*Note: The Alps was originally created for exhibition in IMAX theaters
The Show - out of
The large format IMAX films, seen in IMAX theatres, are incredible experiences. Short films that educate, entertain and enthrall are the mainstay of these oversized screens and, while IMAX has grown itself over the years, profiling big blockbuster films, like The Dark Knight, its true source of constant marvel is short film documentaries. Filmmaking Company MacGillivray-Freeman has been creating documentary style films that capture imagination with a grand visual boldness and lushly filmed grandeur for decades. The films created have explored and educated on the magnificence of the planet, from the depths of the sea, to the heights of flight. The library includes the first film of theirs, To Fly!, through incredible and at times Oscar nominated and winning shorts such as The Living Sea, Dolphins and Everest. The incredible talents of the MacGillivray-Freeman company, independently run out of Laguna Beach, CA, have even been used in major motion pictures, notably Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining for the sweeping aerial shots
In The Alps, the story of human endurance against one of natures most indomitable challenges, is another triumph in a long library of wonderful accomplishments. Created with funding by Holcim (a construction compant) and ‘Switzerland Tourism’, it tells a compelling story following John Harlin III who has sought to climb the treacherous Eiger North Face in the Swiss Alps ever since his father, John Harlin II died making the attempt in 1966. This is the very personal heart at the center of this triumphant tale, as John with his wife and daughter visit the same hotel from which John’s father made the ill-fated attempt over forty years prior and make preparations for John along with two other experienced climbers Robert and Daniela Jasper to climb.
With soft narration by Michael Gambon (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix), and additional narration of the story by John Harlin III himself, there is a calmness and peacefulness to the entire experience, with exceptions during moments of daring and danger, as the physical, mental and emotional preparations are made and the journey us undertaken. John Harlin himself is a compelling character himself. Once he and his family arrive in beautiful Switzerland, traveling on a train through the hills and lower mountains, the film provides a little explanation of how the magnificent Alps evolved through time through some reasonably effective but simple computer effects.
Film’s like The Alps appeal to very specific audiences – those with an interest in the subject matter at hand and those with a penchant for lush, sweeping cinematography accompanied by music that is evocative of the canvass unfolding, with alternating subtlety and passion. For those with a proclivity for delicious and impressive cinematography, The Alps will be a powerful experience. Images of the foreboding Matahorn, the vastness of the mountain range from aerial shots, the broad but receding glaciers and the perils of the formidable North Face. The images are graceful, filled with reverence for the natural majesty.
This isn’t a deep documentary, you don’t so much learn as feel through the experience and that would be best felt in an IMAX theater. But how does that experience hold up in the home? Not bad. Certainly the grandeur of the enveloping screen, placing you squarely among the chilling and biting winds the lash against the mountain and the scary heights that are scaled as the brave climbers inch their way upward, is diminished at home.
The Alps features songs by Queen and even a new guitar solo by legendary Queen Guitarist Brian May. These songs and guitar solo’s blend nicely with the more traditional score created by Steven Wood and serve the short film well. Brian May’s solo’s are very reminiscent of Hans Zimmer’s score for the mountain climbing adventure film, K2 and that score may have served as inspiration.
The Alps is presented for the first time on Blu-Ray with a 1080p High Definition transfer and shown here with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. This is a crisp looking transfer. The white of the snow is clean, clear and shows no signs of noise, dirt or any distractions. The 70mm large screen format film (originally shown in IMAX theaters on their 72ft wide, 53ft high screens) released for viewing in our home shows the squeezing with some of the widest, broadest scope images showing the necessary distortions on the sides as the image pans – but that effect is part of the experience and, to be honest, welcome in conveying the incredible vista’s captured by the talented photographers and directorial talents that bring these important films to us. This isn’t the most stunning reference material quality, but it is a solid blu-ray.
The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is fantastic. This is an entirely enveloping aural experience with clarity and precision that truly stuns. The wind howls, the guitar screams and the narration is delivered without distortion. This really is delightfully clean track with punch and effective surrounds that places you among the locations on screen.
Making Of – (39:18) – This look behind the scenes at the making of The Alps delves in to more details of moments in the film as well as looking at the preparation for setting up shots and achieving the difficult task of filming in some precarious locations. Interviews with producers, director, editor and the principles onscreen share stories for the film’s idea and execution and is a great companion piece to the film.
Film Trivia Quiz – Though the font is really too small (even on a 65 inch screen), the quiz asks questions about things the film covered and is smoothly handled.
Learn More… – A fact sheet with information about the mountains.
About Switzerland – Split into two segments, “Switzerland In Summer” (3:44) and “Switzerland in Winter” (4:17), these are little more than music videos with lovely still images and video set to orchestral and more upbeat compositions.
MacGillivray-Freeman Films – (7:37) – An informative, if brief, look at the history of the MacGillivray-Freeman film company. More of a promo piece than a true look, it s impressive none-the-less.
About Greg MacGillavray – A text bio of the man.
Trailers – (00:00) – Trailers for 10 MacGillivray-Freeman films in High Definition with DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound.
Dynamic Connection – Link to e-enabled features.
Powerful, stunning and impressive footage telling a compelling, interesting and emotional tale combine the remarkable capabilities of the MacGillivray-Freeman production capabilities with dramatic music and undeniable characters to deliver a treasure of a film.