Mountain finds itself between a few genres. Not quite a nature documentary. Not quite an extreme sports reel. Perhaps best described as a feature-length, lightly narrated, high-concept music video. This may not sound terribly inviting, but with music performed by the Australian Chamber Orchestra, and narration poetically delivered by Willem Dafoe, Mountain delivers.
Dafoe’s voice, much like the mountains themselves, is a thing of calm beauty, always lined with a sinister, dangerous undertone. While not as educational as say, an Attenborough voice over, Dafoe contributes more of an emotional clarification. A perfectly complementary articulation of the wordless, dynamic classical score and an unrelenting parade of unbelievable landscapes.
I found myself switching between focus of the voice, the music, and the mountains, and sometimes zoning out of all three, being sleepily carried through the film like a dream or a guided meditation. But there are enough avalanches, erupting volcanos, or skiers’ double backflips to invariably snap a snoozy watch back to conscious, purposeful viewing. And every note, every word, every icy, rocky, jagged, gorgeous surface exposes itself as necessary and exquisite.
And for this reason, I think Mountain unexpectedly lends itself to repeat views. As I’ve found with similarly visually stunning films, I find myself captured by different sequences, movements, individual shots, individual notes and even particular corners of a frame, with watch after watch.
Perhaps the only lull in Mountain comes from the section that detours from natural splendour to mountain-based sports. Here, the orchestral score takes a break, replaced by rock and/or roll. It’s as though this wonderfully conceived film suddenly loses confidence in its identity, taking a musical cue from fanmade extreme sport montages, or something? Rather than attempting to match the athletic energy shown on screen, continuing with the ACO’s brilliant work would have provided a more interesting – and more fitting – juxtaposition. This is Mountain’s only misstep.
As crucial and aurally soothing as Dafoe and the Australian Chamber Orchestra are, Mountain really is all about the mountains. It’s a visually overwhelming film best experienced in the highest quantity of pixels you can find.
What I’m trying to say is I’m specifically reviewing and scoring out of 10 a DVD version of Mountain on a 42-inch screen, and was absolutely aware of the lacking pixel density throughout. 42 inches isn’t exactly an impressive TV size these days, but it’s big enough to really push a DVD’s watchability for a would-be jawdropper like this.
On paper, you’d be forgiven for assuming Mountain is something get at any old quality and throw on low volume in the background while you do the dishes. But it has mountains of depth and will rise to meet you at whatever level of engagement to bring to it.