is out now on DVD and Blu-ray.