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North Face - DVD Review

Title: North Face (English title), Nordward (German title)
Starring: Benno Furmann, Florian Lukas, Johanna Wokalek
Directed by: Philip Stolzl
Written by: Chritoph Silber, Philip Stolzl
Studio: Mongrel Media
Rated: Unrated
Runtime: 126 min
Release date: May 18 2010



Movie

It’s 1936 and the German Reich wants to show the dominance of its people to the rest of the world by having two mountaineers scale a portion of the Swiss Alps called the Eiger. Ascending the Eiger is currently banned on account of two climbers having recently gone missing attempting the feat, but German propaganda is overshadowing that aspect and urging its most talented alpinists to muster up all their courage and conquer the dangerous rock face.

Luise Fellner, a volunteer at a Berlin newspaper is sent out of town to write a story about the two most leading contenders, Toni Kurz and Andreas Hinterstoisser. The long time friends and skilled climbers have scaled many cliffs and mountains but are well aware of the perils that face them and the remorseless reputation of Eiger. Although Luise makes it clear to them that she’d gain notoriety by being the first one to write about the successful ascend in the Berlin newspaper, Kurz and Hinterstoisser show no pity and flat out refuse the challenge. Now, there wouldn’t be much of a movie if that’s where the drama ended, so of course the climbers plot out their chosen route, pack up the needed simple supplies and head off to base camp to mentally prepare themselves for what they know will be an incredibly arduous but hopefully rewarding adventure.


Rating

I couldn’t really find any specific rating that emphasized things like profanity or scenes of violence, but if I had to lock down some accompanying text I’d say scenes of extreme human struggle along with uncomfortable shots of men near death due to the paralyzing aspects of frostbite would be appropriate enough warning.


Video

To really get a feeling for the shear almighty power of Mother Nature this movie benefits from being watch on a big screen, 42” or higher preferably. I say this because many times the camera would pan out to reveal a wide angle shot of a portion of the mountain where the climbers where clinging for their lives. I appreciated the shots but had trouble placing the climbers, they just blended into the rock and after a few of these similar shots I settled on not even bothering focusing hard enough to locate them.

As for the rest of the intense climbing sequences, they were fabulous and really alluring. I never got bored watching the men slowly and painstakingly hammer in piton, (a steal flat pin with a loop), after piton into carefully chosen spots in the rock to later string ropes through to secure themselves while they went higher and higher. This whole process really is death defying because one small slip and soon you’re tumbling down uncontrollably hitting jagged rock after jagged rock until you come to an abrupt stop, which for the most part is fatal.

The further the men climbed the harsher and unforgiving the weather got. The freezing wind, the blowing snow and bone chilling temperatures were constantly a barrier to the summit. All this was filmed from immersive angles. The camera was always at the right spot highlighting the tricks the men used to deal with the weather conditions. Even how they prepared food and slept in cocoon-like sleeping bags attached to the side of the mountain was interesting. It really was amazing to see how many different ways rope can be tied and be used for different purposes. I definitely think the shining aspect in the movie was the attempted ascent and the trials and tribulations that came with it. Every moment was displayed in so much detail that it made you admire the lengths the film crew went to to capture all the action. I don’t think it was easy to set up the shots of the men traversing horizontally across the side of the rock and having them dangle from the rope as wind and snow slowly made them powerless.


Audio

There isn’t anything spectacular about the audio, and this is primarily because of the nature of the movie. The sounds of howling wind, rocks falling and chunks of hard snow falling from overhead all resemble something you’d hear while watching a documentary about Mount Everest. This is not to say that any of it was dull, but it’s not as captivating as loud rumblings following an elaborate explosion that give you a welcomed jolt.

Another pleasant aspect relating to audio was actually the lack of it at key moments. This may sound strange because audio usually enhances the mood and increases tension, but during tense scenes I was glad to see the environment do the talking. I felt it was a good idea to have just the sounds of nature rather than add overdramatic music to let the audience know this particular scene was vital.


Extras

There are absolutely no additional features on the DVD. This is a shame because for once I would have liked to watch a featurette describing how the film crew was able to mount all their equipment in order to get the perfect angle. I couldn’t recognize any CGI so getting a little insight as to how the production was able to attain these genuine real shots would have been interesting.


Overall

The movie is stated as being based on a true story, but as we know the words “true story” are used pretty liberally in the film industry, but in this instance I think this entire tale is authentic.

Since the event took place in 1936 it’s probably impossible to know every detail that occurred, especially the love story aspect. So inevitably some parts were most likely embellished and/or made up to provide the audience with a compelling and entertaining movie, no matter if it was a climbing scene or one where the spectators gathered at the bottom of the mountain in a four star hotel waiting for news about the ongoing ascent.

Despite the climbing scenes being the highlight of the movie, I thought the movie was well rounded in that even simple dialogue scenes were engaging. I enjoyed this movie a lot; it has a high production value, there was never a lull in the action or during table talk, the storyline moved along at a steady pace, the characters came across as genuine and likeable, the acting was sincere and not melodramatic, and most importantly I thought it was two hours well spent.




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