Plot: What’s it about?
A few years ago, just after the Academy Awards, I become interested in a category that I’d really never paid much attention to. Documentary Feature. I think, until that point, the only documentary I’d watched was March of the Penguins, which I do still enjoy. But the film that piqued my interest was Free Solo – the winner for Best Documentary Feature. It chronicled the life and climbing habits of Alex Honnold. Honnold made a name for himself by climbing Yosemite National Park’s famous “El Capitan” without, you guessed it, any ropes. It’s an extreme sport and the fact that literally one wrong move could have killed him (and countless others) made this documentary more of a horror film. A few years later another climber is profiled in The Alpinist – essentially the exact same film as Free Solo, but with its sights set on a Canadian climber – Marc-André Leclerc. This is his story.
The lives and stories of Leclerc and Honnold are eerily similar. And Honnold is interviewed in this feature as well. Both are hyperactive kids who really only found the peace they were looking for by climbing. As their skill level increased, the need for safety dissipated. Whereas Honnold preferred to climb on rock, Leclerc does most of his on ice. And if you think about it, it takes what Honnold did and increases the risk factor by a factor of 10. We’re greeted with the obligatory interviews from some of Leclerc’s friends, family and some other notable climbers who all praise his efforts. The crew who’s trying to film him expresses some of their concerns and frustrations (Leclerc would often disappear without telling anyone). And we see some of the feats that he was able to accomplish. It’s also interesting to see why he does this. He knows the risks, he knows that one wrong move (even by a few centimeters) could mean the difference between life and death. But Leclerc simply feels most alive when climbing. It’s that simple.
The film follows (as best they can) Leclerc around the globe as he struggles to conquer everything he can. Input and insight from his peers only seem to strengthen his resolve for his passion. I knew almost nothing of this world and it was only by seeing a suggestion on YouTube that I decided to check out the trailer. Knowing how much I loved Free Solo, I figured this would be something else I’d enjoy. And I was correct. If you like one, this is the obligatory “sequel” that simply must be seen to be appreciated.
Video: How’s it look?
One of the central themes of the documentary was that Marc-André Leclerc wasn’t too keen on being filmed. He’d often disappear, sometimes for months at a time, to go climb much to the filmmaker’s chagrin. But what footage is shown is simply breathtaking. The 1.78:1 AVC HD encode fills up the entirety of your HDTV and it’s worth it. Some of the shots of the mountains are jaw-dropping. The interviews look, of course, as we’d expect. There’s also some “Go Pro” footage from some of Mark’s climbs that don’t look up to the par of the professional equipment used for the rest of the shoot, but all in all it’s a great-looking picture.
Audio: How’s it sound?
I think we can all agree that this is one genre that’s not designed to light up your home entertainment system. And this doesn’t blaze any new trails. By and large, the DTS HD Master Audio mix is relegated to the front channels with dialogue taking the lion’s share of the audio. And…it’s fine. When watching something that’s meant to engage the visuals, the audio really does take a back seat. It’s fine. It’s passable and certainly understandable, but this doesn’t make or break the film.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This release contains no supplemental material.
The Bottom Line
In documentaries about extreme sports are your thing and you enjoyed Free Solo, this is essentially more of the same. In fact, I’d say it’s just about the same film. Trying to get into the mind of some of these folks is something that’s har to do, but The Alpinist manages to get us to see the method behind his madness. The camerawork is incredible as is the story.