It’s almost impossible to dislike an IMAX documentary (potential exceptions to this rule: History’s Greatest Naps, Chancres I Have Known, Snooki: A Life), so even though The Wildest Dream is a bit lacking in the dynamism department—its subject being, you know, a great big rock—it’s still a perfectly adequate piece of big, flashy, eye-straining entertainment.
In the early part of the 20th century, narrator Liam Neeson drones, “Everest was the edge of heaven, where many believed no human could survive.” And officially, no one did—not until Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reached the summit in 1953. But some believe that English mountaineer George Mallory, who died, cruelly, on Everest’s dangerous “Second Step” in 1924, may have been killed on his descent back down from the summit. That would mean he preceded Hillary and Norgay’s accomplishment by a good 30 years.
The Wildest Dream reconstructs Mallory’s truncated life (his time at Cambridge, his magnetic personality, his love for his wife, Ruth) and his deadly final expedition, as well as the discovery of his body in 1999 by noted climber Conrad Anker. The film’s swooping shots of Everest’s jagged shoulders and unforgiving flanks are appropriately breathtaking, but it’s in the small human moments where Wildest Dream gets interesting. In one scene, Anker’s wife and her children (their father was Anker’s partner who died on a climb—Anker eventually married his best friend’s widow) are eating breakfast at the kitchen table when Anker enters dressed in old-timey climbing gear. “Would you climb Everest in that suit?” the mother playfully asks one of her sons, who is probably around 10 years old. “No,” says the little boy who already lost one father to the Himalayas and is presently in danger of losing another. “What would you wear?” “I wouldn’t climb Everest.”