Review: Find the Biggest Screen Possible to See Mountain

I’m not 100 percent sure what the purpose of the Australian documentary Mountain is meant to be, but it does feature some of the most breathtakingly beautiful footage of mountains around the world, and maybe giving us a new appreciation for these unconquerable wonders is the point. Directed by Jennifer Peedom and featuring narration taken from British mountaineer Robert Macfarlane’s memoir Mountains of the Mind (as read by Willem Dafoe) and a soaring score by the Australian Chamber Orchestra, the film takes a two-fold approach to capturing these formations from nearly every continent.

Image courtesy of Greenwich Films

First, we are provided majestic views of mountains in every shape and size, from those covered in lush greenery to others buried in many feet of snow. Macfarlane’s text is actually quite beautiful, and naturally it takes a man who has dared to climb many a mountain to appreciate the fact that mountains don’t care about us as much as we clearly do about them. They can remain completely passive and still kill any human that dares to “conquer” them. Not surprisingly, the second theme of the movie is our humans’ undeniable draw to these lofty heights. Why are we so ready to risk our lives to walk up the side of a structure (often in agony), just to get a photo of ourselves at the summit?

Using a small army of camerapeople (using everything from Go-Pros to helicopter-mounted cameras), Peedom has crafted a lyrical, almost rhythmic essay on mountaineers and other (in her eyes, lesser) thrill seekers who are more interested in views than in the beauty that surrounds them. There is astonishing, terrifying footage of climbers, hikers, downhill skiers, snowboarders, wingsuiters, even skiers and mountain bikers who parachute into places they aren’t able to get to on foot.

But even more shocking are the images of some of the more popular ski resorts and climbing destinations cluttered with hundreds of tourists. Macfarlane’s text says that even the mighty Mount Everest has become less about discovery and more about crowd control, with a large number of those scaling its face having almost no real climbing experience.

Mountain doesn’t feel like many other nature films I’ve seen; nor does it resemble the kind of piece meant to show off extreme sports and other death-defying acts that take place on rock faces, ice-covered sheer drops or during avalanches and other natural disasters. In shot after unmatched shot, the movie simultaneously makes us more and less afraid of these formations, while increasing our respect for both their beauty and inherent perils. It’s a singular, unique film-watching experience that demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible.

The film opens today at the Music Box Theatre.

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Steve Prokopy
Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.