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Originally published Thursday, August 5, 2010 at 3:00 PM

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Movie review

'The Wildest Dream': A historic Everest climb showing in IMAX

A review of Anthony Geffen's IMAX documentary "The Wildest Dream," which chronicles an attempt by climbers Conrad Anker and Leo Houlding to re-create George Mallory's historic bid for the top of Mount Everest in 1924.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3.5 stars

'The Wildest Dream,' a documentary featuring Conrad Anker, Leo Houlding and the voices of Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Natasha Richardson, Hugh Dancy, Alan Rickman. Directed by Anthony Geffen. 93 minutes. Rated PG for thematic elements involving hardships of climbing, and some historical smoking images. Pacific Science Center Eames IMAX Theater.

MOVIE REVIEW 3.5 stars

Even for those of us who keep our feet firmly at sea level, there's something magically alluring about Mount Everest — that "prodigious white fang," as climber George Mallory described it in the 1920s. It looms in the sky, quietly beautiful and deceptively serene, its toothy cliffs sparkling in the cold sun.

In the photos, you don't see the frozen bodies left there of explorers who never came home.

Mallory, an adventurous Englishman who yearned to be the first to summit Everest, is one of those, and Anthony Geffen's captivating "The Wildest Dream" tells his story.

Actually it tells two parallel stories of two adventurers: Mallory, who died on the mountain in 1924, and Conrad Anker, a contemporary climber who found Mallory's body on a 1999 expedition and became fascinated with the idea of re-creating his climb.

Was it possible, Anker and the filmmakers wondered, that Mallory was indeed the first to climb Everest, and died not on the way to the top but on his way back down?

It's not a question that can be definitively answered — Everest guards her secrets well — but "The Wildest Dream" compellingly explores it, following Anker's 2007 attempt to duplicate Mallory's trek while painting moving portraits of the two men along the way.

We meet, through photographs and letters read in a lovely voice-over (the late Natasha Richardson, sounding eerily like her mother, Vanessa Redgrave), Mallory's beloved wife, Ruth, who supported him in his exploring dreams yet longed to have him at home with her and their three children. ("All the immortal love my soul has is with you," she wrote.)

Likewise, Anker's wife and family are introduced to us, as they wait back home to see whether he will achieve his own dream.

Though Anker's calm, thoughtful narration reminds us throughout that he did indeed come home safely, there's plenty of suspense in "The Wildest Dream," along with some breathtaking photography as Anker and climbing partner Leo Houlding attempt a seemingly impossible feat: free-climbing Everest's fiendishly difficult "Second Step" without a ladder or ropes, as Mallory would have done.

Watching them, we think of the words of Mallory's granddaughter, earlier in the film, as she described her grandfather's unique climbing style: "He would just start flowing over [the mountain], like a wave."

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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